PetroSaudi Trial Will Sit Awkwardly With Haythornthwaite Appointment To Head NatWest

The revised date for the Swiss trial of two directors of PetroSaudi International for their role in money laundering the billions filched from 1MDB is April 2nd.

Originally planned for February it appears the already much delayed action by the Swiss courts owes to sickness.

That date could not be worse in terms of timing for the UK bank NatWest, which has already suffered a rough year following its discriminatory decision to axe the accounts of the Brexit campaigner, Nigel Farage, whom most British bankers and professionals consider to be a toxic force for the UK economy.

Unfortunately for them, Farage asserted his rights and Nat West’s CEO and Chairman have been forced to step aside.

In place of the chairman Howard Davies, NatWest last year blithely announced that it had identified a ‘safe pair of hands’ to gently take over the rudder during a staged handover that would culminate on 15th April 2024 when Sir Howard would step down.

The safe pair of hands belong to one Rick Haythornthwaite, scheduled “to join the Board of NatWest Group as an independent non-executive director on 8th January 2024” and, following a handover period, “to take over as Chair on 15th April 2024″.[Credit Connect]

By that date the PetroSaudi trial will be entering its third week, inevitably spotlighting Mr Haythornthwaite’s role as the Chief Operating Officer at PetroSaudi throughout the period that the corrupt joint venture with 1MDB was executed by the two directors now under prosecution (the Saudi Swiss national, Tarek Obaid, and UK Swiss national, Patrick Mahony).

It is an unusual back-drop for an anointment to a top City position and the sort of mood music most major financial institutions would tend to steer well clear of.  Did the scandal-hit NatWest find itself short of alternatives to appoint?

These issues were raised last year when his appointment was announced.  However the NatWest leadership stood by its guns and brushed off concerns. Now it will be forced to rest on tenterhooks as the awkward details start to emerge about what PetroSaudi got up to while Haythornthwaite was COO,  just as he moves into the top job.

Speed back to when it was all going on in 2009-2011. At that time the fledgeling company squatted in a scruffy office rental space (now torn down) in Victoria, paces from Haythornthwaite’s London home.

The COO could hardly have failed to notice the $300 million windfall that poured into PetroSaudi’s JP Morgan Suisse account on October 3rd 2009 – there were less than 10 employees at that time. The company upped-sticks immediately to plush new premises in Curzon Street, Mayfair.

“Are we sure there are no issues with this 1MDB venture?” Xavier Justo says Haythornthwaite had asked him when he later joined PetroSaudi.

Was the COO not the one best placed to know?

Top officer next to the two indicted fraudsters facing trial
Top officer next to the two indicted fraudsters facing trial

This is the question that will hang over NatWest as the gruesome details of the bogus joint venture are poured over in court and then reported during the fortnight preceding the new appointment and doubtless for the next several weeks.

Even BSI bank, which was later dissolved thanks to its dealings with 1MDB, refused to touch the initial toxic transfers involving PetroSaudi. RBS Coutts (now NatWest) took up transfer for which it later admitted guilt and paid a fine. Deutsche Bank staff had pushed back on sending the money in the first place, but were told by bosses to get in line, given the Malaysian finance minister (Najib)’s impatience.

“I do not agree with you and doubt many do”

NatWest now has to convince shareholders and clients that its judgement was correct.

Having read the coverage of Haythornthwaite’s involvement in the matter and how he rebutted Sarawak Report’s warnings and enquiries whilst remaining in post right up til the US DOJ seizure announcements in July 2016 (a full year after the scandal broke) at least one NatWest shareholder, himself a former British COO of a much larger company than PetroSaudi, is not convinced.

He forwarded Sarawak Report his interchanges with a member of the board, in which he unsuccessfully voiced concerns over NatWest’s choice of chairman, given Haythornthwaite’s utter failure to detect a fraud happening beneath his nose as the COO of PetroSaudi.

The correspondence is worth reading:

To Mr Mark Seligman (independent director)
23rd September 2023
I am a shareholder and current account holder of Natwest Bank; details of both of which are available if required. I read recently in the press that, following the former over the handling of Mr Nigel Farage’s bank account, the bank is now about to appoint as “a pair of safe hands” a Mr Rich Haythornthwaite as the new Chairman. Is this correct and if so is this the same Mr Rick Haythornthwaite who was previously the COO of the disgraced company PetroSaudi at the time in which it came to be at the heart of the appalling 1MDB Malaysian Development Fund fraud and scandal?

Assuming it to be so, please can you explain how he can possibly be a suitable person to be a Chairman of a UK bank in which I and many other investors have entrusted our savings and investments?

