On July 5, 1991, when BCCI was closed, some one million small depositors in BCCI around the world lost their deposits.
In addition to these small depositors, there were other, larger depositors. Among those depositors were central banks, governmental organizations, government investment funds, and government officials, involving most of the countries in the world.
There is no way of knowing even now precisely who were among all those who lost money. BCCI made frequent use of "managers' ledgers" or numbered accounts for its most sensitive depositors, whose identities were typically kept secret from everyone other than their personal banker at BCCI. Given the anonymity, the secrecy, and the source of the income behind many of these deposits, some depositors, including governmental officials or agencies, have not necessarily been in a position to assert claims to the money they have lost.
However, some sense of the impact on governmental entities and global officialdom is provided by an account appearing in the French wire service Agence France Presse a few days after BCCI's global shut-down, concerning BCCI losses at its tiny branch in Korea, entitled "Angry Diplomats Urge Government To Release Their BCCI Assets":
A major row is erupting between the South Korean government and foreign diplomats whose deposits have been frozen by the suspension of the Seoul branch of the scandal-hit Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). Incensed diplomats from 33 countries met last Thursday at a European embassy here to coordinate strategy after a protest they filed with the central bank of Korea went unheeded, diplomats said. The diplomats said that 120 of their colleagues from 33 embassies have had part or all of their deposits frozen. In addition, the accounts of several embassies have been frozen, forcing some to cut back operations. . . The local branch of BCCI had strongly lobbied diplomats here to use the bank, offering interest rates slightly above average and putting a wide international network at their disposal, officials said. . . . The envoys said that among those countries [in Korea alone] whose embassies were in partial or deep trouble were [a number of] Latin American countries, Bangladesh, Belgium, Iran, Italy, Hungary, Liberia, Libya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yugoslavia . . . Peru and Argentina have suspended consular operations [entirely] because of lack of funds.(1)
BCCI's offices in Korea were among the bank's smallest, containing just $92 million out of BCCI's total of $23 billion in assets. Yet small as the branch was, the impact of its closure on the foreign diplomatic corps in Seoul was devastating. This tiny branch of BCCI had, somehow, developed relationships with these embassies that neither domestic banks in Korea, nor any of the other foreign banks doing business in Korea had obtained.
The fact so many officials from so many countries banked at a single, obscure BCCI office provides an insight into the success of BCCI's overall strategy of targeting government officials everywhere to use its array of banking services.
In his July 29, 1992 indictment of BCCI's former heads, Agha Hasan Abedi and Swaleh Naqvi, and two of BCCI's front-men, Ghaith Pharaon and Faisal Saud Al Fulaij, New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau alleged, in some detail, how BCCI systematically engaged in criminal activity with officials and prominent political figures from many countries to generate assets for BCCI's Ponzi scheme, both from the governments involved, and from innocent, legitimate depositors.
As the indictment alleges:
. . . members of the BCC Group, acting to further the conduct and affairs of the criminal enterprise, assisted various nations, including Pakistan, Senegal, Zambia and Nigeria, to evade fiscal restraints placed on them by such world institutions as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. . . . The BCC Group agreed to bribe employees, agents and fiduciaries entrusted with Third World money to place it at risk in the BCC Group, which was insolvent.
Members of the enterprise sought to secure a preferential position for the BCC Group in various countries through the use of corrupt payments of monies and other benefits to powerful individuals and to make and cause to be made deposits of money with the BCC Group. Specifically, defendants Abedi and Naqvi plotted to deliver cash and other benefits to countries' finance ministers, head of countries' central banks and senior executives of international and regional organizations to obtain deposits. . .
Among the countries in which members of the BCC group made such corrupt payments for deposits and favorable treatment were the Congo, Nigeria, Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia, the Ivory Coast, Argentina and Peru. Among the institutions defrauded were the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the African Development Bank and the Economic Cooperation of West African States.(2)
Similarly, over the past four years, the Subcommittee has developed extensive documentary and testimonial evidence of BCCI's systematic reliance on relationships with, and as necessary, payments to, prominent political figures in most of the 73 countries in which BCCI operated. BCCI records and testimony from former BCCI officials together document BCCI's systematic securing of Central Bank deposits of Third World countries; its provision of favors to political figures; and its reliance on those figures to provide BCCI itself with favors in times of need.
As BCCI's former senior official for the Caribbean, Abdur Sakhia, testified:
BCCI's strategy globally had been to be very well-known, to make an impact in the marketplace, to have contacts or relationships . . . with all the people who matter. . . You name it, we would develop relationships with everyone of consequence . . . In the Caribbean, every major country I knew the heads of state, I knew the finance ministers, I knew the governors of the central bank. I knew heads of all the major banks in the area, the heads of foreign banks. I knew the people in various official agencies, like the Caribbean Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, Organization of American States. Everyone of consequence in this region I knew. . . .(3)
These relationships were systematically turned to BCCI's use to generate cash needed to prop up its books. BCCI would obtain an important figure's agreement to give BCCI deposits from a country's Central Bank, exclusive handling of a country's use of U.S. commodity credits, preferential treatment on the processing of money coming in and out of the country where monetary controls were in place, the right to own a bank, secretly if necessary, in countries where foreign banks were not legal, or other questionable means of securing assets or profits. In return, BCCI would pay bribes to the figure, or otherwise give him other things he wanted in a simple quid-pro-quo. For example, BCCI would help an official move flight capital out of his country to a safe haven elsewhere, to launder funds skimmed by the official from an official bank account or official commercial transaction, create a foundation for a head of state to provide charitable services for his home village or province, take him on a shopping spree at a fancy London department store, or secure him sexual favors.
