November 25, 2020

[FBME:] A new bank of crooks and criminals

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By John Berthelsen From Asia Sentinel

Death on the street

Another businessman named Alexander Perpilichny fled Russia in 2010, to hand Swiss prosecutors details of the alleged involvement of senior Russian officials in the Hermitage theft, only also to end up dead, collapsing on a London street as he jogged. Although two autopsies turned up nothing, Perepilchiny’s insurance company ordered tests that detected a toxin from a Chinese plant called Gelseminium, which causes cardiac arrest, in his stomach. That form of poison is closely identified with Russian intelligence authorities.

Browder has continued to fight for the funds he insists were stolen from him, to no avail.  The Prevezon funds allegedly traveled through a series of front companies including Nomirex Trading UK, Balec Trading Ltd. Quartell Trading Ltd., of the UK, Baikonur Worldwide Ltd., Arivust Holdings of Cyprus and Tredwell Marketing Ltd., a BVI concern alleged to be linked to Michael Norbert Saab. The graphic below, also prepared by US government lawyers, shows the path which runs from the Central Bank of the eventually into Quartel, Baikonur, Nomirex and others.

Click image to enlarge
Arvest is headed by Vladien Stepanov, the ex-husband of Olga Stepanov, the head of the Moscow Tax Office. It is that tax office that is alleged to have been responsible for the trumped-up tax charges that allowed the government to seize the Hermitage assets.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control, an agency of the US Department of Treasury, or OFAC has placed sanctions on several of the depositors and transferees, including the Syrian Scientific Research Center – which is believed to have manufactured sarin nerve gas for Syrian President Assad, as well as Balec Trading, a front for the research center into which Prevezon funds flowed. Others sanctioned by the US are Piruseti Enterprises and Frumineti Investments Ltd., which also received funds from Prevezon. (United Nations inspectors after an alleged 2013 sarin attack on civilians by Syria removed what was said to be all chemical weapons from Syrian depots as a result of an agreement struck by US President Barack Obama.)

The Russians are coming

The Prevezon interests, however, are hardly the only Russians with funds in . Much of the information comes from an explosive – and confidential – 63-page report prepared in 2013 by the international accounting firm of Ernst and Young and made available to Asia Sentinel. It indicates that Balec Ventures Inc., which in turn was linked to the Syrian Scientific Research Center, was also linked to the Hermitage theft through Quartell Trading Ltd., which is registered in the British Virgin Islands, and the UK-registered Nomirex Trading Ltd. All were involved as “intermediary offshore companies” in moving the funds out of Russia.

According to a CNN report on June 20, bank records and a contract show that a Russian mafia front called the Klyuev Group, consisting of high-level Russian businessmen who were involved in the Hermitage theft, agreed to pay Balec US$3 million, allegedly for high-end furniture. Balec is headed by Issa al-Zaydi, who was sanctioned by the Americans for his connection to the Syrian gas factory and was listed as one of FBME’s highest-level clients.

Individuals said to be connected to the Russian Mafia hold accounts for Altem Investment Ltd., and Zibar Mgt. Ltd.  Another was said to be Joseph Karam, identified as a “financial advisor for a major transnational organized crime figure who banked entirely at FBME Cyprus (and who) maintained a relationship with the owners of FBME.”

Karam was said to be close to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who in turn is said be a member of Putin’s inner circle. Deripaska did business in the previous decade with Paul Manafort, formerly President Donald Trump’s campaign manager. Deripaska has offered to testify before congressional committees in exchange for immunity but has been turned down.  There is no indication that anyone connected to Trump has had anything to do with the Hermitage scandal,  Browder said.

The Russians also seem to have enjoyed extensive relationships with Lawrence Mafuru, the special administrator of FBME Bank Tanzania, who is currently under indictment for fraud related to FBME. He is so famous among Russian launderers that he has allegedly earned the nickname “Mr. Ten Percent.”

Another depositor is oligarch Mikhail Dmitrievitch Prokhorov, a Russian billionaire who ran Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest producer of nickel, among other Russian businesses. Said to be Russia’s third-richest individual, he has since bought the Brooklyn Nets basketball team. The rapper Jay Z is a minority shareholder in the team.

Other depositors include Teodoro Obang, the president of Equatorial Guinea, and his son, who deposited US$70 million in 2011.  Another is Isabella dos Santos, the daughter of Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who is said to be the richest woman in Africa.

Thousands of suspicious reports

As Asia Sentinel reported on April 18, hundreds of so-called SARS or Suspicious Activity Reports have been issued by other banks over FBME’s transactions, disclosing transactions that the institution knows or suspects to involve possible illegal activity. The US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, the US Treasury Department’s lead financial money-laundering combatant, reported at least 4,500 suspicious wire transfers to FBME through US accounts that were suspected of laundering as much as US$875 million between 2006 and 2013.

According to the ruling, FinCEN considered “shell company activities accounting for hundreds of millions of dollars between 2006 [and] 2014.” FBME is accused of maintaining accounts for the head of an international drug trafficking network as well as a Syrian proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and the former owners of Bank J Trust before it changed its name.

The Tanzanian head office of FBME, under the administration of Lawrence Nafuru, has continued to fight the ruling banning it from US global transactions. In an appeal brief filed in the US earlier this month, the bank’s lawyers stated that the bank was railroaded with evidence and allegations it did not have a chance to review, saying in a brief earlier this month that FinCEN has “frozen the bank out of the US financial system through an unfair, unlawful process.”

