Disaster funding: The Lebanese firm at the center of U.K. probe

Written by Michele DuBois, CNN When Floris Akman founded Zejique Investment Fund, he had plans to turn Lebanon’s second city into a booming tech hub. But a short time later, in September 2016, Syrian…

Disaster funding: The Lebanese firm at the center of U.K. probe

Written by Michele DuBois, CNN

When Floris Akman founded Zejique Investment Fund, he had plans to turn Lebanon’s second city into a booming tech hub.

But a short time later, in September 2016, Syrian warplanes struck Zejique’s offices, according to local reports, killing three people. A spokesman for Zejique told CNN that the attack was not related to the company or its funding.

Today, Zejique is being investigated by British regulators for allegations of money laundering. In October, the company was placed under formal investigation by Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) over claims that Zejique had failed to report finance sources to the EU. It is now under a powers order, during which regulators can arrest and search property.

The company is based in Lebanon and has refused to comment on the allegations.

A damning report last month by Reuters detailed how Zejique’s primary financial backer has ties to Syria’s former President Bashar al-Assad. The bank notes, along with several phone calls and documents, show how Zejique acquired at least two types of ballistic missiles and mortar shells that have fallen into the hands of ISIS.

Police also searched Zejique’s offices in April, reportedly looking for documents related to transactions that could be part of a tax evasion case.

U.K. Pressure

European prosecutors have already brought pressure on Zejique to hand over information relating to the missile transactions.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a multinational association of anti-money laundering regulators, said in February that Zejique had been mis-declaring its financial dealings and was “doing business in flagrant violation of international accounting standards.”

The company allegedly offered to transfer weapons and other goods to Syria without providing a legal end-user, according to several media reports.

In April, Zejique opened a U.K. bank account, the Manchester Evening News reported at the time. Despite the FCA’s investigation, the bank account continues to operate.

The FCA said it cannot comment on specific cases. But a spokeswoman told CNN, “Immediate steps are taken when an enforcement action is launched if it can be shown to be not compliant with the law. This action could range from placing the company under a powers order to, in the most extreme cases, terminating the bank account and prosecution.”

Zejique said in a statement that the company has received two cease and desist orders from the authorities and complied “with the unlawful orders without objection.” It added that it has taken corrective measures to comply with all applicable regulations.

According to the Lebanese Economic and Social Council (LED), Zejique employs 40 people and is based in Beirut’s industrial zone.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri in 2015 invited Zejique to set up in the country, saying that the company’s founders are “dynamic and committed Lebanese.”

Rafik Sayegh, the chairman of the LED, said the council received the complaint against Zejique from U.K. authorities in July 2017.

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