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‘Mareva by Letter’ –

Preserving Assets Extra-Judicially

‘Destroying a Bank’s Defence of Good Faith by Exposing it to

Actual Knowledge of Fraud.’

Presented to:

Meeting of Fraudnet
held at the
Offices of Philippsohn Crawfords Berwald,
150 Holborn, London EC1, on Thursday, 21st September, 2006.

Presented By:

Martin S. Kenney
Martin Kenney & Co., Solicitors
Preferred Area of Practice: International Fraud
Third Floor, Flemming House
P.O. Box 4740, Road Town
British Virgin Islands
Telephone: +1 (284) 494-2444
Fax: +1 (284) 494-3313
Email: <>
Website: <>

‘Mareva by Letter’ – Preserving Assets Extra- Judicially – ‘Destroying a Bank’s
Defence of Good Faith by Exposing it to Actual Knowledge of a Fraud.’

1.0 Introduction.

1.1 The development of the extra-judicial tool commonly referred to in the trade as
the ‘Mareva by Letter’ (referred to by the Courts of England & Wales as a ‘Freezing
Order by Letter’) illustrates how much the current global banking climate has changed in
the past few years. Before, say, the year 2000, banks would ignore the obvious in relation
to the apparently dubious use of a bank account without, for the most part, suffering any
adverse consequences. Some may argue that the events of 11 th September, 2001 set in
train a process that has made everyone’s business the world’s business. However, the
truth is that successive waves of counter-money laundering regulations had substantially
eroded the secrecy bedrock inherent in so much of the world’s banking systems long
before then. A spate of case law and regulations that advocates better corporate
governance and cross border cooperation in the fight against economic crime has resulted
in the slow but steady undermining of the stoic and uncritical acceptance of client
confidentiality. 11th September, 2001 simply hammered home the message that terrorists
use legitimate financial institutions to transfer and hold funds that may be used for
catastrophically harmful ends.

1.2 The ‘Mareva by Letter’ involves placing a third-party guardian or holder of assets,
such as a bank, on notice that those assets are imposed with a constructive trust in favour
of someone other than the party whom the guardian or holder has previously been led to
believe is the true owner. It is also intended to open up a third party holder of assets for a
fraudster to the full raft of public law duties to report suspicious dealings with assets and
to refrain from knowingly facilitating a money laundering offence. It is not difficult to
conceive of a situation where such a letter could be used to put a financial institution on
notice that the funds in question are likely to be used to further the cause of a prospective
act of terrorism. We are here concerned, however, with the use of this device in an
attempt to prevent compounding further a wrong that has already occurred, a
misappropriation of funds for example. The ‘Mareva by Letter’ operates so as to set in

train an immediate and informal (or de facto) freeze of any assets in respect of which a
third party (being neither the guardian or nominal asset title holder) claims an interest.
The process is simple – a freeze may be effected by issuing a letter to the asset holder or
guardian in question, informing them of the true origin or beneficial ownership of the
targeted funds or assets, and advising them of their potential accessory civil and possible
criminal liability in the event of any transfer or disposal of the assets in question. Such
devices may be employed in cases where a victim of fraud suspects that targeted funds or
assets may be transferred to another location where it might be impractical to gain access
to them.

2.0 Practical Considerations.

2.1 In situations where this informal procedure is used, sufficient proof should be
provided to the third-party holder of assets to provide comfort that the conclusion being
urged upon them as to the origin or provenance of the assets is in fact a reasonable one to
be drawn in the circumstances. Such parties will be acutely aware of their contractual
liability to their customer in the event that any attempted transfer of such assets is
blocked and it transpires that the basis for such blockage was non-existent or faulty.
Thus, in issuing such a letter, some evidence should be provided to support the
conclusions urged and to provide sufficient justification to enable the third-party asset
holder or guardian to refuse to relinquish control of the asset for the time being. The
stronger the evidential basis put forward the more comfort is provided to the asset holder
and the more likely they are to comply swiftly and without raising a series of questions
often entailing unwelcome delays.

