Montreal's controversial arms broker loses battle over Canadian banks refusing his business

For more than 10 years Ari Ben-Menashe hasn’t been able to open a bank account in Canada because bank after bank refused him as a client

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Ari Ben-Menashe, Montreal’s lobbyist of last resort for controversial military and political leaders around the world, has lost his lawsuit championing Canadians who have been stripped of banking access.

“It really puts a lot of people into unnecessary hardship. Because (banking) is something that every person living in Canada needs,” Ben-Menashe said after hearing the verdict.

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“If banks just don’t feel like dealing with you? OK, goodbye. And the problem is there are very few banks in Canada and if one bank doesn’t want you, the rest will throw you out too.”

Ben-Menashe is a warzone consultant, global lobbyist, arms broker and international man of mystery who has drawn scrutiny and controversy for his list of clients, which has included militia leaders, despots, renegade generals, presidents, revolutionaries, and warlords.

For more than 10 years he hasn’t been able to open a bank account in Canada because bank after bank refused him as a client. The reasons are unclear, which formed part of Ben-Menashe’s legal complaint, but it has emerged he was declared a “politically exposed person,” known as a PEP.

In the financial world, a PEP is a high-ranking public official, or someone close to such an official, deemed susceptible to corruption.

The designation offends Ben-Menashe because while many of his clients have had problems, he was cleared of sanctions violations, has no criminal convictions, and has never declared bankruptcy.

He points to the Bank Act, which says banks shall open a basic bank account to people presenting at a branch with appropriate documents and identification.

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The act says service can be refused if: the bank has reason to believe the account will be used for illegal purposes; the customer has a history of financial fraud or bankruptcy; or to protect the bank and workers from physical harm, harassment, or other abuse.

Ben-Menashe sued the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC), which is a federal regulatory and supervisory body under the authority of the minister of finance, and RBC, asking for a judge’s order forcing the agency to investigate why he was declined and the bank to do business with him.

Federal Court Associate Chief Justice Jocelyne Gagné heard his case in Montreal in September, and dismissed his case last week, ordering him to pay $5,700 in legal costs.

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Gagné said that under the law the FCAC has no obligation to help rejected bank clients other than to receive a complaint, process it, and consider mentioning it in its annual report to government.

As for the RBC, Gagné said the appropriate court to hear his complaint is Quebec Superior Court.

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“Since the applicant has not demonstrated a legal obligation for the Agency to act on his behalf, and since this Court does not have jurisdiction to grant the remedies he seeks, his request for judicial review is rejected,” Gagné wrote, in her ruling issued in French.

Ben-Menashe was dumped as a client by CIBC in 2011, citing him as a risk to the bank’s reputation, court files say.

He next lost his elite American Express Centurion card, a black titanium credit card with no limit. He sued both the bank and the credit card company, but lost.

He has tried to open accounts at all major banks in Quebec, court heard, and all refused his business.

In 2020, he tried again at RBC in Montreal, and was also refused.

Lawyers for Ben-Menashe said they turned to the Federal Court because they have exhausted all other complaint and appeal processes.

Ben-Menashe said in an interview after reading the ruling that he is disappointed in it.

“If I was the judge, I would be really embarrassed with such a judgment,” he said.

“She basically said she does not have the tools to call on the government to do this. If that’s the case, then who is supposed to interfere in banking? It’s a small group of banks and they have the same guys who throw you out…. Like bouncers.

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“She should have risen above herself and tried to work something out.”

He said many people have been unfairly denied banking service, sometimes over political opinion. He said that includes supporters of the Freedom Convoy.

In Britain, politician Nigel Farage had bank accounts closed for fear of “reputational damage” over his right-wing political views. After Farage complained, the bank’s head resigned, and he was invited to reopen accounts. He is planning a class action lawsuit against NatWest over debanking.

In the United States, financial institutions are debanking an increasing number of people, The New York Times reported last week, over vague suspicions prompted by a vast security apparatus. A financial institution was recently caught secretly refusing services to Armenian-Americans for stereotyping them as “prone to crime and fraud,”

“This is not fair to many people in Canada, many, many people. What do you do?” Ben-Menashe said.

“Let everybody in Canada know what the deal is: If a bank decides they don’t want you, they will tell you to go screw off but not give you a reason.”

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He said he is considering an appeal of the ruling.

Rob Merk, RBC’s director of corporate communications, said the bank would not comment on the case at this time.

National Post, with additional reporting by Christopher Nardi

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