Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.
dog stealing sandwich | accountingweb | Court backs bank for sacking employee over falsified sandwich expense claim
iStock_studio-annika_sandwich_thief_dog

Ethics on the menu in false sandwich expense case

by

A financial crime analyst bit off more than he could chew by falsely claiming a snack for his wife on expenses during a work trip. Accounting experts note that the sums are irrelevant when issues of ethics and honesty are at stake.

18th Oct 2023
Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.

A bank analyst sacked for expensing a coffee and sandwich for his wife without declaring the claim was for two people has lost his case for unfair dismissal.

Szabolcs Fekete filed a claim against Citibank after he was dismissed over a dispute relating to expenses he submitted following a three-day work trip to Amsterdam in 2022. 

A tribunal in East London ruled in favour of the bank, with Employment Judge Illing noting the bank was within its rights to sack the Fekete who “was employed in a position of trust in a global financial institution”. 

The judge said the case was “not about the sums of money involved”. 

Fekete, a financial crime analyst, had been with the global investment bank since 2015. He had travelled to Amsterdam with his wife, who was not employed by the bank, the tribunal noted. 

Out to lunch

After submitting his expenses claim later, a senior manager said it would be rejected despite being inside the bank’s €100 a day limit because he believed the meals claimed were for two people.

According to the ruling, which was made public, Fekete replied by email that: “I was on the business trip by myself and that I had 2 coffees as they were very small.”

“The receipt appears to have two sandwiches, two coffees, and another drink… Are you advising that this was all consumed by you?” the manager responded.

“Yes that is correct,” said Fekete. ”On that day I skipped breakfast and only had 1 coffee in the morning. For lunch I had 1 sandwich with a drink and 1 coffee in the restaurant and took another coffee back to the office with me and had the second sandwich in the afternoon… Which also served as my dinner.” 

Following further probing from the manager, Fekete said: “All my expenses are within the €100 daily allowance. Could you please outline what your concern is as I don’t think I have to justify my eating habits to this extent.” 

Internal investigation 

A month later the matter was escalated to the bank’s ethics desk, with an internal investigator appointed to question the employee over a Zoom call.

Fekete denied sharing a meal of pasta pesto and a bolognese with his partner.

Some weeks later, he confirmed that some of the food had been eaten by his partner. Citi’s investigation in October concluded that the analyst had breached the company’s expense policy and lied during an internal investigation. 

Fekete was sacked for gross misconduct a few weeks later in November 2022 after a disciplinary hearing. In his defence, he said he had been on medical leave and medication for several weeks following the Amsterdam trip when replying to emails about the suspect expenses claim. He had also recently lost a family member. 

Despite this, the judge sided with the bank. “I have accepted that the expense report may have been submitted in error,” Judge Illing said. “However, I am satisfied that a dismissal in relation to the misrepresentation allegation alone would fall within the band of a reasonable response by a reasonable employer.

“I am satisfied that even if the expense claim had been filed under a misunderstanding, there was an obligation upon the claimant to own up and rectify the position at the first opportunity. I accept that the respondent requires a commitment to honesty from its employees.” 

Citi said: “We are pleased with the decision.” 

Ethical behaviour

Regulators demanded banks tighten expenses policies and place more responsibility on senior managers to practise ethical behaviour following the 2008 financial crisis. As a result, several instances of sackings following minor thefts have occurred within the financial services sector.

Citi suspended a senior trader in 2020 after the individual was accused of stealing food from the office canteen, while another investment bank in the City of London fired a sales executive who stole a £5 chain guard from a colleague’s bicycle.

Business integrity at stake

Industry experts said the Fekete case highlighted the need for employers to have robust expenses policies and clear guidelines for employees to follow surrounding cases of infringement.

“Let’s be clear: dishonest actions must be called out,” said Vipul Sheth, MD of accountancy, outsourcing and offshoring specialist AdvanceTrack.

“Firstly, the case highlights the need for employees to uphold transparency and truthfulness when submitting expense claims,” he told AccountingWEB. “Falsifying information or inflating expenses not only erodes trust but can also result in legal consequences, as demonstrated here.”

Employers should implement strict oversight and control mechanisms to identify irregularities in expense claims, he said, adding that regular audits and verification procedures can “effectively deter fraudulent or overstated claims” and protect a company’s financial wellbeing.

“The story serves as a compelling reminder that fostering a culture of honesty and implementing robust expense policies is not merely a matter of financial prudence but also a crucial element in upholding integrity,” he said.

