Ex-UBS Compliance Officer Used Burner Phone to Make Club Dates

(Bloomberg) -- A former UBS Group AG compliance officer charged with insider trading told a London court that she started using a burner phone to call a day trader as a way to keep in touch and go out clubbing.

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

Abdel-Malek said she started using pay-as-you-go SIM cards, after Choucair had asked her to do so. Although it struck her as odd, it was how he communicated with his mother and other family friends, she told the jury in a London court.

"I was very surprised, this is not something I had heard of before," Abdel-Malek said Monday on her first day of testimony. In an interview after her arrest in September 2015, Abdel-Malek had told investigators that she hadn’t used burner phones, according to a summary that was read to the jury.

Abdel-Malek and Choucair, 39, were each charged last year by the U.K. regulator with five counts of insider dealing between June 2013 and June 2014. They have both pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors have said that she went through confidential UBS databases to find trading tips for Choucair. Abdel-Malek said Monday that she accessed to the deal database to educate herself on bank business and to keep track of transactions that she needed to be aware of.

Abdel-Malek mostly communicated with Choucair about her and her friends coming to his private club in London’s exclusive Mayfair neighborhood. She said they had wanted to go to the members-only club after some "horrible experiences" going out and her mother suggesting going out with someone she knew, like Choucair.

"I had some problems at home with going out late and coming home even later,” she said. “So my mother said that, ‘If you’re going to go out late, it’s best you go out with someone we know.’ She suggested Walid."

Abdel-Malek lived at home with her parents and two younger sisters in West London, where she was born and raised. She joined UBS’s graduate program in April 2007 after completing a masters in law, but decided not to work as a lawyer. She said she worked her way up within the compliance team, with her boss persuading her to stay at UBS even when she was part-way through the process of interviewing for a job at Morgan Stanley.

Abdel-Malek first met Choucair around 2004, after his mother hired her mother to make curtains and blinds for his apartment. While she knew that Choucair was wealthy, because his late father had left him some money, Abdel-Malek said she didn’t know what he did for a living.

The two lost touch after 2007, but reconnected in spring of 2013, when Abdel-Malek and her friend went to his club, Tramp, to celebrate his birthday. It was after that, that Choucair suggested using the burner phones.

Choucair usually gave her the pay-as-you-go numbers, but on one occasion, Abdel-Malek said she bought the SIM card herself. She said she intended to give the handset to family members who were visiting from abroad, but that they didn’t end up needing it.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.