Mobile traders with money frozen by the First Curacao International Bank (FCIB) in the Dutch Antilles must act quickly to apply for their funds to be released, said Dass Solicitors and Z L Attorneys last week.
Both firms said account holders can apply for funds to be released during the administration of the FCIB, but will only have until the company officially goes into liquidation at which points funds will no longer be released.
Z L Attorneys partner Daniel Zahavi said: “If traders don’t act, their money won’t be released, even if they are innocent. This will be a battle and the longer traders take to come to us to apply for their money to be released, the more likely it is that the central bank will impose further rules to prevent accounts from being unfrozen. It will be much harder then.”
The majority of FCIB account holders are mobile and computer chip traders who opted for an offshore account after been “forced” out of the UK banking system when UK banks, under pressure from HM Revenue and Customers (HMRC), sent out 30-day letters indicating their accounts would be closed on suspicion of money laundering, said Dass Solicitors partner Alias Dass.
“Hundreds of mobile traders currently have their accounts frozen with FCIB. Now’s the time to act to get the money back,” he said.
Zahavi claimed around 2,400 FCIB accounts, containing upwards of £370 million, are frozen. Said Zahavi: “To date, we have been able to release several millions of pounds. In September 2006 we won 25 cases and FCIB was ordered to release funds worth tens of millions of pounds. Most of the cases we’ve won have enabled account holders to receive 75 per cent of their funds.”
But the supervisory authority in the Dutch Antilles, the Bank of Netherland Antilles (BNA), has since imposed rules to prevent court cases won against FCIB from releasing funds. It revoked FCIB’s banking licence in October 2007, forcing the company into administration.
Zahavi said FCIB would be found guilty of money laundering itself if it was to release further funds.
Zahavi said HMRC has a list of traders it believes to be involved in missing trader VAT fraud and tax evasion, and has agreed with BNA to prevent funds being released to listed traders. The list is not available under the Freedom of Information Act as it includes suspected criminals and its publication would undermine future raids by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), said Dass.
BNA has an informal policy to release funds if HMRC grants approval, but Zahavi said this is yet to happen.
“HMRC has not agreed for funds to be released. We don’t know how HMRC is compiling the list of traders it suspects.”
Dass said: “We are going to appeal on the grounds that human rights are being affected because legitimate traders have their money stuck.
“Three years of this is long enough. Traders who have accounts with FCIB should know there is a lot of information in the public domain which they have the right to access, and now is the time to act.”