The result was that BCCI had relationships that ranged from the questionable, to the improper, to the fully corrupt with officials from countries all over the world, including but certainly not limited to Argentina, Bangladesh, Botswana, Brazil, Cameroon, China, Colombia, the Congo, Ghana, Guatemala, the Ivory Coast, India, Jamaica, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Typically, these relationships were handled personally and in secrecy by BCCI's top two officials -- Abedi and Naqvi -- with the occasional assistance of trusted lieutenants. Accordingly, a full accounting of these relationships may not be possible. Sakhia told the Subcommittee that he believed there was a list of BCCI's payments to political figures somewhere at BCCI's headquarters in London, held closely by Abedi and Naqvi, that contained all the names. When BCCI's headquarters were moved to Abu Dhabi in the spring of 1990, the list, if it still existed, was likely moved there with BCCI's other records:
There was a world wide list of people who were in the payoff of BCCI. The family of Indira Gandhi. President [Ershad] of Bangladesh. General Zia of Pakistan. Many of the leaders of Africa. I went to a World Bank meeting in Seoul, Korea and [BCCI official] Alauddin Shaikh was handing out cash in the hall to the staff of the Central Bank of Nigeria . . . Abedi's philosophy was to appeal to every sector. If you were religious people he would help you pray. President Carter's main thing was charity, so he gave Carter charity. [Pakistani] President Zia's brother-in-law needed a job, he got a job. [Bangladeshi] President [Ershad]'s mistress needed a job, she got a job. You needed the admission of your son to a top college? Abedi would arrange it somehow.(4)
According to Sakhia, the form of the payoff varied with the needs of the customers, but the purpose was always the same -- "to buy influence."(5)
In addition to cash payments, which were kept secret, BCCI routinely gave presents to government officials around the world, a fact disclosed to auditors. As BCCI officer Nazir Chinoy explained:
The auditors will not object if the manager certifies that $50,000 was spent on entertainment on a particular day. They will accept it without bills. It is understood that Christmas presents, giving and taking are common. We tell them we are looking after our people, I have 50 people I want 50 shirts from Harrads for Christmas for my staff, or a Senator from some country telling you I want my people to be looked after. Then he says, when I come to power you take a favor from me. It is an accepted form of operation.(6)
According to Chinoy, these presents would routinely involve gifts worth $5,000 or more if the official was sufficiently important. In the case of Manuel Noriega, for example, the antique oriental rug selected by BCCI and provided to him one year in his honor was worth substantially more.
In other cases, BCCI would make a form of payments to high ranking officials through one of its Foundations, which would create an annual "prize," and bestow it upon a person either whom BCCI wished to influence, or whose receipt the prize would provide BCCI needed legitimacy. For example, from 1980 to 1988, a BCCI foundation called The Third World Foundation bestowed an annial Third World Prize of $100,000 as follows:
1980. Dr. Paul Prebish, international development economist from Argentina. At the time, BCCI was seeking to enter Argentina through nominees.
1981. Dr. Julius Nyerere, President of Tanzania. The Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, presented the prize. At the time, BCCI had alleged financial relationships with various persons associated with Gandhi and was seeking to expand in Tanzania.
1982. Zhao Ziyang, the Chinese premier. Again, BCCI was looking to, and soon thereafter was able to, become one of the first foreign banks to open offices in China.
1983. Professor Arvid Pardo, a UN diplomatic from Malta, whose prize was presented by Belisario Betancur, President of Colombia. In 1983, BCCI purchased a bank in Colombia through nominees.
1984. Willy Brandt, former German chancellor, with UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar giving his approval.
1985. Nelson and Winnie Mandela.
1986. Musician Bob Geldorf, for his work in raising funds for the hungry in Ethiopia.
1987. The International Planned Parenthood Federation of India, presented by Jose Sarney, President of Brazil. In this very period, BCCI was seeking to strengthen its ties to President Sarney, and had just purchased a bank in Brazil through nominees which included close associates of Sarney.
1988. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Norweigian Prime Minister, presented by Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. Mugabe had according to many BCCI officials received cash payments from BCCI in previous years.(7)
The Subcommittee has not obtained internal BCCI documents describing its global strategy for bribery, or any list of payments made to officials. However, the Subcommittee does have a collection of documents and testimony which outline individual cases of bribery, payoffs, or financial benefits provided by BCCI to officials in particular countries. Thus, the case histories set forth below are illustrative, rather than comprehensive, and do not necessarily represent the worst examples of the practice, but merely the ones the Subcommittee has been best able to document.
A baseline for assessing BCCI's principal relationships with foreign governments is to review the deposits it received from Central Banks. At one level, the choice of BCCI as a depository for a Central Bank of a Third World country might seem logical. BCCI had marketed itself as the Third World bank, devoted to providing the best possible services to the Third World. However, every central banker also knew that BCCI, as a bank not based in any one country, had no lender of last resort, and no consolidated audit.
Thus, deposits in BCCI were potentially a very substantial risk for any Central Bank. If BCCI failed, the Central Bank funds would not be protected, but would be treated like the funds of any other depositor. Despite these obvious risks to placing funds with BCCI, dozens of countries placed their reserves with the bank, in some cases, at very substantial, and imprudent, levels.
BCCI document repositories in the United States, unfortunately only contain records pertaining to such deposits in BCCI-Miami, and thus, these represent only a fraction of the total. For example, a number the countries that had deposits at BCCI in the United States would also maintain deposits -- usually larger ones -- at BCCI in Panama, where they would be more protected from creditors.
