Sunday, April 11, 2021

UK lawyer involved in conspiracy to offer £1M bribe to police officers


A lawyer at one of the UK’s most prestigious law firms has been accused of relaying an offer of a £1m “bribe” to police officers as part of a bizarre plot to release €300m (£274m) hidden in a Swiss bank account, according to court transcripts obtained by the Guardian.

Mike Stubbs, a partner at Mishcon de Reya, allegedly told two Metropolitan police detectives that a former SAS sergeant with intelligence contacts had concocted a plan to release what were described as “CIA funds” being held in the Swiss bank for “covert” purposes in Somalia.

According to the transcripts, Stubbs told the detectives the intelligence operative was proposing to pay a portion of the money into a police pension fund. The detectives allegedly “strongly rebuffed” the proposal and told Stubbs “in clear and strongly worded terms” that the offer he was relaying was “interpreted as a bribe”.

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Details of the encounter between Stubbs and the detectives emerged during hearings at Southwark crown court in London last December and related to the trial of Othman Louanjli, a French banker.

During the trial, but in the absence of the jury, lawyers for Louanjli applied to introduce as evidence a report filed on the Met’s internal intelligence sharing system, Crimint, in which the two detectives provided their account of the meeting with Stubbs in 2013.

The court heard that the Crimint report, which was filed a month after the meeting, stated Stubbs twice relayed the intelligence operative’s offer to the police as part of an elaborate proposal to trick a suspect in a fraud investigation into travelling to Switzerland to release the €300m using special access codes. The proposal was not taken up.

The judge in the trial, David Tomlinson, summarised the offer to pay money to the police as an “inducement by way of £1m”, but did not make any adverse findings against Stubbs and ultimately ruled against admitting the Crimint report as evidence.

However, the judge said Stubbs appeared to think the plan to release the supposed CIA funds was “a clever idea” and described the senior lawyer’s alleged conversations with the police as “extraordinary”.

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“The whole thing is bizarre. I mean, there are all sorts of problems with it,” the judge remarked. “There are all sorts of questions one can imagine one might ask Mike Stubbs if only to show him how harebrained the idea is.” The police, the judge added, “simply blew the whole idea out of the water both times it was suggested, which was the responsible thing to do”.

Stubbs, 64, is a veteran lawyer at Mishcon de Reya, an elite London firm. When the Guardian contacted him by phone, he denied any knowledge of the plot to release funds from Switzerland. “I’ve never heard of this,” he said. “It’s complete nonsense.”

Describing himself as “a very straightforward lawyer”, Stubbs dismissed the allegations as “bonkers” and told a Guardian reporter: “I think this is manufactured by somebody, possibly by you.” He repeatedly insisted the meeting with the detectives never took place.

In a subsequent letter, Mishcon de Reya clarified that Stubbs did in fact hold a meeting with the police in 2013 and said it was “unsurprising” he was unable to immediately recall the details in an “unsolicited telephone call” before checking contemporaneous documents.

The firm said Stubbs met the detectives while acting on client instructions to liaise with the Met and provide any information to officers so they could assess its credibility. Stubbs, the firm said, “simply relayed” to the police the proposal suggested to him by the intelligence operative without endorsing it. The Met declined to comment.

Louanjli, a former banker at Liechtensteinische Landesbank, was found guilty of fraud and money laundering charges in December. The case was connected to a financial scam that defrauded a Dutch shipbuilding company, Allseas, out of €100m in 2011.

Louanjli was found to have assisted Luis Nobre, a Portuguese confidence trickster who was at the heart of the plot to defraud Allseas. Nobre, who posed as a City trader with links to the Vatican, was imprisoned in 2016 for his role in the fraud.

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In late 2011, Stubbs was hired by Nobre, who at the time was seeking to regain control of money in the UK he said was for investment purposes but later transpired to be proceeds of the €100m fraud.

Weeks later, in a highly unusual move, the Mishcon de Reya lawyer switched sides to represent Allseas after it became apparent the company had been defrauded. Since then, Stubbs and Mishcon de Reya have helped the Dutch company recover its client’s money and pursue Nobre’s associates through litigation.

Mishcon de Reya said Stubbs regularly met with the Met over several years to provide information in relation to the fraud against Allseas. The meeting with the two detectives recounted in the Crimint report took place in October 2013.

During December’s application, Louanjli’s defence tried to introduce the Crimint report as evidence in the trial in an attempt to undermine the prosecution. The request failed after Tomlinson ruled the evidence was not relevant as it had no “material bearing” on the issues in the trial.

However, across two days of hearings in early December, Louanjli’s QC, Mark Rainsford, described to the court the alleged contents of the Crimint report, in which the detectives set out their account of the meeting with Stubbs. The purpose of the meeting, according to the Crimint report, was the “pursuit of outstanding monies”.

Citing the report, Rainsford alleged that Stubbs told the officers the ex-SAS sergeant “with alleged CIA contacts” was offering to facilitate an elaborate scheme intended to trick Nobre, who at the time was on bail.

Rainsford told the court the plan involved police temporarily returning Nobre’s passport to him to deceive him into thinking “his passport was being permanently returned and that proceedings would be terminated”. As part of this plan, he explained, Nobre would use the passport to access the €300m in the Swiss bank account.

According to the QC, the Crimint report described how Stubbs told the officers the ex-SAS sergeant offered to arrange for £1m of this money to be paid to the Serious Organised Crime Agency – replaced in 2013 by the National Crime Agency – or into the Met’s pension fund “in order to ease the current austere environment.”

Rainsford told the court the officers rejected this offer and “pointed out to Stubbs in clear and strongly worded terms that this offer was interpreted as a bribe, money laundering and an attempt to deceive a suspect on bail”.

The QC alleged that Stubbs then repeated the offer from the ex-SAS sergeant a second time. “Again this was strongly rebuffed,” Rainsford said, and Stubbs “took this on board” before texting the ex-SAS officer with a brief message: “Too dangerous.”

While the judge did not make any adverse findings against Stubbs, he noted a “degree of consensus” between the prosecution and the defence “that some of the behaviour of Mike Stubbs of Mishcon de Reya has been questionable”. He also noted the plan Stubbs had allegedly relayed to police would have brought “further untold wealth of dubious origin into the United Kingdom”.

In its correspondence with the Guardian, Mishcon de Reya said Stubbs did not make any offer or proposal to the police, but “simply relayed information in line with client instructions” so the police “could assess its credibility and take appropriate steps”.

The firm said Stubbs was not in court when the allegations against him were raised and was therefore unable to challenge them at the time. If questioned, the firm continued, he would have given an explanation “corroborated by the contemporaneous records we have seen”. The firm said no action had ever been taken by the police against Stubbs.

Mishcon de Reya stressed that Stubbs relayed the intelligence operative’s offer to the detectives “dispassionately” and “did not agree with or endorse the proposal”. The firm said its lawyer considered the plot to trick Nobre into releasing funds from the Swiss bank as “misconceived”. It said Stubbs considered the information he was relaying to police to be “interesting but probably unreliable”.

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