Court to extend freezing order on Gupta's wife's assets in Trafigura fraud case

By Eric Onstad

LONDON, May 19 (Reuters) - A London judge agreed on Friday to extend a freezing order on assets of the wife of Indian businessman Prateek Gupta in addition to a $625 million global order already in effect on her husband and his firms.

Commodity trading firm Trafigura, which sought the order, said in February it had booked a $577 million charge relating to what it alleges is "systematic fraud" by Gupta's companies over nickel cargoes.

Freezing orders are injunctions granted by the English courts to restrain individuals or businesses from disposing of or dealing with assets on a worldwide basis.

Lawyers for both sides at a virtual court hearing on Friday agreed that Ginni Gupta was not alleged to have committed any offences, although a Trafigura lawyer added they did not believe she was "a wholly innocent bystander".

Gupta's representatives have said they are preparing "a robust response" to the fraud allegations.

The court has given them a deadline of June 2 to file an application to remove the freezing order. Gupta's spokesman had no immediate additional comment on Friday.

Trafigura declined to comment.

The freezing order on Mrs. Gupta was imposed on April 25 on two assets, a house in Dubai in which the couple are believed to live, and Silver Star SPC, a Cayman Islands investment fund, a court document by Trafigura's lawyers said.

The document did not say how long an extension of the order the lawyers were seeking, nor was the duration announced during the hearing.

The two sides agreed at Friday's hearing before Judge Sara Cockerill that a clause would be added to the extended order allowing Mrs. Gupta to utilise the assets during the "ordinary course of business" if she gave 72 hours notice.

A London court imposed the first freezing order, dated Feb. 8, on bank accounts and other assets tied to Gupta and seven companies Trafigura said are controlled by him, including in Britain, Singapore, Malaysia and Switzerland.

(Additional reporting by Sam Tobin; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)