Two British private investigators are being sued by the owners of FBME Bank for breaking confidentiality after it hired them to help fight money-laundering accusations but instead they blew the whistle to US and Cypriot authorities on alleged criminal activity within the bank, The Times reported on Monday.
According to the report, the two former British police officers were hired by the Lebanese owners of Tanzanian-registered FBME Bank, which was operating in Cyprus, and which had its licence revoked by the island’s central bank in December 2015 after US authority FinCen described the lender as a financial institution of primary money laundering concern in July 2014. The Bank of Tanzania revoked FBME’s licence on May 5, 2017 and decided to liquidate the lender.
Ayoub-Farid Michel Saab and Fadi Michel Saab, the brothers who owned FBME, hired Nigel Brown and Alec Leighton, both former British police officers, to help the bank fight money-laundering allegations, The Times said.
The paper said that the High Court heard the two detectives discovered evidence suggesting serious criminal activity during their internal investigation. They made the allegations, and reported them to authorities in both countries after the bank had failed to pay them £200,000 in outstanding fees.
“Mr Brown and Mr Leighton say that their disclosures were justified in the public interest because of the seriousness of the allegations,” the paper said.
It added that Steven Kay, QC, representing Brown and Leighton, said that they had been “compelled” to disclose their evidence after going to a lawyer for advice about their unpaid bills. “They were advised by the lawyer that he had to report to the authorities in Cyprus [what they had told him],” he said, according to the newspaper.
“[The claimants] would rather this court was tied up in contract law, but this case is about something else. It’s about human beings who were victims of crime as well as the defendants. It doesn’t matter whether [Mr Brown and Mr Leighton’s] motivation was with an unpaid bill. They don’t have to be angels. It’s whether what they reported was in the public interest or not.”
According to The Times, the Saab brother “vehemently deny” all allegations of criminality, the court heard.
Ayoub-Farid Michel Saab told the court that his business was a “family bank” which did “not attract criminals and crooks”, and that they had processes to deter money laundering.
David Allen, QC, representing the Saabs, told the court that the two British detectives were let go because the bank was concerned about the “lack of work” they were producing, and that is why their outstanding fee was not paid.
“As soon as that became clear to the defendants, they started disclosing confidential information to various entities including FinCen and several Cypriot authorities,” he said.
“Neither FBME nor the claimants have been charged with any criminal activity or behaviour anywhere in the world, and no law enforcement agencies have ever felt the need to levy any criminal charges against the claimants.”
The trial continues.