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Maire Tecnimont Sues NatWest Bank in UK Court Over “Push Payment” Fraud

Maire Tecnimont Group, the Italian engineering multinational, is bringing legal action in the High Court in London against NatWest, following the bank’s failure to stop it falling victim to a “push-payment” fraud.

In 2018, Maire Tecnimont’s subsidiary in Saudi Arabia was duped (via an internal email account hacked by unidentified criminal elements) into sending $5 million to a bank account held with NatWest.

Despite this account having seen very little activity in the preceding period, and none involving such large sums, NatWest did not freeze the account pending further investigation. The controller of the NatWest account then appears to have almost immediately dispersed the stolen money in a flurry of numerous large payments to bank accounts in several different countries. NatWest allowed these payments to take place, despite the fact that they prompted two internal fraud alerts at the UK bank. Maire Tecnimont’s legal action claims this was a breach of the bank’s obligations under UK regulations against money laundering and terrorist financing. The funds paid out of the NatWest account became untraceable, for all practical purposes. They have not been recovered and are presumed to have fallen into criminal hands.

Maire Tecnimont is suing for $3.76 million - the amount still left in the account when NatWest’s first fraud alarm was triggered - plus interest and costs. According to the claim, Natwest fell short of standards of commercially acceptable conduct for a bank in relation to the prevention of fraud, money laundering, terrorist financing and financial crime.

The legal action argues that banks have a responsibility to take appropriate steps to prevent the dissipation of stolen or laundered funds. It may create clarity in what is currently an uncertain area of English law by establishing whether banks are required to prevent all fraud perpetrated using their accounts, not just fraud against the bank’s own customers.

Robert Wynn Jones of Mishcon de Reya, legal representative of Maire Tecnimont, said:

“Maire Tecnimont confirms it is suing NatWest over its lamentable failure to prevent a push-payment fraud through which the company lost millions of dollars.

“It is unacceptable and, frankly, inexplicable that NatWest did not prevent this fraud. The sudden appearance of such a large sum of money originating overseas into an essentially dormant bank account should have rung alarm bells. The bank has heavy anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism obligations, to say nothing of its general responsibility to protect banking customers. All of these controls failed.

“NatWest is a systemically-important UK bank with millions of customers. If it doesn’t have adequate safeguards to protect people against this kind of confidence scam, that is concerning for everybody.”

The legal action has been filed by Tecnimont Arabia Limited, a subsidiary of Maire Tecnimont SpA, which is represented by Robert Wynn Jones and John Sendama of Mishcon de Reya LLP. The claim number is LM-2020-000077.

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