Typical deposits at BCCI-Miami by central banks and governmental organizations, usually in certificates of deposit, are listed below:
Organization Amount Date
Andean Reserve Fund $15,884,000 July 31, 1988
Central Bank of Aruba 6,000,000 July 31, 1988
Central Bank of Barbados 5,000,000 May 31, 1985
Central Bank of Belize 12,000,000 July 31, 1988
Central Bank of Bolivia 14,414,000 July 31, 1988
Banco de la Rep de Colombia 3,050,346 Aug 4, 1986
Central Bank of Curacao 25,000,000 July 31, 1988
Eastern Caribbean Bank 2,000,000 March 28, 1985
Caribbean Development Bank 3,025,786 June 28, 1985
Bank of China 15,000,000 Dec 31, 1985
Fed. Cafeterios Colombia 10,000,000 July 31, 1985
Banco de Guatemala 3,000,000 July 31, 1988
Bank of Jamaica 13,700,000 July 31, 1986
Jamaica Petroleum/PETROJAM 7,137,437 Jan 31, 1986
Banco Nacional de Panama UNKNOWN Dec 31, 1984
Central Bank of Paraguay 5,000,000 Oct 10, 1989
Central Bank of Suriname UNKNOWN Nov 3, 1986
Central Bank St. Kitt 8,500,000 July 31, 1988
Central Bank Trinidad 5,000,000 Oct 31, 1984
Venezuela Investment Fund 24,000,000 July 31, 1988
Additional central banks had developed relationships with BCCI, but had their accounts shifted by BCCI from its offices in Miami to the National Bank of Georgia in Atlanta. These included Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Honduras, whose "territory" was given by BCCI to its secretly-held subsidiary in Georgia.(8)
It is not possible from BCCI's records in the U.S. to determine even the neighborhood of the degree to which the other Central Banks were depositing funds in BCCI as a whole. For example, the Central Bank of Peru, which did not deposit any funds in BCCI-Miami and therefore is absent from the above extensive list, placed Central Bank deposits at BCCI-Panama that rose to a level of $270 million dollars in June, 1987 -- nearly 30 percent of the total cash reserves of the Government of Peru.
Thus, what is significant, simply, is the large number of central banks and government organizations -- twenty in all -- who were willing to place what was substantial uninsured deposits with BCCI's Miami branch alone, at a time when BCCI was known to have no lender of last resort behind it, and no one to insure a country's repayment should BCCI default.
An appendix to a September 30, 1988 Price Waterhouse Report to BCCI's Audit Committee shows a substantial number of additional governmental entities from other countries making deposits at BCCI as of that date, as follows:
Organization Location Amount
China Civil Eng &
Construction Corporation UAE $11,414,000
Hong Kong 34,400,000
International Fund for
Agricultural Development Luxembourg 17,200,000
OPEC United Kingdom 60,000,000
Central Bank of Sri Lanka United Kingdom 15,070,000
Bangladesh Bank United Kingdom 25,340,000
Bank Foreign Trade
USSR United Kingdom 10,135,000
State Bank Pakistan United Kingdom 48,960,000
National Bank Hungary United Kingdom 15,000,000
Arab Bank for Natl
Development in Africa United Kingdom 42,569,000
Central Bank Syria United Kingdom 21,855,000
Bank of Zambia France 10,920,000
Bank Milli Afghan United Kingdom 20,000,000
Perhaps especially worthy of note from the above list are the Soviet Union's foreign trade account at BCCI, the account for the State Bank of Hungary, and the account for the Central Bank of Syria. In each case, the Subcommittee knows essentially nothing about the underlying nature of the relationship between BCCI and these governments, other than the fact that British sources have contended that BCCI in the United Kingdom was used by numerous intelligence agencies, including most of the major intelligence agencies of the world.(9)
As a consequence of BCCI's collapse, determining what governments were credited by BCCI as receiving loans is a far easier matter than determining who, in the past, placed funds with BCCI. A consolidated loan report for BCCI dating from March 31, 1991, shows numerous governmental organizations credited as receiving very substantial lending from BCCI as follows:
Abu Dhabi Finance Department $35,704,000
Abu Dhabi National Food Stuff Co 21,749,000
Banca Nazional del Lavaro 13,737,000
Botswana Railways 9,400,000
Botswana Telecommunications 2,600,000
Cameroon Ministry of Finance 29,172,000
China International Water & Elec 42,268,000
China National Complete Plant Exp 32,606,000
China Road & Bridge Eng. Co. 20,641,000
China State Construction Group 32,450,000
State of Gabon 7,771,000
Bank of Jamaica 33,895,000
Central Bank of Nigeria 226,060,000
Sultanate of Oman 14,444,000
Petrojam (Jamaica Petroleum) 45,420,000
Government of Seychelles 22,957,000
Bank of Sudan 53,987,000
Republic of Zimbabwe 17,063,000(10)
Price Waterhouse reports 18 months earlier had listed BCCI's exposure on lending to governments and Central Banks as follows:
Country Nature of Loans Exposure 9/30/89
Nigeria Government 216.9
Philippines Central Bank 30
Zambia Central Bank 24.6
Sudan Central Bank 19.9
Iraq Unspecified 11.8
Mexico Unspecified 7.3
Cuba Unspecified 2.3
Sierra Leone Unspecified 3.3
Ivory Coast Unspecified .8
Panama Unspecified .6(11)
Many normal banks have such exposures, and apart from the situation involving Nigeria and to some extent Sudan, the exposure faced by BCCI on its lending to governments was within reasonable commercial norms. However, beneath the veneer of normal practice, the underlying manner by which BCCI developed these relationships was anything but normal. As the case histories below demonstrate, in country after country, BCCI's relationships with officials were fundamentally corrupt.
In the early 1980's, as part of BCCI's program of expansion in Latin America, BCCI decided that it was essential to expand banking operations in the Americas. Accordingly, a team of BCCI's acquisition experts, including Amir Lodhi and Abol Helmy, began meeting with Central Bankers and government officials in such places as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela to find suitable banks to purchase. In most of these countries, there were at the time restrictions on the ability of foreign banks to purchase local banks. Accordingly, Lodhi and Helmy were directed to identify prominent figures in each country who would agree to act as BCCI nominees in purchasing local institutions, under agreements where the nominees would not be at risk, while BCCI would secretly finance their purchases -- precisely as it had done in its purchase of First American Bankshares and the National Bank of Georgia in the United States.
