Billionaire businessman Wafic Said, born in Syria, has been forced by the British bank Barclays to close his personal accounts and those linked to his businesses and charities.
The bold move by the bank follows reports of it cracking down on holding accounts linked to “high-risk countries”.
Said, worth an estimated £1.5bn, came to public prominence after helping facilitate a record-breaking arms deal in the 1980s between the UK and Saudi Arabia. He also established the Saïd Foundation in 1982 and the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford in 1996.
He is a passionate supporter of the Conservative party; especially to Thatcher’s Conservatives in the 1980s, donating at least £350,000 during her premiership.
However, the businessman has strong financial links with Syria; as a major shareholder of one of the country’s largest banks. His inner circle also includes some of Syria’s most prominent political figures.
Banks have been trying to reduce the risk of fines for any potential breach of sanctions or anti-money laundering rules, with many expressing concern about holding accounts which transfer money in and out of Syria because of the instability in the region.
A spokesman for Barclays said that the bank does not disclose information on individual accounts.
However, a person familiar with the matter told The Financial Times that the bank’s decision to “exit” Mr Said was part of regular anti-money laundering procedures decided on a “case-by-case basis”.
Mr Said said that he would be taking legal action against Barclays.
“It appears that Mr Saïd and his charities are being used as scapegoats by Barclays to try to improve their own reputation,” spokespeople for the businessman said in a statement on Friday.
“Mr Saïd enjoys excellent relationships with a number of leading international banks, none of which has ever expressed concerns regarding the provenance of Mr Saïd’s funds. Mr Saïd has been advised by leading counsel to issue proceedings against Barclays.”