I worked in banking and fund management for nearly 30 years, including a stint as COO of an international bank with more than 5,000 employees. It appears from the press publicity that Mr Haythornthwaite was COO of a company with less than 100 employees and almost no genuine business and which was right at the centre of one of the biggest and yet simplest frauds of all time. From my own experience I can comfortably say that had I been COO of this company PetroSaudi at that time there is absolutely no way in which I would not have known this transaction to be fraudulent. Did Mr Haythornthwaite ever raise any concerns about the 1MDB transactions when he was at PetroSaudi and if so to whom?

I look forward to hearing your response to my queries which I am sure must have been part of your due diligence in determining Mr Haythornthwaite’s suitability to hold the most senior position in the Bank. In the absence of a proper explanation I cannot see how this appointment can do anything but destroy investorsand saversconfidence in the bank

Yours ……. [name withheld]

The director responded by answering an allegation that was not made, saying Haythornthwaite was never a director:

October 5th 2023

Dear _________

Thank you for your letter dated 23 September

I acknowledge the concerns that you’ve raised in your letter regarding the appointment of Rick Haythornthwaite as our new Chair. I would like to assure you that we conducted thorough due diligence ahead of the decision. As per the reporting in the article you have referenced, at no time has Rick been a director of PetroSaudi International (UK) Ltd (now PSI Group Services Ltd), as is clear from disclosures on Companies House

The appointment reflects Rick’s background as a highly experienced Chair, with a wealth of experience across UK listed and private companies which makes him wellequipped for the role. Rick also has strong financial services experience, having been Chair at Mastercard for 14 years, during which time he oversaw significant value creation and innovation for customers.
He also has experience of dealing with Government and managing public institutions through his roles as Chair of the recent review of incentivisation in the Armed Forces, the Better Regulation Commission and Risk & Regulation Advisory Council, and Network Rail.
This strong track record leading a number of highprofile companies made him exceptionally well placed to help NatWest Group continue to deliver on its strategy and strong financial performance

I trust this clarifies our process and decision

Yours sincerely

Mark Seligman

To which the former COO responded that he had never suggested Haythornthwaite had been a director, but had identified him more importantly (and correctly) as a COO:

26 October 2023 

Dear Mr. Seligman 

Thank you for your letter dated 5 October in response to my letter of 23 September

In your letter you appear to be trying to reassure yourselves, as much as anyone else, that because Rick, i.e. Mr Haythornthwaite, was not a Director of PetroSaudi International (UK) Ltd at the time that this company played an allegedly critical part in the massive international scam generally recognized as the 1MDB Fraudhe is “exceptionally well placedto be the next Chairman of the NatWest Group

I do not agree with you and doubt many do. If you reread my letter you will see that I did not state that Mr Haythornthwaite was a Director of Petrosaudi I stated that he was the COO and I now believe Presidentat the time of Petrosaudi’s alleged involvement in the 1MDB Fraud. Do you deny this? Or do you perhaps dispute that the 1MDB Fraud happened and/or that Petrosaudi was involved in the fraud at the time of Mr Haythornthwaite’s employment by PetroSaudi

If Mr Haythornthwaite was indeed a COO or President of Petrosaudi at this time then and for the reasons given in my earlier letter I would expect him to have had intimate knowledge of the alleged fraudulent contracts involving PetroSaudi if he was doing his job. And that is, as I have explained in my earlier, precisely because he was the COO and/or President and nothing to do with whether he was a Director or not. I further understand that he was even warned by a third party about the possible involvement of Petrosaudi in the 1MDB Fraud as early as December 2015 but simply passed off those concerns as the activities of some kind of scurrilous blogger. Do you deny he received such a warning in December 2015? [Sarawak Report 12/12/2015]

I look forward to receiving your further explanations to my questions but in the meantime I remain unable to see how this appointment can do anything but destroy investorsand saversconfidence in the bank. I certainly do not think he is exceptionally well qualifiedto help the NatWest Group recover from its Coutts 

debacle or hold any position, let alone the most senior position, in the NatWest Group. I think investors and savers deserve better and a safer pair of hands

Having seen other banks chase a card based strategy and in view of Mastercard itself currently facing some very public litigation I also question why you appear to attach such importance to Mr Haythorthwaite’s previous position as Chairman of Mastercard but that is the lesser of my concerns. 

Yours sincerely

This is probably not the sort of interchange NatWest is looking for at its next shareholders’ meeting, having sought to re-stabilise the bank after the Farage affair concerning Coutts.

Not least, because it was the ‘safe pair of hands’ belonging to their chosen new Chairman that dropped the ball when Coutts was previously at the centre of the 1MDB/PetroSaudi heist.

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