While the financial details of each proposed transaction differed, the model for the transactions had been drawn up by BCCI years previously, and had been relied upon by BCCI in its secret purchase of First American. Helmy was provided with draft structures of these previous transactions, which he used as a guide in preparing fresh proposals for these Latin American countries. Ultimately, using this mechanism, BCCI was able to purchase banks in Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia; however, Helmy contended that in the case of Argentina, the laws changed prior to the purchase of the bank, and so the nominee arrangements that had been agreed upon were not needed.(12)
As BCCI's former head of its Latin American and Caribbean operations, Akbar Bilgrami explained:
Using a nominee was a typical way of going about things. Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, Colombia, Venezuela, Nigeria. All these places started out as nominee relationships. Some were cleaned up. But it was always preferable that there not be a nominee relationship. When we bought a bank or set up a subsidiary, we would often use the nominee relationship because the laws of the country wouldn't allow BCC to have majority control. For example, we used it briefly in Colombia until we received permission to have majority control for BCCI from the government.(13)
In each case, various forms of payments for the individuals who facilitated the purchases of the banks were made by BCCI, including bribes to officials in many of the countries.
According to BCCI officers interviewed by the Subcommittee, there were consistent themes in BCCI's activities in the Third World, in terms of the kinds of services that government officials would be looking for from BCCI. First, to the extent the official controlled a source of government funds, the official typically wanted to be compensated in connection with his decision on where to place the funds. The solution to this problem was simple enough -- BCCI would pay a "commission" to the official involved. Second, to the extent the official controlled transactions involving government funds, the official might well want to be compensated on a fee basis, transaction by transaction. BCCI developed a number of techniques in response to this requirement, which typically involved one form or another of skimming the government funds that moved through the transaction, again with the revenues deposited in a safe place outside the official's country. Third, to the extent the official was in a position to generate substantial resources of his own through non-BCCI corruption, he often would want a safe and confidential place to hide his money. Again, BCCI would comply.
In each of these cases, BCCI would make use of applicable techniques for hiding and laundering cash: manager's ledgers or numbered accounts; phony loans to hide (and legitimize) real, but unclean deposits; circuitous routing of funds through bank secrecy havens like the Grand Caymans and Panama, and so on.
Inevitably, BCCI's criminal practices as a bank would set off alarm bells in one or another of the nations in which it was operating. Because of BCCI's underlying financial fragility, any such problem could potentially mushroom. Accordingly, the bank made it a high priority to fix such cases through payoffs. Usually, this could be accomplished with existing relationships.
For example, in Nigeria, on the several occasions when BCCI's activities had been discovered by officials who had not been compromised, investigations were quelled by a top Nigerian religious and governmental official, Al Haji Ibrahim Dasuki, who was also president of BCCI's Nigerian bank.(14) This pattern was repeated all over the world. As Sakhia testified:
BCCI officers were indicted and jailed in other countries, like Sudan, Kenya, India, and in each case there was a terror in the bank that, you know, this has happened, that has happened. And somehow then some deal would be struck. People would be freed, BCCI would start doing business all over again.(15)
This practice did not only take place in Third World countries. Notes taken by BCCI's lawyers in the United States at Patton, Boggs & Blow in Washington, D.C. refer to possible payments to French officials by BCCI in 1989 to solve a criminal legal matter that had developed for BCCI there. According to the U.S. lawyers involved, each of them was disturbed about the proposed bribe, and were trying to prevent it from happening.(16)
Thus, BCCI's system of payoffs was not by any means an occasional practice, but one that pervaded the institution from its creation, and continued through to its collapse.
In Argentina, BCCI targeted and ultimately successfully purchased, the Finamerica Bank, a small Argentina financial institution that was at the time owned by FIAT and by the Banco de Italia. In December, 1984, through a local middle-man, Ricardo Gotelli, Fiat authorized the sale to BCCI.(17) Internal BCCI memoranda show that in the original structuring of the transaction, BCCI was intending to lend money to the current shareholders of the bank and have them pledge their shares back to BCCI in order to avoid having to notify the Central Bank, and receive its authorization for the purchase. Ultimately, however, this plan was found not to be necessary as a result of BCCI securing the Central Bank's permission for the transaction.(18)
The New York indictment of Abedi, Naqvi, Faisal al Fulaij and Ghaith Pharaon on July 29, 1992 succinctly sets forth why BCCI was able to abandon the nominee structure and directly, publicly purchase the Argentine bank:
The BCCI Group made corrupt payments to the President of the Central Bank of Argentina and a member of its Board of Directors. In or about 1983 and 1984, the BCC Group made and caused to be made a five hundred thousand dollar "political" contribution to the President and a member of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank of Argentina upon an agreement and understanding that it would influence the conduct of said President and Director in relation to the establishment of a bank of the BCC group in Argentina and in relation to the business of the BCC Group.(19)
At the same time BCCI decided to move into Argentina, so did its front-man, Ghaith Pharaon. According to published reports, Pharaon came to Argentina by way of Paraguay, where he had established a personal friendship with military strongman Alfredo Stroessner. Argentine press accounts quote Pharaon as stating he had visited Paraguay to assist in developing BCCI's relationships there, which culminated in the Central Bank of Paraguay placing some of its central bank deposits with BCCI.
The new BCCI bank quickly made one enormous set of loans to Pharaon -- for the construction of a luxury five-star hotel in downtown Buenos Aires -- the first such hotel in the city, including an 18-story tower, convention center, and shopping gallery, built on the grounds of a historic mansion.
