A banking giant that operates in the UK, Ireland and the European Union is facing an investigation into allegations it has worked to help telecoms and telecom providers launder money for political and commercial interests.
A series of high-profile cases involving the Northern Ireland-based Ulster Bank are under review by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
The bank, which is owned by Ulster Bank Group Limited (UBGL), was one of the largest financial institutions in the United Kingdom to receive a total of over £7bn in funding between 2009 and 2016.
Dublin-based UBGL is one of Ireland’s largest financial services firms.
The bank was a key financial institution for both the Labour and Conservative governments, and was part of a financial package in 2014 to help Irish banks and other institutions with bailout costs and restructuring.
In a statement, the SFO said it was investigating allegations of wrongdoing by UBGB over its dealings with several Irish financial institutions and a financial intermediary.
In the wake of the revelations, the bank announced it had suspended its relationship with a former Northern Ireland finance minister and a former Ulster Bank official, while continuing to work closely with Irish regulators to prevent any such abuses.
“We have already ceased all business with the former finance minister, who has been the subject of numerous criminal investigations and will no longer serve on UBGR and the Ulster Bank board,” the bank said in a statement.
“We have also suspended our relationships with our former Irish regulator and will not be providing any further financial services to him.”
“As the UB Group is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Irish State, it cannot comment on specific individuals or their criminal cases,” the statement added.
The SFO has already launched an investigation in relation to a Northern Ireland property developer, and an investigation is also ongoing into allegations that the Ulster bank laundered money for the Northern Irish government.
The UB group’s head of compliance, David Gough, said that UB GBL, as a company, had not done anything wrong and was cooperating fully with the investigation.
“The company is fully cooperating with the SFC and the SFP and is fully confident that the company will continue to do business in the future,” he told The Irish Times.
Gough told the newspaper that the bank was “fully compliant” with Irish legislation, which bans political and financial intermediaries from working on behalf of the state.
In response to the allegations, UB bank director of finance, David McEwan, said the bank “has fully cooperated with the Serious Fraud Unit’s investigation and is confident that we will be able to provide the required financial support to our former customers and our Irish regulators.”
The SFP has been investigating UB since last November, when it received a complaint from a former Irish taxpayer that the Northern Bank of Ireland was using UB to launder illicit money.
In a statement published by the Irish Times, the Irish Department of Finance said that it had received the complaint, which “identified a number of individuals who may have engaged in conduct which breached the financial services act”.
It added that the SFSO had “been informed of the complaint and are in the process of gathering information, which will assist them in the investigation”.
The SFA and the Irish government have been in contact for months, and have been working to determine whether any wrongdoing was taking place.
The Irish government said the SFI had contacted it in February to discuss the matter.
The investigation is being led by a member of the SFF, who is also a former director of Ulster Bank and the former head of Ulster National Asset Management Limited, which was the main financial institution to receive the UBI funding.