Ex-UBS Compliance Officer Says Burner Phone Gift Was ‘Strange’

(Bloomberg) -- A former UBS Group AG compliance officer charged with insider trading said she was surprised when her daytrading co-defendant asked her to limit their contact to a burner phone that he handed her after nights out in a London night club.

Fabiana Abdel-Malek, 36, is accused of leaking price-sensitive deals information from a UBS deals database to Walid Choucair, allowing him to profit from the information. She called and texted Choucair on burner phones, prosecution for the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority said at the trial, which started last month.

On her first day of testimony Wednesday, Abdel-Malek said Choucair told her to stop contacting him on his registered mobile phone and handed her a phone with a pay-as-you-go SIM card.

Abdel-Malek said she found it “very strange,” adding that "he did have some strange things about him." If it had been anyone else, she probably wouldn’t have gone along with it, she said.

The trial is the FCA’s first insider-trading case in three years. Abdel-Malek and Choucair, 40, were each charged by the U.K. regulator with five counts of insider dealing between June 2013 and June 2014. The FCA says Choucair made 1.4 million pounds ($1.80 million). They have both pleaded not guilty.

Abdel-Malek said she still lives with her parents and two younger sisters in the west London home that they moved into when she was a teenager. She completed a masters in law and completed the year-long professional course required to become a lawyer, before deciding she wanted to work for a bank.

She once had a "bright future" ahead of her at the investment bank, according to evidence given at her trial. Her lawyer showed the jury a copy of her 2014 performance review, in which her overall mark was “exceptional.”

“Fabi has placed herself very firmly as a go-to person,” the review said. “I would have to agree that Fabiana exudes professionalism is technically very strong and is a true team player which makes her a very well-rounded compliance officer with a very bright future ahead of her.”

UBS offered Abdel-Malek a spot on its graduate program the day she interviewed, she said. In 2007, she started working in the bank’s general compliance department. She weathered a 2012 round of UBS lay-offs with her manager writing her a letter confirming the bank’s "exceptional commitment" to her and a raise, according to a copy of the letter shown to the jury.

Abdel-Malek and Choucair’s mothers introduced the two in 2004 after Abdel-Malek’s mother had made curtains for Choucair’s new flat beside the Royal Albert Hall. After a lull, their friendship, which was never romantic, rekindled in March 2013, when Choucair took Abdel-Malek and her best friend to Tramp, a Mayfair nightclub where he was a member, she said.

While Choucair spent thousands of pounds on champagne, Abdel-Malek only ever had "a glass or two of whatever champagne was being offered," while her friend didn’t drink at all, she said.

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