According to a letter submitted to Argentine economic authorities by the Hotel Corporation of Argentina, most of the financing for Pharaon's hotel project -- $26.3 million in all -- was to come through selling Argentina Debt under the government's debt equity conversion program. In the letter, Pharaon was described as "a prominent international businessman who has investments in banks, insurance companies, real state [sic] development projects, and numerous other businesses worldwide."(20) During an application for Argentinean citizenship Pharaon made on June 16, 1988, he listed BCCI, CenTrust Bank in Florida, and Independence Bank in California as among his principal investments, and declared he had helped arrange BCCI's acquisition of FinAmerica -- renamed BCCI Argentina.(21)
BCCI's direct involvement in the debt-for-equity project was suspected by some Argentinean press at the time, given the lavishness of the project and questions about whether a hotel could possibly be profitable. However, BCCI's actual involvement was not proven until after BCCI's global closure on July 5, 1991. A week later, investigators in Buenos Aires reported that BCCI Argentina had been heavily involved in the construction of the Pharaon hotel, but that all accounts at the bank had been "cleared out a week before the central bank's move to revoke the license," leaving no depositors in the bank and no deposits. BCCI had financed the Buenos Aires hotel through buying Argentinean foreign debt at a huge discount and cashing it with the central bank, with the result that the Argentine central bank, in essence, financed the bulk of the hotel.(22)
In addition, the hotel project required legislative and regulatory action by various Argentine political figures. In mid-1989, Pharaon reached out to new-elected Argentine President Carlos Menem himself, through ties Pharaon had developed to Menem's former chief of staff, Alberto Kohan. A few months later, Pharaon was introduced to President Menem, and following a meeting with Pharaon, President Menem personally telephoned local officials in Buenos Aires to eliminate the red tape that had been delaying the construction of the BCCI-Pharaon hotel. The delays ended the following day.(23)
The intimate nature of the relationship between top Argentine officials, BCCI, and Pharaon was further demonstrated when Pharaon hired Argentine economist Gonzalez Fraga. On Pharoan's behalf, Fraga arranged the debt-equity swap to help finance the hotel, and then became the new president of the Central Bank under Menem. Fraga told journalists, "it's a pretty story that President Menem made me head of the Central Bank as a favor to Pharaon. But it wasn't that way."(24)
In practice, BCCI's Buenos Aires bank never developed much of the business anticipated for it. Ultimately, its principal activities were mainly to manage the financing of Pharaon's hotel venture and a jojoba planation also financed through an Argentine debt-equity swap involving BCCI.
In the meantime, Pharaon had unwittingly brought about official action against BCCI Argentina in April, 1991 as a result of testifying in a court case, unrelated to BCCI, that:
As much as BCCI, the First National Bank of Boston, the Credit Suisse and the National Bank of Greece -- all are equally lawbreakers.(25)
In response to this suggestion that all banks were laundering money, Argentina ordered BCCI to begin winding up its affairs in Argentina as of the end of 1991, and began a formal investigation of BCCI in Argentina. Little further happened until BCCI's global closure on July 5, 1991, which soon resulted in BCCI Argentina's closure as well. Argentine Federal Judge Maria Servini then combined the investigation into BCCI with another ongoing case implicating the former appointment's secretary of Argentine President Carlos Menem, and his sister-in-law, Amira Yoma, in an alleged international drug and money laundering network. However, little has been made public about the investigation since that time, and many of the key questions about BCCI's and Pharaon's relationships in Argentina remain unanswered.
In response to the Foreign Relations Committee subpoena to BCCI, BCCI's liquidators produced documents concerning two proposed arms sales involving Argentina that had been maintained at BCCI's offices in Miami.
The first set of documents held at BCCI-Miami referred to the sale by the Argentine Air Force of what handwritten notes described as "22 units of Aircraft plus adequate space parts, including 6 spare engines at a price of $110,000,000.00," consisting of Mirage IIIC/B jets manufactured in France and "modified to Argentine Air Force requirements following years of combat experience."(26)
The prospectus included technical drawings of the Mirage jets and basic military specifications, with a commitment that the "AAF," or Argentine Air Force, would provide all technical documentation in support of the planes, ground support equipment, and, if the "customer country" wished, a full program of flight training in Argentina for customer country pilots. (27)
This proposal had never gone through the legal processes in Argentina required for such sales, and was a secret in Argentina until the Subcommittee released these documents. As former Argentine Defense Secretary Raul Alconada Sempe testified before the Subcommittee, the sales had never been authorized, and that if such a proposal had been made legally, it would have required notification to the Argentine parliament:
Sales without the Defense Minister knowing, from 1983 on, it was impossible, because it was only the Defense Ministry that authorized such sales. What does exist, and I think this is a general problem throughout all countries, is that there are countries that have arms, countries that need arms, and the famous middleman crop up. The brokers, the sales agents, and these are the people that try to match the buyer and the seller. . . . They just try to look for such a deal. This is what may have happened.(28)
Following the conclusion of the hearing, investigators in Argentina determined that the sale appeared to be a proposal made unofficially by a general in the Argentine air force to various countries in the Middle East, including Iraq. BCCI had offered to act as a broker and possible financier for the proposed sale of the Mirage jets, which represented a substantial percentage of the total possessed by Argentina. However, the general involved had never been able to convince Argentine governmental figures that the transaction was in the interest of Argentina, and the proposal died.
Other BCCI documents describe BCCI's involvement in a possible sale of night vision equipment by Litton Electron Devices in Arizona to the Government of Argentina, guaranteed by an Argentine government bank, through a company owned by the Argentine government. It is not clear from the documents whether BCCI ultimately financed the night-vision equipment sales or not.
When BCCI was closed globally on July 5, 1991, one of the nations that was worst hit was Bangladesh, which had deposits of $171 million at the time of its closure. Following the collapse, some 40,000 depositors threatened a hunger strike after losing their life savings, 500 depositors actually conducted a sit-down strike in the capitol's financial district, and another thirty depositors threatened to engage in self-immolation if the government did not find a way to restore some of their losses. One month later the Bangladeshi government promised to provide up to $1400 to each of the banks depositors, as a means of ending the highly-publicized strikes.