Move to digital

The case also highlights the need to move away from paper-based processes to reduce the risk of fraudulent claims, said Karim Jouini, chief technology officer at accounting and automation experts Medius.

“Mr Fekete claimed he wasn’t clear on Citbank’s policy, which stated that spousal travel and meals weren’t reimbursable, and without the single Citibank employee who flagged the expense claim, the fraudulent request could have easily been missed,” he said.

“These digital expense management processes allow for better control and understanding of the expense claims being made, allowing businesses to ensure that their expense policy isn’t treated as a recommendation, but an obligation,” he said.

Replies (25)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

avatar
By Justin Bryant
18th Oct 2023 13:14

Presumably this bloke was sacked for idiocy as much as (or perhaps more than) bad ethics.

Thanks (3)
avatar
By Roland195
18th Oct 2023 13:38

I suppose I can sort of see the logic that someone prepared to lie over the cost of a sandwich is unsuitable to work in a regulated profession but I suspect there may be something to the boy's out to get me defense.

Thanks (4)
Replying to Roland195:
avatar
By johnjenkins
19th Oct 2023 11:05

undoubtedly.

Thanks (0)
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
18th Oct 2023 14:11

Article Header wrote:
Accounting experts note that the sums are irrelevant when issues of ethics and honesty are at stake.
There have been a few postings on this forum recently that seemed to think such things didn't matter if there was little or no chance of getting caught. Hopefully this case serves as a salutary reminder.
Thanks (12)
avatar
By Postingcomments
18th Oct 2023 14:31

People who get caught always seem to have recently suffered and illness and/or a bereavement. Just saying.

Thanks (5)
Replying to Postingcomments:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
23rd Oct 2023 18:13

Legal representatives dealing with the case for them must pass on the infection.

Thanks (0)
the sea otter
By memyself-eye
18th Oct 2023 14:33

He'll have a problem earning a crust now!

Thanks (6)
Replying to memyself-eye:
avatar
By johnjenkins
19th Oct 2023 11:07

Should have used his loaf etc.etc.

Thanks (1)
avatar
By JustAnotherUser
18th Oct 2023 15:47

This bought back a lot of memories from working in a hotel...

Expenses were for food only, not alcohol so to get big tips the businessmen (builders and trades mostly) would ask for (eg) 3 burgers and chips on the bill, lets call it £10 a burger... and allow them to get 5 free pints of John Smiths (£4 a pint) and just 1 burger.

I honestly don't think whoever processed thee claims cared, these guys were onsite for 6 to 12 months on a build and we would process these types of things a dozen times a night, every night. Boss encouraged it as its more money in the till, didn't care about the stock take.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By mhkay
19th Oct 2023 09:48

A bit severe, especially as a lot of companies don't mind too much what you claim for so long as the amounts are reasonable. I once skipped dinner on a business trip and claimed for a theatre ticket instead, the bean-counters checked the policy and confirmed that I was entitled to claim food for the brain rather than the stomach if that's what I preferred.

Thanks (0)
Replying to mhkay:
Kitten
By Hazel Accounts
19th Oct 2023 10:36

The difference I guess is you didn't lie.

If he'd have said oops, that was also my wife and I should have just claimed half, please amend my claim then could have been the end of it

Thanks (5)
avatar
By listerramjet
19th Oct 2023 09:57

This fails the sniff test. Ethics is a complex area, but you have to question the motives of the bank in pursuing it in this way. For example there is no evidence of systematic abuse presented, and in the circumstances the policy seems somewhat mean spirited. You might even argue that the policy is round sum for small amounts and the mistake was in trying to cover up something so petty that otherwise might have been better handled. And equally demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of the whole point of ethics in a business context. Particularly given the track record of financial services!

Thanks (4)
Replying to listerramjet:
avatar
By Steve951
20th Oct 2023 13:47

There seems to be a rush to point out secondary factors around this instance. Maybe the company were looking to find an excuse to fire this individual, but given the time frames stated in the article they certaintly didn't rush into it, if this were indeed the case.

He was a financial crime analyst and has shown a lack of ethics, integrity and honesty in trying to claim a minimal amount on expenses that he wasn't entitled to and then lying about it. If he is willing to falsely claim a pittance through expenses, what else is he capable of doing, to the detriment of the company he works for and the role he was doing.

