A billionaire businessman, philanthropist and former broker of arms deals has been told by Barclays that he can no longer bank with them.
Wafic Said, who was born in Syria, has also donated large sums to the Conservative Party.
The bank is understood to be concerned about holding accounts that are linked to what are described as “high-risk countries”.
Mr Said has been a customer of Barclays for many years.
The Said Foundation funds a renowned business school in Oxford, as well as many humanitarian causes, and counts a former private secretary to the Prince of Wales among its trustees. So why has he been shunned?
Mr Said and his foundation have strong financial links with Syria. His family is a major shareholder in one of Syria’s biggest banks and he has counted members of the family of Bashar al-Assad among his friends.
War-torn Syria is a complicated place to do business. There are a variety of US and EU sanctions regarding transferring money in and out of Syria and there are serious risks for banks that get it wrong.
Barclays concluded it was not sufficiently reassured they were in compliance with anti-money laundering and “know your client” rules.
Mr Said became well known as the broker of the UK’s largest ever export deal – and one that became mired in controversy.
The so-called al-Yamamah transaction involved the sale of 43bn worth of British fighter planes to Saudi Arabia.
There were accusations of bribery, which led to an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office. That probe was terminated by Tony Blair in 2006, as it was considered counter to the UK’s national interest.
There is no suggestion that Mr Said was guilty of any wrongdoing, either then or now. However, Barclays is understandably jumpy because last November, Barclays was fined 72m by the Financial Conduct Authority after it found they failed to carry out due diligence on a high-net-worth client in a transaction worth 1.9bn. But the real fear for banks is the US authorities.
In 2014, French bank BNP Paribas was fined almost $9bn for violating US sanctions against Sudan, Cuba and Iran, a severe punishment aimed at sending a clear message to other financial institutions around the world. Barclays heard it and has decided that people with Mr Said’s profile are not a risk worth taking.
Barclays insist that the decision was not part of a wider systematic culling of clients with links to territories posing high regulatory risk and that decisions are being made on a case-by-case basis.
In a statement on Friday, Mr Said said he was given no justification for the bank’s action and would be taking legal action against Barclays.
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