Thus, the impoverished government of one of the poorest countries in the world was forced, in essence, to raid its own treasury to alleviate the suffering of the small depositors to make up for millions stolen from Bangladesh by BCCI and former Bangladeshi government officials, including the man who had been president and dictator of Bangladesh throughout the 1980's, Mohammed Ershad. These schemes included massive tax evasion and an equally massive and illegal currency trafficking ring involving then-president Ershad, top aides, and President Ershad's mistress, which continued until Ershad was deposed in December, 1990.
According to various press accounts, supplemented by information from BCCI insiders provided the Subcommittee, President Ershad worked with his brother-in-law, former Bangladeshi diplomat A.G.M. Mohiuddin, to smuggle millions of dollars out of Bangladesh through BCCI into the United States. BCCI also hired various relatives of Ershad to work at BCCI branches in Hong Kong, Britain and Canada, and in return, Bangladesh hired one of BCCI's top officers to serve as Bangladesh's first ambassador to Brunei -- whose embassy functioned primarily as a sales office in Brunei for BCCI.(29)
The BCCI-Ershad connection was essential to the Bangladesh president because given his country's impoverishment, he had relatively limited opportunities outside of what BCCI could bring him to get rich. His salary was only $13,000 a year as president, but through making use of BCCI he was able to move millions of dollars of fund siphoned out of Bangladesh governmental accounts.
As BCCI officer Abdur Sakhia testified in response to a question about payments by BCCI to the leading political families of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, including President Ershad:
The payoff [came] either in the form of cash, or hiring of their relatives, contribution to their favorite charities, payment of their medical bills. It took various shapes. So in some cases cash may have been given, in some cases their relatives were hired, in other cases their charities were funded, their projects were financed at favorable rates, loans at favorable rates. So it took different shapes and forms.(30)
In the case of Bangladesh, the payoffs in fact came in almost every shape and form. By far the most detailed account of these payoffs was provided by the Los Angeles Times, which sent a reporter to Bangladesh to interview government officials, BCCI officers, and private business there about the relationship between BCCI and Bangladesh after BCCI's collapse. Its account has been generally corroborated by testimony to the Subcommittee from statements by BCCI officials, including Sakhia and Chinoy. As the Times found:
Here, in a land that perpetually ranks among the poorest of the world's poor, BCCI stretched the law to its limits to avoid paying desperately needed government taxes, to skirt national banking regulations and to remit as much profit as possible out of Bangladesh and into the bank's international web of corporations and subsidiaries.(31)
The practices described in the Los Angeles Times article were typical of BCCI's practices in other countries. After the Central Bank of Bangladesh forbid BCCI from exporting profits in Bangladesh abroad -- the "flight capital" BCCI specialized in -- BCCI created the BCCI Foundation, a charitable trust based in Bangladesh, whose official purpose was to fund scholarships, rural health care centers and school libraries. Funding for the BCCI Foundation came from BCCI's banking operations in Bangladesh. Those profits became tax-free because they were given to the Foundation. And the foundation in turn gave funds not principally to the needy, but to a joint venture investment bank, called the Bank of Small Industries & Commerce or BASIC, staffed by BCCI officials, in which President Ershad and his top aides had a financial stake.(32)
Towards the end of Ershad's rule in Bangladesh, the scheme had become sufficiently transparent that it created outrage within the country. For example, the Foundation's most important scholarship program, to provide interest-free loans to talented college students, received about $10,500 in donations from the Foundation in 1990, in a year when the Foundation earned over $21,000 in interest alone.(33)
In the meantime, BCCI hired three of Ershad's close relatives, along twelve other sons and daughters of prime ministers, finance ministers, police chiefs, central bank governors and deputy governors.(34)
In late 1990, Ershad resigned under fire, and was tried for a variety of arms trafficking offenses in Bangladesh, and sentenced to a ten year prison term, while awaiting trial on additional corruption charges, including some pertaining to his relationship with BCCI. Following BCCI's collapse, the new government retained an investigative firm in New York in an attempt to trace what the new government contended as much as $520 million in funds misappropriated from the Bangladesh treasury by BCCI, Ershad, and his relatives. The investigators have alleged that Ershad moved millions of dollars through BCCI accounts in London and Hong Kong.(35)
Even disaster relief aid provided by foreign governments to Bangladesh to help victims of a devastating cyclone in 1990 wound up being deposited in BCCI and lost with the closure of the bank.(36)
Thus, BCCI, which promoted itself as a Third World Bank devoted to assisting the Third World in development, stole millions from Bangladesh, in concert with Bangladesh's ruling political family, in what one BCCI official was later to describe as "a perverse, reverse Robin Hood."(37)
By early 1986, BCCI had identified Brazil as a prime target for BCCI expansion. Latin American banker Brian Jensen, then an Alternate Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund, had been working closely with BCCI, on an unofficial basis in this period, to help BCCI obtain its relationship with Peru through payments to Peruvian central bankers. In addition to his work on BCCI's Peruvian activities, Jensen studied the Brazilian economy and Brazilian banking system for BCCI, and wrote Abedi a memorandum which Jensen faxed to BCCI from offices at the IMF in early 1986 describing his approach to Brazil:
The establishment of a banking concern in Brazil can become a priority. I feel I can be useful in identifying and putting together a concrete and well-balanced possibility for BCCI while at the same time protecting for a positive attitude from the local authorities to such initiative. . .
A US $230 billion economy with an external trade component that exceeds 25 percent of GNP, Brazil offers the advantages of a large internal market of 135 million people and a rapidly growing export sector . . . Brazilian legislation . . . and long standing traditions or practices . . . exclude foreign banks from establishing branches or investing in domestic commercial banks at present. However, foreign equity participations of up to one-third of the common stock or half of non-voting shares are allowed in investment banks. These are specialized financial intermediaries authorized to issue certificates of deposits and other savings investments, as well as to extend loans to the private sector. . .(38)
Abedi told Jensen to talk with Brazilian bank officials to find a way to get around the regulations. The following month, Jensen sent a second memorandum from his IMF offices in Washington to BCCI:
Conscious of BCCI's interest in Brasil and according to our recent conversations in London. . . I have held discrete conversations (on a no-name basis) with central Bank authorities and existing banking groups (well know to me) as to the better possibilities and strategies. . .
