Police arrest Bank Leumi UK branch CEO over massive fraud plot

Tel Aviv Police arrested the CEO of Bank Leumi's UK branch, Micky Friedman, Tuesday over suspicions that he approved at least NIS 25 million in loans on the basis of fictitious statements by borrowers claiming to have large funds behind them. In a major swoop, 13 businessmen, some of whom are said to be the borrowers, were also arrested Tuesday. One suspect was taken to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv after feeling unwell. Police claim that a number of suspects have already incriminated Friedman, as well as an intermediary who connected Friedman to a borrower. Detectives are also looking into claims that some of the money wound up in the hands of a crime family. According to a statement issued by police, large sums were transferred to "certain elements" in exchange for bribes. The money passed through a chain of intermediaries to the lenders, police say. Bank Leumi said in a statement that the irregularities were discovered during an examination of loans approved by Friedman when he worked as branch manager of Leumi's central branch in Tel Aviv, leading the bank to contact the police. Friedman allegedly approved dozens of loans, some of which were not returned, and is suspected of violating a number of bank regulations. Bank Leumi was praised by police for carrying out an intensive examination of the matter. Officers raided a number of the suspects' homes seizing computers, cell phones, and documents police say are linked to the investigation. The Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court extended Friedman's custody on Tuesday afternoon by five days as the investigation continues. A second wave of arrests is likely in the near future, police warned. A lawyer representing Friedman said he believed the charges against his client would prove to be unfounded, and denied any bribery offenses were involved. A lawyer representing two borrowers said his clients innocently accepted a bank loan with no criminal intent. Bank Leumi said on Wednesday that the alleged lending irregularities would not affect the bank's customers in any way. "To the best of the bank's knowledge, no material losses have resulted," the bank said in an official statement. Bank Leumi reported that an internal audit conducted during the past few months disclosed irregularities in the approval of loans by Friedman. at extraordinary sums without guarantees b Since the audit revealed matters which the bank was not able to judge by itself, the case was transferred to the police for examination, Bank Leumi added. The audit reports were also filed to the Supervisor of Banks at the Bank of Israel. "This matter is in no way connected with Bank Leumi (UK) or its customers," stated the bank. Following the reports of the investigation, Friedman has been placed on a leave of absence until the case is concluded. Bank Leumi's board of directors has recommended to the board of its British wholly-owned subsidiary to appoint Collin E. Cumberland, director of commercial & corporate banking of Bank Leumi (UK) and Ms. Lesley J. Secretan, director of finance & operations of Bank Leumi (UK) as acting CEOs until further notice.