FBME Bank wins case against UK investigators

FBME shareholder Ayoub Farid Michel Saab. Photo | Agencies

Dar es Salaam. The issue of defunct FBME Bank has taken another twist after its shareholders won a UK High Court battle against investigators Nigel Brown, Alec Leighton and their respective companies.

The judgment of the case number CL-2016-000195, of which The Citizen has a copy, was delivered in the High Court of Justice Business and Property Courts of England and Wales Commercial Court (QBD) late June this year.

The UK court ruled out that two ex-Scotland Yard detectives breached their contract with FBME Bank by reporting “premature and speculative” money laundering allegations to US and Cypriot authorities.

Following claims, the Tanzanian regulator also put the bank under liquidation in 2017, following the revoke of its licence during the same year.

“I conclude that as regards some, indeed most, of the material the conclusions reached by Mr Brown were premature and speculative and accordingly could not satisfy the Go test,” Lady Justice Sara Cockerill said in reference to the UK legal doctrine that stipulates a mere allegation isn’t sufficient to justify a disclosure in the public interest.

Justice Cockerill J concluded that Brown and Leighton were motivated by anger and fear of being caught up in what they had discovered at the bank. “The defendants were annoyed at not being paid; but they would probably not have acted as they did but for a worry on their part that they had been left exposed by the actions of their former clients,” she said.

The owners of the liquidated FBME Bank, which was headquartered in Tanzania but operated predominantly in Cyprus, sued Brown and Leighton, claiming that they violated their contract by reporting the alleged criminal activity, which included money laundering and terrorism financing.

The ruling forces the pair to turn over any confidential information they hold on the bank to its owners, Ayoub-Farid Saab and Fadi Michel Saab, and identify who they gave the material to.

The investigators were also prohibited from making any further unauthorised disclosures.

During the hearings, Brown and Leighton admitted to widespread distribution of FBME’s confidential information.

They admit to having sent it to the Central Bank of Cyprus (CBC), the Attorney General of Cyprus, the Cypriot Unit for Combating Money Laundering (MOKAS), FinCEN, the FBI, and the Cypriot police, among others.

However, they pleaded that these abundant disclosures were made in the public interest, and that they were compelled to do so by various Cypriot bodies.

And weigh it up, the presiding judge Mrs Justice Cockerill, certainly did: “I conclude that the defendants were in breach of their obligation of confidentiality”.

The judge also found that the investigators’ disclosures of confidential information to regulators and an investigative journalist were not in the public interest, nor were they made under compulsion of law.