If he had owned up to the false claim earlier, perhaps a slap on the wrist would have been in order, but he doubled down and lied to the ethics department. Does this suggest that this individual is someone who should continue to be trusted?
I applaud the manager who queried this claim in the first instance, they are custodians of the company's property and in ensuring policies and procedures are correctly followed by the employees that report to them. The article also points out that the regulator required that banks tighten their expense policies, undoubtedly resulting in more robust checks of expense claims.

He shouldn't have lied about the claim to his manager and then definitely should not have continued his gambit with the ethics investigator, without knowing any true extenuating circumstances I cannot see why you would want to employ him in the role of financial crime analyst, or any role requiring a level of trust.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Steve951:
avatar
By Roland195
23rd Oct 2023 11:17

I don't think anyone is arguing that this character got everything coming to him & hell mend him - whatever the situation he found himself in, he absolutely should not have continued to lie about it.

That said, I don't believe this is simply a case of a diligent manager adhering to robust policies.

Thanks (0)
By Democratus
19th Oct 2023 10:12

Ah! I know someone who works for the employer, when we chatted about this story her reply was....you don't mess with the policies!

Also missing in the above, but mentioned on the BBC report was that the manager was querying the expense, not on quantum to confirm if it was in policy.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Democratus:
avatar
By Roland195
19th Oct 2023 10:30

But if the policy was $100 per day and the total presented within that, why was a "Senior Manager" taking the time to query a receipt for two sandwiches?

While this boy was hoisted by his own petard, I can't believe that Citibank would actually try to show this level of commitment to their sterling ethical policies without some other factor at play suggesting his card was already marked. As mentioned, I'm sure a Director of Citibank caught using the petty cash to take his mistress out on the town wouldn't face anything like this consequence.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Roland195:
By Democratus
20th Oct 2023 11:30

I believe the policy excluded spousal related expenses. I don't work for Citi...or any bank for that matter.
I suppose the whole point is, don't fiddle the expense claim and you have nothing to worry about.
As for Mistresses ....way outside my area of expertise. I know Mrs D is very strict on that point in her policies.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Ben Alligin
19th Oct 2023 10:17

Alison Rose was less than open and transparent concerning her involvement/behaviour over Nigel Farage bank account and the BBC. However her punishment was not to be sacked, but to resign and work out her notice period at £2.4M.

That's an awful lot of 'sandwiches'!!

Different set of rules for ethics and honesty when it comes to directors?!

Thanks (5)
Replying to Ben Alligin:
avatar
By Rgab1947
19th Oct 2023 14:43

Always

Thanks (0)
avatar
By J Hawkes
19th Oct 2023 11:11

Hole. Digging. Stop.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By CherryPicker
19th Oct 2023 15:01

When will someone be sacked for stealing electricity to charge their personal mobile phone?

If permission is not provided it is clearly theft.

Thanks (0)
Replying to CherryPicker:
avatar
By johnjenkins
19th Oct 2023 15:42

Perks of the job - read the small print not the meter.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By neiltonks
23rd Oct 2023 14:56

Like others, I find it a bit suspicious that his claims were being scrutinised so closely. I suspect there was more to it. He should have stuck to his original story: eating one sandwich and a couple of drinks in the restaurant and taking another drink and sandwich to the office to be consumed later isn't so improbable that anyone could say it was definitely not what happened.

Thanks (0)
paddle steamer
By DJKL
23rd Oct 2023 18:24

As a trainee I used to get sent on my own to Stornoway to do audits (1986 and 1987). There was a certain amount expected to be spent per night, but nobody got that carried away checking the daily figures.

So for five nights I worked late at the clients, grabbed a fish supper, something cheap. But on Saturday and Sunday (the 1980s Wee Free sabbath when pubs were shut so I had to eat at the hotel) I ate in the County Hotel where I stayed , my Saturday meal being three courses, a bottle of red and coffee and a brandy in front of an open fire to finish . Because the total for the week was within the limit nobody ever queried anything. (Back then you ordered your Sunday meal on the Saturday night as they would not "trade" on a Sunday)

Also got a free newspaper, free dry cleaning and vast hours of overtime. (Keep meaning to take my other half to visit the Western Isles)

Thanks (0)
avatar
By tedbuck
23rd Oct 2023 18:25

A Bank - ethical?

I bet they would have accepted the fivers in the polythene bags.

The guy was marked for dismissal - can't believe anything else - still his own fault though, but someone had it in for him.

Thanks (0)