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Germany Wants its U.S. Mortgage Money Back: Street Whispers

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Germany's inevitable bailout of Europe may be partially funded with money won in U.S. courts against big U.S. banks.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that IKB Deutsche Industriebank AG sued Citigroup (C) for making "material misrepresentations" related to $137.4 million in mortgage-backed securities, while separately suing Goldman Sachs (GS), over $73.2 billion in MBS. IKB claimed it took losses when selling the securities.

Also on Wednesday, Reuters reported that UBS AG (UBS) sued Sealink Funding Ltd. over $158.1 million in MBS.

This is just the latest German bank to sue their U.S. counterparts. Many of Germany's government-backed "Landesbanks" have suffered major losses as a result of bets on the U.S. housing market made prior to the financial crisis.

"Certainly a lot of major investors were German enterprises and there's a certain amount of follow the leader going on now too," says Donald Hawthorne -- a partner in the Litigation and Regulatory Group of Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider LLP. "It is a good opportunity for these companies, as these claims are a wasting asset."

A steady stream of similar German bank lawsuits -- also filed in New York State Supreme Court -- against issuers of mortgage-backed securities, including (but certainly not limited to):

  • A suit in February brought by DZ Bank AG -- Germany's fourth largest bank -- against JPMorgan Chase (JPM), saying that it purchased $85 million in MBS from JPMorgan based on flawed offering materials, and another suit by DZ Bank against HSBC (HBC), claiming misrepresentations and omissions in offering materials, on $122 million in MBS purchases.
  • A suit by brought in April by HSH Nordbank AG against two subsidiaries of Barclays PLC (BCS), claiming Barclays misrepresented the quality of loans underlying $46 million in mortgage-backed securities.
  • An April lawsuit by Bayerische Landesbank -- one of eight German Landesbanks that are primarily owned by German state governments -- against Deutsche Bank AG (DB), accusing Deutsche Bank of committing fraud while selling $810 million in residential MBS.
  • A lawsuit filed in May by Bayerische Landesbank against Merrill Lynch -- acquired by Bank of America (BAC) in January 2009 -- accusing Merrill of making misrepresentations in offering materials for $324 million in residential MBS.
  • Separate suits filed against Barclays in June by Sealink Funding and Landesbank Baden-Wuerttemberg Sealink claiming that Barclays made misrepresentations related to the sale of $604 million in MBS, while Landesbank Baden-Wuerttemberg claimed misrepresentations on $205 million in mortgage paper.

"New York has a fairly long statute of limitations for fraud claims," adds Hawthorne, who says that "absent a tolling agreement, you are looking at a six-year statute of limitations" for mortgage-backed securities lawsuits, meaning that time is running out for soured deals that were made in 2006.

When asked why some investors seem to have waited until the last minute to file suit, Hawthorne says "there's a reluctance among major financial institutions to sue each other."

"The reason they are resorting to litigation is that they have discovered that litigation works in the RMBS arena."

"We've seen some big settlements recently," which include Bank of America's settlement in July with bond insurer Syncora Guarantee for $375 million.

Syncora was represented by Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider -- with Hawthorne as the lead counsel -- and also by Debevoise & Plimpton, with the plaintiff, claiming that Countrywide Financial -- acquired by Bank of America in 2008 -- had committed "fraud and breach of contract arising from financial insurance provided for over $6 billion in residential mortgage-backed securities."

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