Sophisticated fraud gangs operate around the globe and, with bank transfers taking just seconds to complete, victims face a daunting task in tracing stolen funds. As a High Court case showed, however, specialist lawyers can be just as clever as dishonest perpetrators, leaving them with no place to hide.
The case concerned a metal trading company whose emails had been hacked by a fraud gang. Bogus payment requests were sent to the company’s bank in London and a total of more than $8 million was extracted before the fraud was uncovered. The money flowed between at least 50 banks, in at least 19 different countries, and the fraudsters may well have believed that they had got away with it.
With the assistance of information and disclosure orders, however, the company’s lawyers succeeded in tracing the money to its original recipients and, thereafter, to the second and third lines of receipt. Worldwide asset freezing orders were issued against persons unknown and 30 individuals and companies who were alleged either to have participated in the fraud or to have knowingly received stolen funds.
The Court found all those who had been identified as participants in the fraud liable to pay damages to the company on the basis of dishonest assistance and unlawful means conspiracy. Those who had received funds in the knowledge that they had been fraudulently obtained were ordered to restore the sums to the company. Those in the first line of recipients were also found liable on the basis that they had been unjustly enriched.
In upholding the company’s case, the Court praised its lawyers for their meticulous preparation of the matter and their rigorous observance of disclosure obligations. There had been no shortcuts taken and no glossing over of problematic points. They had left no stone unturned in their worldwide hunt for the missing money and had even taken the innovative step of serving court documents on some of those involved via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.