New details have emerged about the nasty divorce battle that threatens to destroy Ikos, a multi-billion hedge fund.
The fund’s founders, Martin Coward and Elena Ambrosiadou, you’ll remember, were one of Britain’s most wealthy and glamorous couples throughout the 90s and into the last decade.
Now it’s clear that the rift started when a trader stole Ambrosiadou’s top secret trading algorithms. And she grew suspicious of her husband, who she believes orchestrated the theft because he had plans to launch a rival fund.
Obviously, their relationship has turned south. Unfortunately, Coward and Ambrosiadou might take the multi-billion fund that they built together down with it.
While studying for his PhD. in Mathematics, Coward met the Greek-born Ambrosiadou, a student at the all-girl Lucy Cavendish College where she was studying for a degree in Chemical Engineering.
Coward's advanced study in higher mathematics would be the basis for the the couple's 'Quant' trading approach and the MBA that Ambrosiadou would earn from Cranfield University would be an asset to the administration of their business.
The couple launched their 'IKOS Fund' with roughly $600,000 in assets under management, basing the fund's operations in London. Ambrosiadou, only 32 years-old at the time, became the co-head and administrator of the fund.
Coward's maths and strategy/analysis background drove the fund's strategy toward a 'quantitative' strategy that dismissed the decisions of traders and instead utilized computer modelling programs to execute trades.
The name 'IKOS' translates as 'household' from Ambrosiadou's native Greek.
Coward oversaw all of IKOS's trading activity with Ambrosiadou acting in a COO-type role that managed the day-to-day administration of the funds, including client relations and standing out as the public face of IKOS as it grew in assets.
The stress associated with representing separate areas of the company led to a famously combative relationship between Coward and Ambrosiadou. She was a corporate grinder who paid herself just over $26 million in salary for 2004, a move that led to her being hailed as 'The Highest Paid Woman in Britain.'
2004: Marital tension emerges, as Ambrosiadou forcibly moves half of the IKOS staff to tax haven Cyprus, including her husband
Coward's 'Quant' strategy proved extremely successful and the fund grew massively over 15 years making the couple billionaires and bringing stunning amounts of business into IKOS.
In 2004, with the couple managing billions of assets across diverse fund strategies, IKOS announced it was moving its operations to the island nation of Cyprus, a famous 'tax haven.' While the move isn't out of character for a fund that wanted to save on taxes while managing so much taxable money, it was reported that IKOS used an odd 'strong arm' tactic to get employees to move by basically telling them 'move or get fired.'
The choice to impose management's will on staff was a method that many close to IKOS say is representative of Ambrosiadou's style and not Coward's. This growing clash in methodology was a sign of growing tension between the couple.
2006-ish: Vincent Pfister, an analyst at Ikos, steals Ambrosiadou's top secret algorithmic trading code
2006-ish: Ambrosiadou begins to suspect that her husband intends to set up a rival hedge fund with Pfister
Ambrosiadou suspects otherwise, but Pfister denies giving the algorithms he stole from Ikos to anyone other than his lawyers.
He also denies working with Coward to set up a rival firm.
Source: Daily Mail
At it's height in 2007, IKOS managed roughly $3.5 billion and Coward and Ambrosiadou were reported to have amassed a personal fortune of approximately $330 million.
Around this time a woman named Laura Maria Van Egmond who moved to Cyprus and, under an assumed name, took up residence next to an employee of IKOS that was loyal to Coward, befriended both he and his wife, and pumped them for information on IKOS.
Van Egmond, it turns out, was really Laura Merts, an Israeli military-trained employee of a London-based corporate intelligence firm hired by Ambrosiadou to infiltrate the part of IKOS she believed were setting up a rival hedge fund with her husband using the secret code stolen by Pfister.
By 2008, the mutual enmity in their marriage leads both Coward and Ambrosiadou to take actions against each other both inside and outside the management of the fund.
While Coward was on a ski trip at the end of that year, Ambrosiadou fired IKOS's 12-person research team, a group that reported directly to Coward.
One of the employees released from his duties at IKOS was fund manager Peter Ho, who filed a wrongful termination suit against Coward and Ambrosiadou in 2009 and alleged that Ambrosiadou was a constantly interfering presence for IKOS's trading desk, stepping outside her role and creating an 'unbearable tension between her and Martin Coward.'
2009: Ambrosiadou spends wildly, and confiscates the family jet from Coward, who tried to take off with a 23-year old
Despite the strife that engulfed both their business (IKOS's AUM has shrunk to a recent estimate of $2.5 billion) and their marriage, it seems that both Coward and Ambrosiadou made major 'acquisitions' during 2009.
Ambrosiadou purchased the world's largest private sailing yacht, a 289 craft named The Maltese Falcon. She is rumoured to have paid in the neighbourhood of $120 million.
She also picked up a private plane for a much smaller sum when she confiscated Coward's jet from a tarmac in Greece.
Coward was reportedly travelling in Greece alongside a new travel partner, a 23 year-old Brazilian named Leiana who the 52 year-old Coward is apparently dating is reportedly a major reason behind Ambrosiadou's decision to confiscate his private plane.
But Coward is alleging that Ambrosiadou's behaviour is intolerable regardless of his own. In court papers filed in the High Court, his petition for divorce claims that Ambrosiadou hired the famed corporate intelligence firm Kroll Associates to aide her in an aggressive campaign of surveillance.
2010: Coward officially leaves IKOS but still claims partial ownership. Ambrosiadou disputes that he owns a stake.
In a statement released last summer, Coward told IKOS investors that his personal issues with Ambrosiadou had made it impossible for him to participate in the day-to-day business of investing for IKOS.
Coward claimed last week that he has never revoked any claim of ownership to IKOS and his stake in the fund is part of his divorce negotiations with Ambrosiadou as part a 'necessarily entangled' clause in British law.
In the meantime Ambrosiadou will remain the head of IKOS, and attempt to continue generating the strong returns that the fund's investors have come to expect, returns like the 35% annual growth that IKOS reported for their fiscal year which ended in April.