The route followed by most new investors in Brasilian banking in recent years has been to buy equity into existing groups, assuring in his manner an important presence in the market. All foreign investment has been in this fashion. The rationale has been to find a solid and reputable local group (ongoing concern) and acquire up to 30 percent. . .(39)
BCCI well-understood the concept. It did not mind holding a public minority interest in a Brazilian bank, so long as it had sufficient additional secret interests through nominees to insure that in reality the local bank was BCCI anyway. BCCI directed its acquisitions officer, Abol Helmy, who was already handling the Argentine FinAmerica purchase, to locate possible nominees for BCCI in Brazil.(40) Eventually, two were found -- Sergio da Costa and Carlos Leoni Siqueira, to be BCCI's nominees, each to hold on BCCI's behalf one-third of the bank, with the remaining investor, Jacque Eluf, to hold an additional one-third, which he himself would pay for, but which BCCI would guarantee against loss.
The nominees chosen by BCCI were extremely prominent members of BCCI's elite. Jacque Eluf, who it was guaranteeing against loss, was one of the wealthiest men in Brazil, owner of IAT Co., Brazil's largest exporter of industrial alcohol, with a net worth in 1986 of about $100 million. BCCI nominee Carlos Leoni Siqueria was one of Brazil's leading attorneys, on the board of directors of companies such as IBM Brazil and Grupo Gerda, Brazil's largest privately owned steel manufacturing company. BCCI Nominee Sergio da Costa was at the time the most senior member of the Brazilian diplomatic corps and a close associate of then Brazilian president Jose Sarney.(41)
Da Costa was available to BCCI because at the age of 67 after four decades of serving Brazil as its Ambassador to such significant postings as England, Canada, the United Nations, and the United States, he was retiring and anxious to make money. Da Costa had been brought to BCCI by BCCI shareholder and front-man Ghaith Pharaon, who in late April, 1986 had met with Da Costa in Miami to seek Da Costa's help in responding to the problems posed for BCCI in circumventing the Brazilian bank laws. A telex from Miami branch manager Abdur Sakhia to BCCI-London on May 6, 1986 described the meeting having ended positively for BCCI:
Ambassador Da Costa has promised Dr. Pharaon to assist the Bank in any way he can and he also had asked Mr. Ferreira [a prominent Brazilian businessman close to President Sarney] to use his association with the President of the Republic to assist BCC.(42)
By September of 1986, da Costa had agreed to himself become a front-man for BCCI in Brazil. In return, BCCI agreed to pay him $150,000 a year, with no further responsibilities beyond being a front-man and using his influence to help BCCI with Brazilian authorities in Brasilia, the capital city.
Under the terms of the arrangement, da Costa agreed to be a director and shareholder, secretly acting as BCCI's nominee, of the bank BCCI was purchasing in Brazil, in a transaction structured by BCCI officer Abol Helmy.
Helmy drafted a memorandum, "Strictly Private and Confidential," regarding "Brazil," on September 2, 1986, under which da Costa and a second prominent Brazilian would each own 50 percent of a Brazilian company that would buy 12,622,500 voting ordinary shares in BCCI Brazil, pledge those shares to BCCI, give BCCI the right to vote its shares, and give BCCI the right to buy those shares. Da Costa would agree to serve on the three man board of directors as BCCI's front-man, to guarantee BCCI control of the bank. He would 'pay' $1,233,580 for his 'share' of BCCI Brazil's stock, and BCCI would reimburse him that amount in New York. The internal BCCI memorandum drafted by Helmy makes explicit the fact that these arrangements were designed to deceive Brazilian authorities:
It must be emphasized that the Brazilian economy and bureaucracy are highly sophisticated. As such any payments made by Brazilians must have the appropriate ORIGINATION OF FUNDS. That is, the Brazilian 'investors' must have the necessary net worth for Brazilian taxation authorities' purposes to support any investments made. . .
Messrs. Da Costa and Leoni to ensure that the transaction is fully acceptable to the Central Bank and to ensure that there are no adverse public consequences will be purchasing their shares in cash. . .
Both Ambassador Da Costa and Mr. Leoni are reluctant to take loans from any bank to finance the transaction for Central Bank and public image purposes . . . I have negotiated, subject to BCC management approval, an interest free loan to the individuals concerned . . . to enable them to complete the transaction.(43) (emphasis in original)
The memorandum demonstrated that BCCI would provide da Costa and Leoni with $2,467,160 for the purchase of his stock in BCCI Brazil, every penny the stock would cost. In a staff interview, Helmy acknowledged that da Costa and Leoni were not at risk and that the transaction was a standard nominee arrangement by which BCCI circumvented local laws and that this approach had been used a numerous of times previously by BCCI. Helmy also said it was BCCI's understanding that da Costa and Leoni would take care of arrangements with Brazil's central bank and other Brazilian officials to make sure that they acquiesced in the transaction as structured.(44) Thus, in essence, Helmy at BCCI and da Costa, while still Brazil's Ambassador to the United States, had with other BCCI officials and other prominent Brazilians, created a plan by which they would together make possible BCCI's purchase of a bank in Brazil to circumvent Brazilian law.
