Banks NatWest, HSBC and more linked to fake document filed by ‘Dudeist priest’

Bosses at some of the U.K.’s largest banks faced confusion and chaos after discovering hundreds of fake documents relating to their financial assets, filed by an ordained “Dudeist priest” in Northern Ireland.

The alarm was raised by banking trade association UK Finance, which wrote to its members earlier this year warning that over 800 false loan documents relating to 190 of the country’s largest companies, including The Bank of Scotland, estate agent Knight Frank and private equity giant Macquarie, had been filed with Companies House.

According to The Times of London, the falsified documents marked each company’s loans as being repaid or “fully satisfied” despite all the charges still being outstanding.

While the mass filings at the start of the year could easily have been part of a complex state-sponsored cyberattack or fraud on an industrial scale, they were, in fact, the actions of just one man. 

The individual in question is an unnamed meditation and acupuncture practitioner from Northern Ireland who identifies as a so-called Dudeist priest. Dudeism is a religious movement inspired by the Coen brothers’ 1998 movie The Big Lebowski, which advocates the practices followed by the film’s main character, Jeffrey “the Dude” Lebowski. The movement likens itself to Chinese Taoism with its “take it easy manifesto.” 

The movie’s plot centers around the laid-back Lebowski who gets ensnared in a kidnapping conspiracy involving a millionaire who shares Lebowski’s name. 

In an interview with The Times, the man, whose identity the outlet didn’t reveal, stated that he had made the filings as he believed the businesses concerned owed him money.

Fortune reviewed the list of companies shared by UK Finance that were impacted by the false dismissal of charges. Some of the banks tied to the unsatisfied charges include HSBC, NatWest, CBRE and Royal Bank of Canada. 

The incident places further scrutiny on Companies House, an agency of the UK government that maintains the register of companies.

Companies House has been heavily criticized in recent years as the publisher of often incorrect or misleading data about U.K. companies, a powerful tool used by bogus companies, fake directorships and money launderers to hide their true intentions.

Things are starting to change, with new powers granted to the agency last year under the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act, which allows Companies House to finally start scrutinizing the data submitted to it. However, a surge in demand for its services means concerns surrounding its operations impact many companies and individuals—and therefore, are essential to address.

“We have taken steps to block the account that is linked with these transactions and, using new powers available to us, have removed all the related filings,” a Companies House spokesperson told Fortune in a statement. “We are contacting the companies concerned and have launched an urgent review of our processes. We continue to work with law enforcement partners where appropriate.”

Northern Ireland’s Dudeist priest

The issues surrounding false filings have largely been resolved now—but ironically, the person behind it didn’t have a clear rationale for pursuing the companies that he did. 

Speaking to The Times, the man said: “I didn’t know anything about it [the filings] until I was reading it and then I was sending things away all at once.

“When I found something new I’d sink into it a bit too much and then I would get a bit scattered. I think if I spread it out and read it slowly and took my time maybe things would have been different, but that’s not what happened, unfortunately.”

All the false filings have now been removed from the Companies House website, with a “rectified” statement prefixed. For instance, Companies House’s record on Nero Coffee Roasting Limited said: “Rectified The material was formerly considered to form part of the register but is no longer considered by the registrar to do so.”

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