A pair of handcuffs are displayed for a photograph. (Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg)

Top Banker at U.K. Unit of Foreign Bank Arrested, But Who?

(Bloomberg) -- A top official from a U.K. crime agency dropped a potential bombshell during a speech Monday, telling a crowd of lawyers that the head of the London unit of a foreign bank had been arrested on suspicion of bribery.

Nigel Kirby, the deputy director of the National Crime Agency’s economic crime unit, said in a speech to a conference in Cambridge that the case has been referred to the prosecution services after a seven-month investigation found possible corruption. The bank’s customer relations manager in London was also arrested, Kirby said.

Kirby’s comments, during a speech on white-collar crime, didn’t identify the bankers or when they were arrested and there are literally hundreds of finance professionals in London who might fit the description. London is one of the world’s biggest financial centers and scores of non-British lenders have operations in the city. The Association of Foreign Banks, a trade association, lists about 200 members.

The NCA, set up five years ago in part to improve the fight against economic crime, has come under criticism for its slow pace in pursuing cases. White-collar crime enforcement is split in the U.K. between multiple agencies that are often the subject of political turf wars.

In a speech just before Kirby’s, the new head of the Serious Fraud Office pledged to fight to keep her group independent in the face of persistent threats to merge the SFO with the NCA.

The NCA declined to immediately comment, but Kirby confirmed the substance of his remarks after the speech. The Crown Prosecution Service also declined to comment.

Kirby said that his agency was pushing forward on new enforcement tools such as unexplained wealth orders -- which force people to prove that any asset worth more than 50,000 pounds ($64,000) was acquired through legitimate means -- and promised more convictions on economic crime.

It’s not the first time that the NCA has been involved with an arrest in the financial world that had the potential to start tongues wagging.

In 2016, three employees from major banks were arrested as part of a joint NCA and Financial Conduct Authority insider-trading investigation, according to two people with knowledge of the situation at the time. Two years later, there have been no public developments in the case.

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