By Raphael SatterLONDON -- A British judge has cleared Bernard Madoff's sons of wrongdoing in a case brought against them by the liquidator of his estate in Britain, saying in a written ruling that the pair's honesty was not in doubt. Judge Andrew Popplewell said Friday that the brothers, Mark and Andrew, were among several U.K. directors of Bernard Madoff's London-based securities firm whose reputations had been tainted by association with the elder Madoff's multibillion-dollar fraud. In dismissing the civil case against them all, the judge delivered a glowing endorsement of their character. "Their honesty and integrity has been vindicated," he said. Mark and Andrew Madoff long played a lead role in the drama surrounding their disgraced financier father. They first alerted authorities in 2008 after the elder Madoff confessed that his highly regarded investment business was nothing more than a Ponzi scheme. The pair held their silence as the details of the breathtaking fraud spilled out into the public domain, but following Mark's suicide in 2010 -- and ahead of the release of a book telling the Madoff family's side of the story -- Andrew spoke to the press, saying the Madoff family had been completely hoodwinked by his father. "What he did to me, to my brother, and to my family is unforgivable," Andrew Madoff said at the time. Nevertheless, suspicion has lingered, and a lawsuit filed in London's High Court against the Madoff brothers and various company directors alleged that they subverted the company's finances by approving $27 million in payments, more than 5 million euros ($6.8 million) in perks, and millions more in interest parceled out to well-connected Austrian businesswoman Sonja Kohn, who had helped the elder Madoff win billions in new business. Judge Popplewell ruled that the Madoff brothers and another director, Philip Toop, "were in breach of their duty to exercise reasonable skill and care" by failing to investigate whether the payments were in the company's best interests. But Popplewell said that the payments would most likely have been made in any case, and in general his judgment was a big win for the defense.
"The resolute and temperate way they have conducted themselves in these proceedings does them great credit," he said. Other legal actions -- including a criminal trial in New York involving a different set of defendants -- are ongoing. The judge said Andrew Madoff was "seriously ill with cancer" and so sick he had been unable to give evidence, even via videolink.