TORONTO, FEB. 8 -- Robert Campeau, who built a fortune on Canadian real estate and lost it all in American retailing, could be stripped of much of what he owns in an Ontario bankruptcy court proceeding -- if he can be found.
The Bank of Montreal has asked the court to declare Campeau insolvent and begin seizing his remaining assets to recover some of the $25.6 million (U.S.) he owes it. Other large Canadian banks -- including the Bank of Nova Scotia and the National Bank of Canada -- are also owed tens of millions of dollars from Campeau.
Campeau's personal fortune, which was tied up mostly in stock in the company he founded 40 years ago, has reportedly dwindled from about $430 million to less than $9 million. Campeau Corp. borrowed about $10 billion for a foray into retailing that brought him ownership of Allied Stores Corp. and Federated Department Stores Inc. in the late 1980s.
Both chains, overburdened with debt and weakened by a downturn in the economy in the northeastern United States, were forced to file for protection under the U.S. bankruptcy code early last year.
Legal proceedings can begin against the 67-year-old Campeau only after he is served with court papers. But three weeks after the bank petition was filed, it is unclear whether the court officers have been able to find him. Campeau has been variously reported to be traveling in Europe or the United States.
A spokesman for Campeau Corp., Richard Wertheim, said, "We don't know where he is or whether he has been served. Nobody knows anything about this."
In its Jan. 17 application, the Bank of Montreal asked the court to appoint a Toronto accounting firm to seize virtually all of Campeau's personal assets, though estates owned by his wife are exempt. Under Canadian law, that would cover everything except his clothing and furniture up to a value of $2,000, pension and insurance funds and trust funds that Campeau has established for his children.
Exempted from seizure would be Campeau's $10 million Norman chateau in Toronto, complete with indoor swimming pool and bomb shelter, which is deeded in the name of his wife, Ilse. The house is listed for sale.
Campeau also has a vacation home in Florida, which also is in his wife's name, and a mansion in Austria said to be worth several million dollars.
In addition to watching the value of his stock disappear, Campeau has also lost about $17 million in annual dividend payments that have been suspended.
He was also stripped of a salary estimated at several million dollars a year when he was ousted from Campeau Corp. last year.