‘Fraud’ call was just a chinwag, court told

A BUSINESSMAN accused of tricking NatWest out of more than £15 million told a court that a series of suspicious late-night calls were a “coincidence”.

It is alleged NatWests online banking system was exploited. Picture: Getty

Sohail Qureshi, 53, was part of a gang who exploited a flaw in NatWest’s online banking system during its takeover by RBS in 2004, Southwark Crown Court in London has heard.

Qureshi, of Newton Mearns, Renfrewshire, helped transfer more than £13.5m out of the UK after realising a May Day Bank Holiday provided crucial extra time to complete the fraud, it is alleged.

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Qureshi and his associates are said to have targeted a branch of the bank in St Helens, Lancashire, in a bid to take a total of £20,220,629.

They succeeded in transferring £15m, of which £13.5m was sent to a bank account in Riga, Latvia, destined for Dubai, it is alleged. The fraud is said to have taken place between 1 April and 31 July, 2004, but the scheme was revealed when Latvian authorities grew suspicious.

Qureshi, previously known as Sohail Ackrim, was cross-examined by prosecutor David Aaronberg QC about phone records linking him to the plot.

Qureshi told the jury of nine women and three men that his wife enjoyed a “chinwag” and that this could account for the unusual pattern of calls.

“I’m not connected to the fraud, as you will see, as we go on,” Qureshi said.

Mr Aaronberg asked why Qureshi had called his wife at 1:37am before the fraud.

“I’m either staying in Glasgow or Manchester,” Qureshi said. “I was bidding her goodnight.”

But Mr Aaronberg told the court Qureshi’s wife had received another call at 2am.

“It appears to be Mr Hussein [an associate],” Qureshi said.

“Mr Hussein calling for a chinwag at two in the morning?” Mr Aaronberg asked.

“I don’t know. Probably Mr Hussein called her for whatever reason,” Qureshi said.

“You have several people involved in our fraud in close communication over a period of an hour or so and you are there in the middle of it all, aren’t you?” the barrister asked, brandishing phone records.

Qureshi denied the claim, saying: “That’s speculation, that as you go on, we will absolutely be able to show you otherwise.”

The lawyer replied: “We can show you and the fraudsters are talking, literally as the fraud is happening. That is the position. You are saying it’s a coincidence.

“Coincidence upon coincidence. It’s nonsense isn’t it?”

Qureshi, of Newton Mearns, denies conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to use false instruments.

Several individuals involved in the NatWest fraud were jailed for a total of 54 years in 2008 after a series of trials over the same case.

The trial continues.