An international businessman is suing a British police force for alleged misconduct in the handling of a case against him, in what has been described as one of the biggest legal actions of its kind in this country.
Ildar Sharipov, the owner of an international currency business, began proceedings against Merseyside Police after £1.6m in his UK bank accounts was frozen in an investigation about the sales of two cars, a plane ticket to Nigeria and a number of investments.
The court order was obtained by Merseyside Police in April 2018 without Mr Sharipov’s knowledge. Around £1m of the frozen funds has since been returned to him. He is now seeking a judicial review into police conduct in his case and for the rest of the funds to be returned.
The businessman, a Russian national from Tatarstan in Central Asia, complained to the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) over the handling of the case by 17 police officers, including the three highest-ranking members of the Merseyside force. The IOPC has upheld 61 out of 70 points lodged by Mr Sharipov against members of the Merseyside Police Economic Crimes Team and the Police Standards Department.
Mr Sharipov’s British commercial interests included an ongoing sponsorship deal worth £2.5m with Liverpool Football Club. He has since moved the football sponsorship to the German Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund in protest, he says, at his treatment by Merseyside Police.
Mr Sharipov, then living in Singapore, had transferred money to his UK bank accounts in preparation for settling in this country with his family. The court order obtained by the police in an inquiry into two sales of cars totalling £15,710 , and a plane ticket to Nigeria and a number of investments. The application under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 was made at a magistrates’ court in Liverpool by a detective constable from the force’s Financial Investigation Unit.
Mr Sharipov claims that a Nigeria-linked fraudster had used a foreign currency platform, Grizzio, to carry out the car and air ticket scam, and he had no knowledge of what had taken place until the police action started.
He said: “At the time I employed 400 people in ten different countries, including the UK, and I was dealing with the Financial Conduct Authority. Would anyone risk all that for such a Nigerian fraud which is now the main allegation against me? I am not hiding away from this. I am spending a considerable sum of money in trying to clear my name. The IOPC’s decision on the appeal is very encouraging and shows I am right to carry on with my legal actions.
“Merseyside Police have never arrested me, they won’t even interview me, despite my repeated offer to them do so since 2018. They have never done me any physical harm, but they have done a lot of damage to my business, my life, my reputation and career. It is now about getting justice and making the public aware of the kind of things that go on. This would ideally create a case law into what is an abuse of power in this field of police work.”
The “legal limbo”, he says, has led to severe ongoing stress for him, his 38-year-old wife Irina, and two daughters aged three and ten. He has been unable to extend his long-term visa for Singapore and can only see his family intermittently on a tourist visa while staying temporarily in other countries.
Among the main allegations against Merseyside Police, Mr Sharipov claimed that his commercial footprint had not been a secret as his main company, OCC, was FCA-registered and legitimate, and Grizzio – named in the police court order to seize his assets – was a subsidiary. He held that the police investigation had been flawed by the force’s inability to recognise the difference between holding companies, subsidiaries and trading companies. Mr Sharipov said what the police had described as a “complex structure” was, in fact, common in international business.
Merseyside Police stated that, at the time the application was made, the “link between OCC and Grizzio was not known and could not have been known. The officer recognises that the application could have been worded in a clearer manner, but Mr Sharipov has beneficial control of a multitude of companies, most of which have no clear footprint. OCC and Grizzio, at the time of the initial applications, had no clear footprint, as this is what the investigation team had been looking into.”
Mr Sharpiov claims that Merseyside Police had concealed and misrepresented information as to the shareholding structure of OCC. The force stated that “the ownership of Mr Sharipov’s companies are complicated and obscure which”, according to the investigating officer, “is a delberate act... to frustrate investigation into his company control. Mr Sharipov has numerous offshore companies, and companies in foreign jurisdictions, which makes establishing the beneficial ownership of any such company a protracted (and in some cases impossible) task for law enforcement.”
Assistant Chief Constable Ian Critchley, of Merseyside Police, stressed that dealing with complex fraud cases often tended to take time, with a huge amount of documentation needed. Allegations of economic crime need to be thoroughly investigated and the Sharipov investigation will continue, he said.
Chris Daw QC, counsel for Mr Sharipov, said “I have been involved in claims against the police for 25 years and have acted in some of the most high profile misconduct investigations seen. I have no doubt that Mr Sharipov’s complaints and judicial review claims represent one of the largest challenges to police misconduct of all time in this country.”
The initial application for the account-freezing order was made at the magistrates’ court by a detective constable authorised by an inspector. Mr Daw said: “It is a common feature of even very substantial crime investigations that very junior officers are left with conduct of vital early actions in the case. This includes seeking restraining orders which may have the effect of destroying businesses worth millions of pounds and ruining people’s lives with little of any supervision at a senior level within the police.
“Given the limited time available to judges to scrutinise the applications, which are generally made without the defence even being present, there have been many cases of orders being granted with little evidence, only to be overturned later when it is too late.”
Mr Daw also said that, in his experience, foreigners and ethnic minorities found themselves under investigation in these type of cases more than those of white, British backgrounds.
“In my own practice I have seen many cases where those accused of financial crime are from overseas or minority ethnic groups. In some cases I have no doubt that a white British person would not have faced the same suspicion or zealous police action,” he said.
“I have no doubt that certain racial groups and nationalities face a much higher risk of being targeted by a financial crime investigation than others. This is another example of the sort of institutional racism that has blighted English law enforcement for a very long time.”
Assistant Chief Constable Critchley said: “Financial investigations are often complex and time-consuming, involving large numbers of inquiries and documentation. Merseyside Police are currently conducting a criminal and civil financial investigation in relation to the business activities of a 33-year-old man, a number of connected individuals and UK based companies. It would be inappropriate to comment on the details of the ongoing investigations.
“In respect of this case, I am confident the officers are acting with the utmost professionalism. There have been many Judicial Reviews lodged by the subject of this case which have subsequently resulted in delays to the progression of the investigation. Merseyside Police takes economic crime in all its forms seriously.
“We have a dedicated Economic Crime Unit with officers committed to protecting our communities across Merseyside from financial harm and investigating allegations of criminality.
“We at Merseyside Police will continue to work tirelessly to progress this investigation and others involving suspected economic crime.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies