By Beatrice Thomas
UPDATE: Former GFH Capital deputy CEO who brokered deal to buy the club disputes allegations, and claims signatures on paperwork are not his
Former GFH Capital (GFHC) executive David Haigh is accused of misappropriating $5 million of the company’s funds by creating a spate of false invoices for third party work that was then paid for into bank accounts operated by him, court documents show.
In its statement of claim to the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts, obtained by Arabian Business, GFHC has outlined details of four parties - Lincoln Associates, Millnet Limited, GPW and lawyer David Murray - for which Haigh, 36, allegedly created false invoices that were then paid under his authorisation into bank accounts unconnected to the contractors.
It said the invoices were allegedly created during the last 19 months of his tenure as deputy CEO of GFHC and were paid either directly by Haigh as they fell under a AED185,000 ($50,000) threshold for board member sign-off or paid by GFHC’s solicitors under his instruction.
The documents allege that while the contractors were on the company’s books and being paid for other legitimate work, the false invoices were paid into bank accounts operated by Haigh.
As part of its civil case, GFHC is seeking $5m in damages plus costs and “such further or other relief as the court thinks fit”.
GFHC launched legal action against British national Haigh late last month following his arrest soon after arriving at GFHC’s offices on May 18 on the premise of talking about a new work opportunity. Haigh, who resigned from GFHC in March, a month before resigning as managing director of English football club Leeds United, has been in a Dubai jail since, with his address listed on the court papers as Bur Dubai Police Station.
State news agency WAM reported last month Haigh had been referred to the Public Prosecution for trial on charges of “embezzlement, swindling and breach of trust”, though it is understood to date no criminal charges have been brought against him.
On Tuesday, a judge granted an interim freezing order on Haigh’s global assets as well as interim search order on his property following a hearing at the DIFC Court of First Instance.
In the statement of claim, dated May 26 and signed by the DIFC-based company’s CEO Jinesh Patel, it said Haigh’s alleged actions “were in breach of contract and/or in breach of fiduciary duties” and dishonest.
Haigh, who negotiated GFHC’s takeover of Leeds from former owner Ken Bates in 2012, as well as its on-sale to current owner Massimo Cellino this year, has denied the claims against him.
The documents allege that for one of the third-parties Haigh created or procured 13 invoices totalling AED4.374m ($1.19m) between April 30, 2013 and November 30, 2013 purporting to be for legal work by Lincoln Associates FZE.
On all but two occasions it is alleged that payments totalling AED4.19m were authorised by Haigh and a junior employee, with Haigh “affixing a stamp bearing his name” on some approved payments as well as also signing the invoice on a number of occasions.
For another contractor, GFHC allege that between July 26, 2013 and September 6, 2013 Haigh sent emails to its solicitors instructing them to make payments totalling £136,800 ($229,281.84) to Millnet Limited for document scanning, e-platform and hosting services which were never carried out.
Citing an invoice sent from Millnet to Haigh on October 30, 2013, and copied to GFHC’s solictors, Haigh allegedly responded by saying: “Please send these direct to me only.”
According to the statement of claim, Haigh also “created or caused to be created” false invoices totalling £810,054.22 ($1.36m) between February 26, 2013 and November 30, 2013 for work by the GPW Group.
GPW, in one investigation dubbed Project Athena, and which is not listed as a “false” invoice, it is said to have compiled a background dossier on Cellino prior to his takeover of the club this year.
In other allegations, Haigh is accused of raising £1.30m ($2.184m) in invoices for work by lawyer David Murray, of Fountain Court Chambers, including for work related to cases involving Leeds and former director Mark Taylor and former Leeds owner Ken Bates.
There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the contractors named in the court documents.
On Tuesday, the court heard that Haigh may be released from jail as early as June 8, but it is unclear what conditions would be attached to his release.
The case was provisionally set down for a further hearing on June 17.
A friend close to Haigh told Arabian Business on Wednesday that despite being in jail “no criminal charges whatsoever have been brought against him”.
“He doesn’t blame in any way the Dubai system, but he does feel that it’s being misused,” the friend said.
Arabian Business understands that Haigh disputes that the vast majority of the signatures on the invoices are his.
It is also understood that he believes amounts of this size and frequency could not have gone out “without senior people at GFH being fully aware of these payments being made”.
A friend close to Haigh said “David wasn’t even in the office for most of this period” and was travelling. “He wasn’t even in the office for two years before he left,” the friend said.
“David feels that GFH’s tactics are underhand and oppressive. He believes GFH are abusing the Dubai legal system in their wholly unjustified pursuit of him.”
Haigh is believed to be frustrated with what he describes as GFH’s "baseless allegations" of money laundering, which have not been backed up in any statement of claim, and were used to write to his banks to get his personal accounts frozen before this week’s hearing.
“They used the subterfuge of offering him a job to lure him under false pretences to Dubai,” the friend added.
Haigh became a club director of Leeds United FC after the 2012 takeover and later took up the job of managing director at Elland Road in July 2013.
According to the statement of claim, he resigned from his job at GFHC in March his year, a month before Cellino bought a 75 percent stake in the club.For all the latest banking and finance news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.