2.2 In many jurisdictions, exposing a bank or fiduciary holder of assets to actual

knowledge of an apparent fraud on the part of a customer destroys the defence of good
faith (or the defence implicit in the absence of knowledge of fraud). Permitting the
transfer of assets or the withdrawal of funds in the face of actual knowledge of an
apparent fraud linked to such wealth might expose officers and employees of the bank or
any other capital market intermediary to criminal sanctions under anti-money laundering

laws. Thus, the utterance of a ‘Mareva by Letter’ can invoke public law duties on the
relevant bank or fiduciary holder of wealth. Duties to file suspicious activity reports with
local money laundering prevention authorities and to block any movement of funds may
well arise. Additionally, civil liability may arise in that the true beneficial owner of the
asset in question would be entitled to institute an action based on theories of ‘knowing
assistance in the dishonest breach of a constructive trust’ or ‘knowing receipt of trust
property,’ inter alia.

3.0 The Benefits.

3.1 It will be apparent from the above that the development of the ‘Mareva by Letter’
represents a significant step in the fight against fraud. Based on the author’s experience, it
is an invaluable and effective pre-emptive asset preservation measure. It enables a victim
of fraud to better manage the risks of delay and the considerable expense typically
associated with an application to preserve assets through freezing or restraining Orders.
It potentially enables a victim of fraud likewise and, perhaps more importantly, to avoid
the necessity of posting asset freezing indemnity bonds or security for costs or to support
a cross-undertaking in damages.

3.2 This device enables the victim of fraud to short circuit the delays inherent in
seeking judicially sanctioned injunctive relief within the context of complex,
international commercial fraud cases. Typically, in situations where such relief is sought
or warranted, immediate action is required. In cases where the victim of fraud is dealing
with a dishonest obligor with the propensity to transfer and conceal assets, the time taken
to prepare and finalize a set of pleadings to ground a series of urgent ex parte asset
freezing applications to Courts in what might be numerous foreign jurisdictions may well
turn out to be time spent in vain. There is a risk that by the time a number of freezing
orders are made, the subject property may no longer be in the location originally

3.3 The ‘Mareva by Letter’ also obviates the necessity to incur what often can be very
considerable expenditure on up-front legal fees. The presence of foreign jurisdictions in
the asset maze further adds to the potential costs and frustrations involved. The very fact
that ill-gotten property is situate within a foreign jurisdiction necessitates the retention of
local Counsel. In circumstances where the victim’s Counsel does not have a developed
relationship with Counsel in the foreign jurisdiction, there will be inevitable delays as
introductions are made, explanations provided and a rapport developed. Conflicts checks
can also have the effect of delaying the ability to proceed immediately. Also, in complex
international fraud cases, local Counsel will need time to review and become familiar
with what are generally voluminous and complex facts.

3.4 Quite aside from the foregoing, foreign jurisdictions may impose requirements
that are difficult if not impossible to comply with. In such circumstances and in cases
where it is feared that the disposal or transfer of assets imposed with a constructive trust
in favour of the Plaintiff is imminent, the ‘Mareva by Letter’ method of preserving wealth
is an important alternative asset preservation tool.

4.0 The ‘Mareva by Letter’ in Practice.

4.1 You have heard me extol the theoretical benefits of this device. Now you ask –
how does the ‘Mareva by Letter’ work in practice? The writer has used this tool to
positive effect in a number of cases. The following case is described to illustrate how this
mechanism can be used. In a case involving co-ordination with federal criminal
authorities in the United States, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”)
filed an emergency, ex parte application in the U.S. District Court for the Northern
District of Texas to halt a long-running offering of unregistered securities through which
the defendants, as it was alleged, fraudulently raised at least $160 million from investors
associated with evangelical Christian congregations. The SEC asserted that the
defendants used investors’ money to make Ponzi payments to other investors and support
their own extravagant lifestyles by purchasing items such as expensive homes, a yacht
and a helicopter.

4.2 On 17th November, 2003, the U.S. District Court granted the SEC’s ex parte
motion for a temporary restraining order, an asset freeze, and the appointment of a
receiver to collect and preserve investors’ assets. In addition to seeking emergency ex
parte relief, the SEC sought and obtained orders of permanent injunction, disgorgement
plus prejudgment interest, and civil money penalties. On the same day, six criminal arrest
warrants issued on foot of a U.S. Grand Jury indictment for fraud were executed by the
FBI in Florida, Texas and California – and the key subjects were detained pending their
arraignment. Accordingly, they were effectively deprived of the facility to transfer liquid

4.3 The Receiver’s first task was to quickly review the records of the defendants.
Among the records that were seized by the Receiver were the laptops, Blackberries and
PCs of the defendants. An enormous store of the defendants’ worldwide banking and
investment information was thus secured, examined and acted upon with near immediate
effect. The Defendants did not assist the Receiver in this task. Accountings required by
the Court were not provided as directed. (The Defendants’ excuse for non-compliance
with the order to account was that they were unable to comply while in custody).
Intensive efforts were therefore required to locate and recover relevant assets and records.

4.4 In this case, substantial recoveries were made with what could be considered a
minimum outlay within the context of the costs usually associated with a concealed asset
recovery exercise of this scale. Indeed, assets were frozen in multiple locations in the
United States; Hong Kong; Cotonou, Benin, West Africa; Frankfurt; Kent, England;
Panama; Greece; Geneva, Switzerland and elsewhere within the space of seven days of
commencement of work and without instituting a single legal proceeding abroad. This
would not have been possible in the not too distant past. However, given the wide
incidence of modern laws designed to prevent money laundering, the environment of
heightened security globally, and the attention focused of late upon terrorist financing,
financial institutions are now acutely aware of the need to assess and manage criminal
risks. In particular, where those institutions have been put on actual notice that certain

accounts or account holders are ‘suspicious,’ not only are they under a duty to enquire,
they now become subject to an effectively self-imposed duty to ensure that assets located
in suspicious accounts are not transferred where those assets may be subject to a
constructive trust.1 By way of illustration, according to Martin Brunet’s contribution to
Goldspink & Cole, International Commercial Fraud (London, Sweet & Maxwell 2002),
Article 10 of the Swiss Federal Act on the Fight Against Money Laundering of 10 th
October, 1997 requires all Swiss financial intermediaries to promptly freeze any assets
that are suspected of being involved in money laundering; and to hold such assets for five
days, or for such longer period as may be prescribed by the Swiss Money Laundering
Notification Office (the “SMLNO”). The SMLNO may then exercise its discretion to
extend the duration of the five-day freeze indefinitely to allow a criminal money
laundering inquiry to be completed, or not.

4.5 Between 19th and 26th November, 2003, a series of letters were issued to the legal
departments of those financial institutions which maintained accounts on behalf of the
defendants or associated entities or persons, globally. These letters advised the financial
institutions concerned of (a) the existence and nature of the SEC proceedings; (b) the
existence and function of the SEC appointed Receiver; (c) the basis for the belief that
certain accounts maintained by the financial institution contained the proceeds of fraud
(“suspect accounts”); and (d) the basis for a belief that the financial institution was a

A note of caution however is appropriate. The scope of the duty which a bank undertakes to deal with a
transaction that it believes suspect has been considered in the English High Court case of Tayeb v. HSBC
(2004) EWHC 1529 (COMM). This case involved a situation where Stg£944,114.23 was sent by CHIPS in
relation to a perfectly legal and proper transaction involving the sale of an Internet domain name to a
Liberian company. The bank, however, had a suspicion. The bank returned the money to the remitter
following the completion of the sale. The remitter/purchaser of the domain name kept the funds. The bank
was successfully sued by the person to whose account the money was sent, the seller of the domain name.