The Saab family seems to have even put the Tanzanian government of President John Magufuli at risk with the US government in the Tanzanian Central Bank’s quest to control FBME’s future liquidation through Mafuru and the Tanzanian Deposit Insurance Corporation, adding to problems the Tanzanians already have with Acacia Mining Plc and Barrick Gold Corporation. The Saabs are alleged to have ties to the Tanzanian mining industry and FBME Tanzania was marketed actively to local concerns.

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From Wikipedia

FBME Bank was an international commercial bank. It offered commercial banking services and products to corporate and individual clients. Its traditional banking lines included international payment services, multi-currency account, credit facilities, trade finance, forex trading facilities, internet banking and international card services. FBME services clients worldwide.


Private Company
Industry Banking, Financial services
Founded 1953
Headquarters Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Area served
Key people
A-F M Saab
F M Saab
Managing Director[1]
Products Credit cards, consumer banking, corporate banking, investment banking, mortgage loans, private banking, wealth management
Total assets US$2.716 billion (TZS:4.4 trillion) (Q3:2013)
Subsidiaries FBME Card Services
As of September 2013, FBME was the largest commercial bank in Tanzania, with a total asset base valued at approximately US$2.716 billion (TZS:4.4 trillion), with shareholders’ equity of approximately US$179.63 million (TZS:291 billion).[2

The bank was founded in 1952 in Lebanon, as the Federal Bank of Lebanon SAL. In 1982 Federal Bank of the Middle East was established in Cyprus as a subsidiary of the Federal Bank of Lebanon SAL. In 1986 Federal Bank of the Middle East changed its country of incorporation to the Cayman Islands and its banking presence in Cyprus was transformed to that of a branch of the Cayman Islands entity. Since 1993 it has maintained a Representative Office in Moscow.

In 2003, as part of its strategic planning, Federal Bank of the Middle East terminated its banking presence in the Cayman Islands and established its parent company and operational headquarters in Tanzania. At the same time, its Cyprus operations became a branch of Federal Bank of the Middle East, Tanzania.

In 2005 the Federal Bank of the Middle East Changed its name to FBME Bank. FBME Card Services Limited (FBMECS) was incorporated in 2002 and in 2004/5 took over the Card Services operations of FBME Bank.

In 2014 the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a bureau of the United States Department of the Treasury, which collects financial transactional data and information in order to combat domestic and international money laundering, terrorist financing, and otherfinancial crimes, accused FBME which operates primarily in Cyprus, of facilitating financial transactions for multinational organised crimeorganizations and Hezbollah.[3] The Central Bank of Cyprus took over management of the bank and appointed Mr. Dinos Christofides as administrator, who was later replaced by Andrew Andronicou and thereafter the latter replaced by Chris Iacovides.[4][better source needed]

In May 2015, the International Chamber of Commerce‘s Arbitral Tribunal called on Cypriot banking authorities to abstain from taking any measures that would destroy irrevocably the business of FBME Cyprus pending completion of arbitration. The request for Interim Measures had been filed by Ayoub-Farid Michel Saab and Fadi Michel Saab, owners of the band and claimants in the dispute against the Republic of Cyprus.[5] FBME Bank said this confirms Procedural Order No. 1 by inviting the Republic of Cyprus to refrain from proceeding to the sale or the resolution of FBME Bank before the end of this arbitration. and puts Cypriot financial authorities under obligation to notify any further measure regarding FBME Cyprus 30 days in advance, and that Cyprus can no longer act in isolation and put all interested parties before a fait accompli. Further, FBME, the Arbitral Tribunal and that Messrs. Saab, owners, will be in a position to react before a decision is final, and have an opportunity to take all measures and legal actions that they deem appropriate.[6]

The 21st of December 2015, the central bank of Cyprus revoked the branch license of FBME bank in Cyprus.[7]

After the deposit guarantee scheme was activated for customers with accounts in Cyprus, the banks staff in Cyprus started a strike. In June 2016, staff agreed to assist with the administration of the deposit guarantee scheme and customers start receiving their money up to 100.000 Euro. There are in 2016 numerous court cases ongoing. The verdicts show a sense of predictability.

In April 2017, the bank appealed a ruling from a Washington, D.C. federal court which in effect cut off the bank from the American financial system.[8]

On May 5th 2017, The Bank of Tanzania has discontinued all banking operations of FBME Bank Ltd, revoked its banking business license and placed it under liquidation and appointed the Deposit Insurance Board as a liquidator.


The shares of stock of FBME Bank are owned by Ayoub-Farid M Saab (50%) and Fady M Saab (50%).[9]

Branch network

The bank maintains the following branches: [10]

  1. Nicosia Branch – 90 Archbishop Makarios III Avenue, 1077 Nicosia, Cyprus Cyprus
  2. Limassol Branch – Omiros & Araouzos Tower, 25 Olympion Street, 3035 Limassol, Cyprus Cyprus
  1. Main Branch at Samora Avenue, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania Tanzania
  2. Zanzibar Branch – 19-1 Kisiwandui, Zanzibar, Tanzania Zanzibar
  3. Arusha Branch – 47 Old Moshi/Haile Selasie Road, Arusha, Tanzania Tanzania
  4. Mwanza Branch – Station Road, Mwanza, Tanzania Tanzania
  1. Moscow Representative Office – 7/11, 3rd Lusinovsky Lane, 119049 Moscow, Russia Russia

See also


External links


: We have been informed not all the facts in the above article are correct.

See iNews Cayman story published October 29 2017 “FBME reinstate Cayman Islands holding company, request rehearing” at:

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  1. […] funds reportedly were linked to FBME (formerly Federal Bank of the Middle East), to a Syrian sarin gas factory and the Assad regime, as […]

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