Is a cast of characters circling FBME Bank for commercial gain?

What does the self-proclaimed “first and only Judeo-Christian intelligence agency and protective intelligence service in the world” have to do with the United States government’s fight against money laundering? According to a recent article in the Asia Sentinel, quite a lot.

The world of corporate intelligence tends to be tight-knit and secretive. Many agencies have almost no public presence at all: they shun media attention that could potentially shine a light on them, or their clients. 5 Stones Intelligence (5Si), the subject of the article, would appear to buck this trend.

Summarising the work of his firm in a Skype interview with Asia Sentinel, David Tinsley, Chief Executive of 5Si, noted that around 40 percent of its revenue comes from investigation of financial wrongdoing as a Prime Contractor for the Asset Forfeiture Investigative Support Services Contract for the United Sates government. 5Si also provides “Specialized Financial Investigative Services” to a raft of other US government agencies.

Perhaps when the US government decides to award contracts to private intelligence agencies, it does not usually expect them to leverage this for publicity, especially in an article that is clearly a puff-piece. Notably, the article’s two final paragraphs use FBME Bank, which is now at the start of a liquidation process, as an example of the sort of behaviour that 5Si looks for – rather than any of the major bank scandals currently making news, such as Danske Bank.

FBME shareholders claim that the bank was scapegoated by the Cyprus authorities in order to draw the attention of FinCen away from ongoing money laundering on the island.

A quick review of 5Si’s website shows why FBME may have been included, and potentially who was behind the article. Nigel Brown, a former Metropolitan Police officer, is 5Si’s EMEA Director. His biography states that he “has led some of the world’s most high-profile investigations and in 2014 he lead a special team of financial and criminal investigators uncovering one of the worlds largest money laundering and criminal enterprises ever discovered by a private enterprise. Through Mr. Brown’s leadership the investigation identified exposed one of the world’s largest commercial Money Laundering Operations which supported numerous Terrorist and Organized Crime Networks”.

These allegations match those made against FBME in an unsigned affidavit from Brown that is central to a series of articles published by BuzzFeed. Other documents included in the BuzzFeed article show that disputes between Brown and FBME shareholders are ongoing.

In a hearing which formed part of litigation in England with the shareholders of FBME Bank, it was revealed that Brown has travelled to Tanzania on four separate occasions to meet with a large number of politicians and high profile individuals, including the Attorney General, the Governor of the Bank of Tanzania and the President of the Republic of Tanzania – supposedly to see if the FBME shareholders had received authorisation from the Statutory Manager of the Bank in Tanzania to join FBME to their legal action against Brown. The shareholders’ counsel questioned the necessity of four trips for this purpose. Was Brown also lobbying the Tanzanian Government regarding how FBME’s liquidation should be handled?

The Asia Sentinel article also references a previous series of articles written by its editor, John Berthelsen, about alleged money laundering out of Bank Mutiara, in which FBME Bank is also a defendant. In summary, these articles reveal that the lawsuit is being brought by Weston International Capital, a distressed asset and private equity management company headquartered in Mauritius. Interestingly, Weston’s website includes a news section that incorporates many articles from Asia Sentinel, including the piece on 5Si. Most include attacks on FBME, and a number are from the series written by Berthelsen. Another feature of Weston’s newsfeed are links to articles written by Cyprus Mail journalist Stelios Orphanides which also attack FBME and its shareholders.

Weston and its Chief Investment Officer, John Liegey, are currently in contempt of court in the United States in relation to a $3.6m unpaid debt. Weston obtained a freezing and turnover order against Bank Mutiara, and promptly removed $3.6m from the Bank’s accounts in the US. However, the order was later overturned and Weston was ordered to return the funds, which it has so far failed to do. A court in the United States then issued a divestiture order, effectively handing ownership of Weston to Bank Mutiara.

In another attack on FBME in an Asia Sentinel article, Berthelsen quotes from Floris Alexander – “a Dutchman who heads Legal Floris LLC”. Alexander has a deep involvement with FBME in that he has been providing his legal services to depositors in FBME Bank, apparently to assist them in recovering their funds.

What emerges from Asia Sentinel’s coverage of FBME Bank appears to be a network of commercially driven individuals circling the shuttered bank. In spite of stating on its website that 5Si staff “unashamedly believe in and are committed to God, Jesus Christ, family, Judeo-Christian principles, country, clients, our services, and Israel”, they may also be among those hoping to benefit financially from the destruction of FBME, previously valued at $2.7bn.

Meanwhile, FBME Bank’s depositors are still waiting to be repaid.

 

Dominic Carman

Written by:

Dominic Carman, journalist, writer and legal commentator.
www.dominiccarman.com