Inside the Members-Only Tramp Club at the Heart of an Insider-Trading Scandal

(Bloomberg) -- “You know Walid?” asks the young receptionist at the discreet entrance on 40 Jermyn Street in London’s high-end Mayfair district.

The answer can determine whether or not you get into Tramp, a private members’ club famous for “50 years of celebrity debauchery” that’s been graced by Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and Rihanna. It has gained fresh notoriety as the epicenter of London’s biggest insider-trading case in years.

Inside the Members-Only Tramp Club at the Heart of an Insider-Trading Scandal

A “yes, I know Walid,” can unlock an exclusive club that dubs itself “London’s favorite place to misbehave” and the Londonist website called a “hedonistic Mayfair nightclub where movie stars and rock gods came to drink.”

The Walid in question is day trader and longtime member Walid Choucair, who was found guilty of insider trading by a London jury this week.

Prosecutors allege that Choucair, 40, used the allure of Tramp and the “glamorous lifestyle” it offered to coax Fabiana Abdel-Malek, then a UBS Group AG compliance officer, into passing on confidential information that netted him a 1.4 million-pound ($1.8 million) trading profit. Abdel-Malek was also found guilty of insider trading.

The pair -- convicted of five counts -- were each sentenced to three years by Judge Joanna Korner, who said that they must serve at least half the term in prison. They plan to appeal their convictions, according to their lawyers.

Let’s Get Tramped

A visit to the club this spring and late last year, during a previous trial that ended with a hung jury, revealed a slice of Choucair’s life outside the courtroom. While he often sat wearing a hoodie in the court, at Tramp he led the house band, playing guitar, singing and entertaining friends.

Inside the Members-Only Tramp Club at the Heart of an Insider-Trading Scandal

Once the receptionist cross checks your name by phone with Walid or another member, you’re directed down a flight of stairs and neon red signing reading “#Let’s Get Tramped” and past the watchful gaze of General Manager David Fleming, who can keep out unwanted observers and make sure that the club’s decades-old rule still applies: what happens in Tramp, stays in Tramp.

Fleming, a witness at the trial who confirmed Choucair’s penchant for generous spending as a regular since 2001, piqued the jury’s interest when he told them that his club once hosted three James Bond actors simultaneously and was also a meeting place for Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed.

While there are fewer high-rollers than half a decade ago, Fleming said, membership still costs about 1,000 pounds a year, up from 10.50 pounds when it opened in 1969. The founder, Johnny Gold, wrote a book called “Tramp’s Gold” 30 years later with a foreword from British actor and club regular Michael Caine.

Birthday Shots

On one Friday evening, there were more celebrity spotters than actual stars packing the dining room with white-clothed tables underneath a glowing blue ceiling with signs of the Zodiac. To the left was a dimly-lit bar and dance area that was decked out in chandeliers, disco balls and carved wood paneling, giving it the desired “home away from home” vibe.

Inside the Members-Only Tramp Club at the Heart of an Insider-Trading Scandal

One young woman celebrated her 30th birthday with a round of shots among friends in cushioned seats along the walls. Around her, other revelers struggled to pour gigantic illuminated bottles of Belvedere vodka.

The crowd was a mix of stylish younger partygoers with tight dresses and the occasional fur coat, Russian fashionistas taking selfies with puckered lips hinting of Botox, as well as an older crowd arguably a bit too tipsy and dressed a tad too racy for their age. A crew of waiters in white shirts, black vests and ties, who looked like they’ve worked at the club since the 1970s, navigated the room with mini flashlights to bring drinks to quench the thirst of members and their guests.

Champagne, Snacks

Prosecutors said that in 2013 and 2014, Choucair regularly hosted Abdel-Malek, her friends and family for late nights and birthdays, racking up 8,000-pound bills that included three-liter bottles of champagne and midnight snacks.

Abdel-Malek testified that she only ever drank one or two glasses of champagne and that was hardly worth throwing her career away. The 36-year-old, who still lived at home with her parents and earned less than 100,000 pounds a year, told the jury that he’d never let her pay.

A visit to the club, named after Charlie Chaplin’s famous character The Little Tramp, confirmed that no money exchanges hands for drinks, and instead the members foot the bill.

Asked during the first trial whether she’d seen any celebrities during her visits to the club, Abdel-Malek recalled spotting Nicole Scherzinger, an American singer who rose to fame with girl band Pussycat Dolls and later was a judge on The X Factor talent show. When some people in the court seemed unsure of who Scherzinger was, the prosecutor, John McGuinness, made clear he was aware, sarcastically quipping that he thinks about her “every night” during one of the lighter moments of the trial.

Then on Thursday, it all became serious for the pair. After Korner sentenced them, Abdel-Malek tearfully hugged her family, and was taken into custody by guards. Choucair, wearing a tracksuit and looking distraught, followed her.

“It’s clear to me that you enjoyed and made full use of entry into the rather louche lifestyle that was being led by Choucair,” Korner said. “There is no question that both of your actions were deliberate, dishonest and committed over a period of a year. ”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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