[A federal judge in Boston has ruled that Harvard must provide testimony and produce documents disclosing the bank accounts, routing numbers, wire transfers and other interbank messages used by an alumnus, Charles C. Spackman, to send the university money.]
By Stephanie Saul
The gates to the Harvard campus. The court ruling is part of a long fight
by an angry investor, Sang Cheol Woo, to collect on a judgment against
a donor, Charles C. Spackman. Credit Charlie Mahoney
for The New York Times
He is a wealthy international entrepreneur known for generous donations to his alma mater, Harvard. Now a court says the university must cooperate in a hunt for his assets.
A federal judge in Boston has ruled that Harvard must provide testimony and produce documents disclosing the bank accounts, routing numbers, wire transfers and other interbank messages used by an alumnus, Charles C. Spackman, to send the university money.
Mr. Spackman, a Hong Kong-based businessman, leads the Spackman Group, a global investment holding company with $1.5 billion under management.
The ruling places the Ivy League college in the uncomfortable predicament of revealing confidential financial information gleaned from the donations of an influential benefactor.
No small donor, according to his company website, Mr. Spackman sponsors a scholarship fund for Asian students at Harvard, leads the Harvard-Asia Scholarship Council and has served as a co-chairman of reunion gifts for the class of 1994. That is the year Mr. Spackman — also known by his Korean name, Yoo Shin Choi — obtained an undergraduate degree in economics.
A spokeswoman for Harvard, Melodie Jackson, said the university would not comment on the court order.
The Boston ruling is part of a long-fought quest by an aggrieved investor, Sang Cheol Woo, to collect on a judgment against Mr. Spackman involving a South Korean business deal. For Harvard, the case could have further-reaching implications, according to Douglas A. Kellner, a Manhattan lawyer who specializes in recovering hidden assets worldwide.
“If he diverted funds to Harvard when he should have been paying his judgment, that’s a fraudulent transfer,” Mr. Kellner said. “They could sue Harvard to get the money back, and they’d be entitled to get it back if they can show that it was fraudulently transferred.”
John Han, a lawyer with the firm Kobre & Kim, which is handling the investor’s case, said the firm had no plans to sue Harvard, which he said had been unwittingly entangled in the dispute.
The collection effort dates to the stock collapse in 2001 of Littauer Technologies Company Ltd., an information technology company. The Seoul High Court said that Mr. Spackman, a major investor in the company, fled South Korea amid claims of stock price manipulation, departing before the Korean authorities arrested a business partner.
The Korean court later ruled that Mr. Spackman and other insiders profited by selling their shares before the collapse while minority shareholders, including Mr. Woo, suffered enormous losses. The court ordered Mr. Spackman to pay Mr. Woo $4.5 million in 2011, a judgment that has now mushroomed to $12 million because of accumulating interest.
The managing director of the Spackman Group, Richard Lee, said the company would not comment because a related lawsuit is pending in Hong Kong.
In documents filed in 2014, the company said that Mr. Spackman had not appeared in court in South Korea because he was unaware of the case until just before the High Court ruling — which was later overturned by the Supreme Court for all defendants except Mr. Spackman. It was upheld for him because he did not appear in court to defend himself.
While acknowledging that Mr. Spackman was fined $40,000 by the Korean authorities in connection with the Littauer matter, Mr. Spackman “maintains he did not commit the offenses,” the documents said.
Mr. Woo’s lawyers argue that efforts to collect on the judgment have been hampered by what court papers called a “mazelike network of offshore nominees and trusts (many of which are managed by close family members and classmates from Harvard).”
For example, the estate where Mr. Spackman lives — in a section of Hong Kong that Forbes has described as “the wealthiest neighborhood on earth” — is owned through a series of shell companies, a Hong Kong company in turn owned by a British Virgin Islands company, court papers say.
The Boston ruling, entered Feb. 21 by Judge William G. Young of Federal District Court, gives Harvard until March 20 to turn over the banking information. It also orders Mr. Spackman’s daughter, Claire Spackman, a sophomore at Harvard, to testify and turn over records about her father’s assets.
Mr. Spackman, an American citizen and permanent resident of Hong Kong, is well known in South Korea, partly because he is the son of James C. Spackman, who was adopted by Americans in 1955 after his biological parents died during the Korean War, and later advanced in the business world to become chief of Prudential’s international insurance group.
The holdings of the younger Mr. Spackman’s company include the Spackman Entertainment Group, which produced the 2013 science fiction movie “Snowpiercer,” starring Tilda Swinton and Octavia Spencer.