A top lawyer for the Saudi business group accused of covering up the scale of its crushing debts will present exhaustive evidence on how his clients were repeatedly hoodwinked about the looming financial catastrophe by Maan al Sanea, London's High Court heard.
Ewan McQuater, barrister, for the Al Gosaibi group, told Mr Justice Flaux the court would hear comprehensive evidence about the "machinations" used by Mr al Sanea - once among the richest men in the world - to cover his tracks when arranging huge loans and camouflaging the scale of the debt faced by the company.
The group, which collapsed owing US$9 billion (Dh33.05bn) in 2009, is being sued in London for $220 million by five banks that claim Al Gosaibi deliberately concealed the "guilty secret" of its indebtedness until it finally defaulted on its loans. But Mr McQuater has pinned the blame on the former managing director of the company's the Money Exchange division, Mr al Sanea, whom he termed a "master fraudster" who "went to extraordinary lengths to conceal his activities".
"The court should not underestimate just how sophisticated, well-resourced, ruthless and brazen a fraudster Mr Al Sanea was," he told the judge.
Mr al Sanea arranged the "forgery of facility documents" to secure loans, claimed the barrister, which included the forging of partners' signatures to secure his own ends.
And although Mr al Sanea had the partners' "authority" to manage The Money Exchange, this authority did not extend to allowing him to "bind" Al Gosaibi to loan facilities, said Mr McQuater.
"Mr al Sanea had no authority to receive on behalf of [Al Gosaibi] moneys which he had fraudulently borrowed, and there is no evidence that [Al Gosaibi] received any material benefit from the [five banks'] facilities," he told the court.
Mr McQuater expanded on earlier comments about the "obsessive" steps taken by Mr al Sanea to ensure the activities of The Money Exchange were kept under wraps.
The barrister told the court Mr al Sanea required Money Exchange staff to sign an undertaking conveying all mail to him before it was forwarded on, and he also "secured the loyalty" of some of his senior staff by making large "top-up" payments to them. The main source of information about The Money Exchange's activities should have been its financial statements, the court heard, which between the years 2000 to 2009 showed a "large investment portfolio".
But this picture was "entirely false", the barrister alleged. During Mr McQuater's opening of the defence case the judge intervened to ask the whereabouts of Mr al Sanea, whom, the barrister explained, is now in Saudi Arabia - "under a travel ban".
The court did not sit yesterday but will resume today, when the first live evidence is expected to be heard.
Al Gosaibi's witnesses are expected to be called in the following order: Simon Charlton, a managing director of Deloitte who led the forensic accounting inquiry into The Money Exchange; Philip Sealey, also of Deloitte; Mark Hayley, the former general manager of The Money Exchange; Mohammed Hindi, a long-standing adviser of Al Gosaibi; Yousef al Gosaibi, the chairman of Al Gosaibi, and Saud al Gosaibi, the current managing director of the company.
However, the five banks are expected to be the first to call their evidence.
The hearing continues.