Quebec judge tosses insider trading trial against former Amaya CEO

In a stunning rebuke of Quebec’s securities regulator, a Quebec court judge ordered Wednesday all charges of insider trading against former online gambling mogul David Baazov and his co-accused be stayed.

Baazov, the former CEO of the Montreal-based online gaming company Amaya, two other men and three companies were facing several insider trading charges in connection with Amaya’s $5-billion acquisition of online gaming company PokerStars in 2014.

Six weeks into the trial, all those charges have been tossed, and Judge Salvatore Mascia put the blame squarely on the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF), which was responsible for prosecuting the case.

Mascia granted the defence’s third motion to stay proceedings against Baazov after rejecting two prior efforts.

AMF showed ‘lack of rigour’

The decision was made in response to the defence’s claim it was inadvertently given about 320,000 privileged documents it shouldn’t have seen.

The prosecution wanted them back.

The documents were seized from various companies during the investigation and were among tens of millions of pieces of information gathered as part of the process involving one of the largest insider fraud cases in Canadian history.

It took Mascia two hours to read his decision from the bench Wednesday afternoon.

He said certain good faith errors in disclosing evidence are to be expected, but he added “there are limits.”

Mascia said the AMF’s “repeated errors” during the case were “preoccupying” and showed a “lack of rigour” and “laxism” on the part of the AMF.

Appeal a possibility

“We are obviously very disappointed with the judge’s decision,” the AMF said in a statement Wednesday.

“We are going to analyze the judgment very closely as well as assessing the pertinence of filing an appeal.”

The charges stemmed from an investigation into the $4.9-billion US deal to acquire PokerStars in 2014 that transformed the former Montreal firm into the world’s largest public online poker company.

Baazov had pleaded not guilty to five counts, including influencing or attempting to influence the market price of Amaya’s securities.

Two other people, Yoel Altman and Benjamin Ahdoot, and three companies faced 18 additional charges stemming from the regulator’s investigation and had also pleaded not guilty.

Defence lawyer’s grin said it all

Baazov and his associates were charged in 2016. Their trial had been going on for six weeks and had been expected to continue through the fall.

Mascia rejected a defence motion in January to have the charges tossed because of the delay in getting them to trial under a Supreme Court of Canada ruling known as Jordan.

He then rejected a defence request over claims that the prosecution wasn’t disclosing evidence in a timely fashion.

Baazov gave his lawyer Sophie Melchers a long hug in the courtroom after the decision was read, leaving the courtroom with no further comment.

A grinning Melchers also refused to talk to reporters, other than to say “look at my smile”.

In a brief statement released Wednesday evening, the three defendants said simply, “We agree with the judge and are happy with the decision.”

Amaya is now known as The Stars Group Inc. and has moved its operations to Toronto.

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