ABU DHABI // Three separate attempts to withdraw billions of dirhams from the Central Bank in the last year involved identical methods and a central Iranian character, the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court heard yesterday.
In each instance, an Iranian identified as "Agha Farzeen Sonali" contacted people through a mutual friend and told them he had funds in the bank that he needed them to withdraw, according to court documents. He then provided documents that supposedly created power of attorney for the holder. In the case heard yesterday, an Iranian and an American were accused of trying to obtain US$14.4 billion (Dh53bn) from the bank in April.
The Central Bank does not hold private funds and deals strictly with other banks. Everyone who has tried to withdraw funds in the scheme has been arrested. It is not clear whether the Iranian name is real, an alias or wholly fictional. He has been tried and sentenced in his absence. IK, an Iranian, and NB, a naturalised American of Iranian decent, are accused of going to the Central Bank, on Bainunnah Street, on April 24. What happened next is disputed.
Prosecutors say the men went to try to access the non-existent funds, while the defendants say they were merely inquiring about the validity of the funds. "My aim was not to withdraw the money, only to inquire if the documents and the amount were genuine," said IK, the main defendant. IK said he knew he could not withdraw the funds because he had copies of the documents faxed to him by "Agha Farzeen Sonali".
NB told the court he was only serving as the translator for IK, which IK confirmed. NB, according to his lawyer, lives in Al Ain with his wife and was asked to translate for IK, who speaks neither Arabic nor English. IK told the court that he was a businessman in Iran working on a tourist village project. He was contacted by an investor, Sayeed Mohammed Husaini, who offered to finance the project. The investor said he was serving as the middleman between IK and "Agha Farzeen Sonali". The funds would be used for IK's project except for one per cent, which would be a bonus for Husaini, IK told the court yesterday.
IK was told that there was US$14.4bn in the Central Bank that was allegedly transferred from Germany to a security house in Dubai International Airport on February 7, 2006. The documents carried a signature of the Central Bank chairman, Sultan bin Nasser al Suwaidi, which prosecutors say was forged. According to the documents, the money was flown from Germany in 114 boxes and delivered to the Central Bank.
The defendants also presented a receipt confirming that the cargo was delivered. Prosecutors say the receipt, like all the documents presented, was forged. All these events matched those of the previous cases. In the first, three Iranians were convicted of trying to obtain US$3.6bn from the bank. In the second, two Germans, a Belgian and three Iranians attempted to access 7.2bn euros. They were acquitted by Abu Dhabi's Criminal Court in March, but "Agha Farzeen Sonali" was sentenced in his absence to five years in prison. The prosecution appealed the verdict, and the Appeal Court sentenced the six defendants to two years in prison last week.