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Dubai court can hear case against Deloitte unit after collapse of Hezbollah-linked bank

Members of Lebanon's Hezbollah wave their flags during a rally. The collapsed Lebanese Canadian Bank has been linked to funding for Hezbollah. (Reuters)
LONDON: A Dubai court could hear evidence relating to the alleged role of auditor Deloitte & Touche (M.E.) in the collapse of Lebanese Canadian Bank – which went bust after being linked to an international drug smuggling and money laundering racket with ties to Hezbollah.
It follows a ruling in a legal row between a group of investors in the collapsed Lebanese Canadian Bank and the regional Deloitte partnership of the auditor, over whether or not the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) Courts had jurisdiction to hear the case.
The shareholder group is led by Nest Investments Holding SAL, which was founded by Gulf entrepreneur, Ghazi Abu Nahl. They claim they lost some $128 million from the collapse of the bank.
A Nest spokesperson said: “The allegations against Deloitte & Touche (M.E.) are serious in nature – involving complicity in money laundering and terrorist financing through the Lebanese Canadian Bank. The defendant plays a prominent role in the Middle East audit market and remains the auditor in liquidation at the bank. It is therefore particularly important that the allegations against DTME be heard and answered in a competent court.”
The case stems from a US government probe into the Beirut-based Lebanese Canadian Bank which alleged that it was at the center of a global drug trafficking and money laundering network that shipped narcotics from South America to Europe and the Middle East through Africa, with the proceeds laundered through Lebanon’s financial system.
The investigation led the US authorities to issue a so-called “FinCen” notice on Lebanese Canadian Bank as a “financial institution of pri­mary money laundering concern.”
Such notices, issued under the US Patriot Act, typically sound the death knell for banks because they effectively prevent them from accessing the global financial system.
A group of 11 shareholders including Nest launched proceedings at the Dubai International Financial Center Courts in 2016, alleging that Deloitte & Touche (M.E.) acted negligently during its audit of the bank and failed to identify grounds for concern under anti-money laundering laws.
The audits were undertaken by Deloitte’s Lebanon partnership between 2006 and 2009.
One of the central claims made by the shareholder group was that the audits of the bank failed to disclose various illicit activities at the lender, that included terror financing and money laundering.
Specifically, it was claimed that Lebanese Canadian Bank had intentionally or negligently aided and abetted terrorist activity by maintaining bank accounts for Hezbollah entities.
Deloitte & Touche (M.E.) had argued that the case should be dismissed for jurisdiction-related and other reasons — including that Lebanese law, not DIFC law, applied.
But a judgment handed down by Justice Roger Giles in the DIFC Courts found that while Lebanese law was indeed applicable, the “matters were open to factual and legal investigation at trial and were not so clear that the claimants had no real prospect of success.”
He added that “further materials were likely to become available to show the relationship between the claimants and the Lebanese auditor.”
Nest hailed the decision as a “landmark” ruling.
“This is the first claim of its kind to be considered by the DIFC Courts – targeting a leading audit brand for negligence and deceit in their audits of a client bank that was allegedly acting as the financial arm for drug traffickers and terrorist financiers,” it said in a statement.
A Deloitte & Touche (M.E.) spokesperson said in a statement to Arab News that  the claim against the firm was “without merit” and that it would vigorously resist any attempt to pursue it.

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