NatWest branch used to pay $500,000 bribe, court told

The principle of Britain’s banking system is under the limelight, amid accusations that a $500,000 “bribe” was given to the boss of a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund from a NatWest office in Mayfair, London.

The explosive accusations are made in a legal claim, arranged at the High Court in London, by the Ras Al-Khaimah ­Investment Authority (Rakia), the sovereign wealth fund of one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE.

The fund is accusing Farhad Azima, a US-based businessman and close ally of Dr Khater Massaad, former chief executive of Rakia. It is asking more than $2.6m (£2m) in losses for Mr Azima’s so-called role in the ­attempted $62.5m purchase of Rakia’s Sheraton Metechi Palace Hotel in Tbilisi, Georgia.

It challenges that Dr Massaad agreed to pay Mr Azima a 5pc commission on the sale in exchange for leading potential buyers for the hotel. The deal eventually came through. However, Rakia claimed it ­decided to prove good faith and paid Mr Azima a $1.56m referral fee for his commitment in proposing potential buyers.

According to the High Court writ, a $1.16m part of Mr Azima’s price was settled into the account of AAA Investments at NatWest, 1-4 Berkeley Square House, London, on Jan 18, 2012.

AAA is a Gibraltar company controlled by Mr Azima. On the very day, Mr Azima initiated wire transfers from the NatWest account to various individuals, the suit says. One of these deals was a $500,000 payment to Dr Massaad.

Rakia claims the payment shows that there was an arrangement between Mr Azima and Dr Massaad – that AAA Investments would give Dr Massaad a kickback. Mr Azima and Dr Massaad disputed any wrongdoing, saying the money was for a separate acquisition of a share of an aircraft.

Rakia declined to disclose a comment on an “ongoing legal matter”, as did Royal Bank of Scotland, the NatWest owner.