The Judge said that the bank would not have been guilty of a money laundering offence “merely by
accepting a transfer suspecting that it emanated from fraud or other unlawfulness or that it was part of a
money laundering operation.” The bank ought to have implemented its suspicious activity reporting
procedures (under the Money Laundering Regime) and awaited the outcome. By simply sending the money
back the bank failed in its obligations both to its client and to report. The Court did offer guidance to banks
finding themselves to be in receipt of suspicious funds. If a transfer of such funds is imminent, a bank
should (a) sit on any transfer instruction (if possible), (b) report the suspicious activity to the relevant
authority, and (c) freeze the amount, but with careful regard for the anti- tip-off provisions of the relevant
money laundering law.

constructive trustee of funds in those accounts. On the basis of the foregoing, the letters
demanded that each financial institution ‘not permit the transfer’ of any assets or credit
balance recorded on the books of any suspect accounts pending further clarification of the
relevant facts. As a result of issuing these letters (and other communications that
transmitted the contents of the Receivership Order – as well as the SEC Complaint and
the parallel U.S. Grand Jury indictment), several million dollars of value was
constructively frozen, without court order and without the necessity of providing any
undertaking or security. The fact of the existence of the criminal proceedings and the
detention of the Defendants provided a sound basis for the suspicion that the impugned
bank accounts held the proceeds of fraud. These facts likewise provided the financial
institutions concerned with comfort that their actions in effectively freezing client
accounts without court order were not only justified but unlikely to be successfully
challenged by the account holders in question.

4.6 More recently the writer has employed this device to secure the freezing of
substantial funds in two (2) offshore banks. These funds remain frozen pending the
adjudication of a substantive case.

5.0 The United States and the ‘Mareva by Letter.’

5.1 It is a matter of some considerable irony that, in the United States, the culture of
banks and banking lawyers is to carry on with the legal analytical approach of old –
where a bank is thought of as having no duties to third party claimants or victims to a
fraud. Rather, such victims must obtain a temporary restraining order or order of
attachment from a Court before funds allegedly linked to a fraud may be ‘frozen.’ The
bank may have to report a suspicion to the relevant authorities; but it can ignore the
protestations and demands of the victim. There are, however, instances in the United
States where this seemingly hazardous approach has not worked (such as with the Chase
& Sanborne litigation of the 1990s).

5.2 Other issues to consider include the risk of defamation, prima facie tort and
intentional interference with contractual relations suits being launched by an aggrieved
fraudster against the victim and his team for issuing a ‘Mareva by Letter.’

6.0 Conclusion.

6.1 This relatively new method of asset preservation – the ‘Mareva by Letter’ – marks
a milestone in the development of effective remedies in the context of loss occasioned by
serious fraud.2 Many commentators have argued that the recent spate of global anti-
money laundering regulation serves only to increase cost and red tape and produces data
that cannot be realistically analysed. On the contrary, the increased awareness on the part
of financial institutions, not only of the indicia or red flags of money laundering or
associated ills, but also of the positive duty of those institutions to come to the aid of law
enforcement and victims of fraud, has led to the rights of victims of economic crime
being vindicated in instances where it previously would have been impossible to do so.

This is arguably a testament to the worth of such a regulatory model. The current global

climate   is   such   that   jurisdictions   that   cloud   their   dealings   in   secrecy   and   provide

protection to those who seek anonymity in relation to their financial dealings can no

longer expect tolerance.  Increased transparency is now seen as a requirement, increased

regulation   of   financial   intermediaries   has   contributed   greatly   to   the   ability   to   access

information which hitherto might have been unavailable.   These are all factors which

lessen the management burden of an asset recovery exercise and have made the ‘Mareva

by Letter’ a cost and time efficient tool.

The author is by no means suggesting that the ‘Mareva by Letter’ is an all-inclusive or self-executing
remedy for the recovery of misappropriated assets. To the contrary, it typically only has the effect of
affording a victim of a temporary and immediate asset freeze. Recovery most usually still involves the
invocation of the full machinery of the judicial process.