Anyone who enters the front door of Pearl Street 500 in south Manhattan as a defendant can usually expect a lot of media attention. It is the US District Court for the southern borough of New York, in which indictments were brought against Bernie Madoff in the financial crisis, against Trump’s former legal advisor Michael Cohen and against Jeffrey Epstein. Since November all major proceedings in the area of financial and economic crime have been postponed because of the pandemic – which is why the meetings between Judge Rakoff, the two accused Ruben Weigand, Hamid “Ray” Akhavan and their lawyers have only taken place via conference calls.
But the trial seems important enough for the judge to put together the jury group and summon witnesses in March, despite the acute risk of infection. The accused do not want to lose any time either: Both spend their pre-trial detention at their own expense. Because they no longer have to sit in a California jail, they themselves bear the cost of secure housing and 24/7 surveillance.
We reported on the case of the US $ 100 million bank fraud in November. Even then, there were indications that the German scandal company Wirecard could also play a role in the case. In July 2020, the “Wall Street Journal” referred to sources from the US Department of Justice who spoke of a possible role for Wirecard. A week ago the “Stern” published mail protocols between the former Wirecard board member Jan Marsalek and Hamid Akhavan. According to this, Akhavan should be an important US contact and even a close friend of Marsalek.
Court documents now show how the German Ruben Weigand and Hamid Akhavan are preparing for the trial – and also that the lawyers are looking for leads to Wirecard.
The preparations for the start of the process in early March reveal what is at stake in this case.
Former Visa compliance chief should present Wirecard documents
Martin Elliott, former head of compliance at Visa, is among the witnesses who will testify before the court, responsible for compliance with the regulations in the payment service provider’s global franchise network. According to court documents, Elliott is only supposed to testify as an expert and expert on the payment industry. But if you read through his summons, you notice that he should bring all his documents with him, which concern agreements with Wirecard Bank AG in the period of the alleged fraud between 2016 and 2019.
State attorneys accuse the two defendants of defrauding US banks by recoding credit card transactions from marijuana purchases worth $ 100 million. In the United States, most credit card companies, like Visa, do not accept payments for marijuana. In order to enable a Californian retailer to sell credit cards anyway, Weigand and Akhavan are said to have recoded the transactions with the help of European bogus companies and banks and accounted for grass as dog food or face cream.
Whether there were any possible agreements between Visa and Wirecard in this case will probably remain in the dark despite the subpoena. Months ago, Weigand and Akhavan reached the court that information about companies that appear in the evidence will not be made public. So far, Wirecard has not been a party in the proceedings – but even if the company were to become one, for example through the documents of the Visa manager, the defendants have now made sure that these do not become public.
Telegram chats are not intended to be used as evidence
In addition, the accused filed several requests to prevent various witnesses and documents from being taken into account in the process.
Weigand and Akhavan asked for chat logs that FBI agents had backed up to be removed from the evidence. It could be difficult for the court to admit this request, as these chats provide valuable insights into the proceedings of the two accused.
Weigand’s lawyers also want the court to forego any reference to his alleged involvement in payment processing in porn or gambling businesses. The lawyers fear that these terms could cause negative associations with the jury.
Ruben Weigand fights to exclude certain documents from the evidence. This includes numerous emails from an encrypted email address that the FBI assigned to him. The email address has been shown to play a role in processing payments with the marijuana dealer. According to Weigand’s lawyers, the address had been used by several people and would therefore provide misleading information about Weigand’s role in the alleged bank fraud.
In particular, Weigand wants to keep its European businesses out of the case. Until his arrest in March 2020, he ran his consulting company “Payment Consultants” in Luxembourg with his brother and another employee and, according to his own statements, had numerous contacts in the European e-payment scene. His business relationships with European banks, which appear in documents on his laptop, should not be linked to the alleged bank fraud.
Weigand and Akhavan’s attorneys deny the allegation of bank fraud, arguing that recoding the transactions would not have caused any actual damage.
In August the judge considered this argument to be dubious, so he wants to start the trial in early March. It should take around three weeks.