BCCI officials were ecstatic at da Costa's participation in their plan for Brazil, and his agreement to be a Senior Advisor to BCCI. On October 28, 1986, while da Costa was still Brazil's Ambassador to the United States, the head of BCCI's Miami office, S. M. Shafi, sent him a congratulatory telex at the Embassy:
congratulations from myself and my colleagues on your joing [sic] our Brazilian project. We welcome you to the fold BCC family. I am very certain your experience, qualifications and contacts not only in Brazil but also internationally will go a long way in turning our subsidiary in Brazil into one of the most successful units of BCCI.(45)
Da Costa signed a three-year consultancy agreement with BCCI on November 3, 1986, under which he committed to acting as "Director of [BCCI's] investment bank in Brazil," and a front-man for BCCI there.(46) Da Costa then followed through in participating in the plan developed by Helmy under which BCCI would secretly purchase a majority interest in BCCI Brazil through nominees. He received his 'loans,' from BCCI, and purchased his 'stock' in the Brazilian bank. BCCI duly reported its loans to him on its books in Panama, characterized as "International Loans," as if they were normal loans that BCCI anticipated would be repaid. By April 30, 1988, da Costa's 'loans,' from BCCI amounted to $1,563,723.85. In fact, da Costa did not pay interest or principal on the loans, which were shams to mask BCCI's ownership of the 'da Costa' shares of the bank.
Among themselves, BCCI officials were also pleased about another aspect of being connected to da Costa. As he entered his agreement with BCCI to circumvent Brazilian banking laws, he had told them that he was also joining Kissinger Associates. A full account of da Costa's and BCCI's relationship with Kissinger Associates is set forth separately.(47)
To penetrate the Brazilian market, BCCI had once again made pay-offs to some of the most prominent people in Brazil -- this time among others to the country's most senior and prestigious diplomats -- in order for them to participate with BCCI in circumventing the laws of their country.
BCCI developed a number of relationships with governmental entities in the impoverished Central African country of Cameroon, including the United Nation's account there and the U.S. embassy's account there. But the most critical relationship for BCCI in Cameroon was with the country's ministry of finance, which, after BCCI began making payments to its officials, agreed to borrow funds from BCCI on which BCCI charged Cameroon interest, and then to redeposit them in non-interest bearing accounts, benefiting no one other than BCCI and the bribed officials.(48)
At the same time, BCCI went into a joint venture with the government of Cameroon to finance BCCI's bank in Cameroon. The joint venture was successful for both BCCI, which held 60 percent of the banks shares, and for Kanga Zamb Jean, who was previously Cameroon's finance secretary and governor of a province of Cameroon before he became chairman and managing director of the bank. In that capacity, Jean was officially representing the interests of the Republic of Cameroon, which held a minority interest in the bank. In fact, Jean was also lining his own pockets.(49)
BCCI's relationships with Cameroon were flourishing by the time of BCCI's indictment in Tampa on drug money laundering. In 1988, Cameroon started directing oil export financing through BCCI, as a result of payments being made by BCCI to people in the finance department of the Cameroon national oil company. The payments were small, amounting to no more than $3,000 to $4,000 per person, but enough to secure BCCI what it needed in such a low-income country. In return for this small investment, BCCI benefitted a number of ways. As Nazir Chinoy, Paris regional manager in this period, explained:
The deposits from the purchasers of the oil are kept from 7-10 days in Paris. You can use that money to make a small profit there. But more important than the deposit was the exchange. The money is kept in Paris then is converted into French francs. There is an exchange profit to be made for BCC Paris as well as for BCC Cameroon.(50)
BCCI Cameroon became a cash cow for BCCI, with deposits amounting to between 90 and 100 million pounds sterling. When BCCI was closed globally, Cameroon was caught with most of that money still deposited -- including a substantial amount of government funds -- amounting to about $90 million, which for Cameroon constituted a substantial loss.(51) Of those funds, approximately $63 million amounted to real deposits by Cameroon that had been discovered by BCCI's auditors, but never recorded by BCCI on the books. BCCI had kept the deposits off-the-books in order to use the cash to finance other BCCI operations elsewhere.(52) Later, BCCI's chief financial officer, Massihur Rahman, was to refer to the treatment of Cameroon's as unrecorded deposits at BCCI as "major fraud."(53)
As Colombia was transformed during the 1980's from a country whose biggest cash crop was coffee, to one whose biggest cash crop was cocaine, BCCI decided to enter the Colombian market through buying Banco Mercantile, a troubled bank there.
It did so fully aware of the nature of most of the dollars that were being generated in Colombia. According to Abdur Sakhia, who was then on BCCI's top officials in the United States, BCCI's decision to acquire a Colombian bank was exceptionally controversial even within BCCI:
In December, around Christmas 1982, we had a meeting in Panama, and Mr. Akbar Bilgrami, who was indicted and convicted, and Mr. Amjad Awan, brought in a proposal of this bank in Colombia. We wanted to expand in Colombia in terms of a branch in Bogota which would do international business, but according to them the only way we could get an entry into Colombia would be to buy this bank.
I was vehemently opposed to the acquisition, one, because the bank was doing very poorly . . . I said: What are we going to do with all of this? We do not know what people they are, what type of clients they are, what are they doing in Cartagena, Cali, Medellin? How are we going to control this.
I had been to Colombia twice before this meeting to our office. We used to have a representative office in Bogota. And every time they would take me from the airport escorted by an armed guard to my hotel. . . I said: How are we going to manage offices in remote arts of Colombia when you cannot walk in Bogota unescorted? I said: We don't know what types of clients they are, what type of business they have, what type of money they have; we shouldn't go into this acquisition.
Later on I learned that we would now divide the operation into Caribbean and U.S. on one side and Latin America on the other side. So Colombia, Panama, Peru were taken out of my jurisdiction.(54)
We knew that the money that we would be getting in Colombia would be drug money. We knew that all the dollar deposits we would be getting would be drug money.(55)
Thus, when Sakhia complained about the concept of expansion into Colombia at a time when Colombia had already become lawless as a result of the drug trade, BCCI's response was to take away his jurisdiction over BCCI operations pertaining to Colombia, as well as its drug-producing neighbor Peru, and its drug-money laundering neighbor, Panama.
Akbar Bilgrami, convicted of money laundering in the Tampa case, told the Subcommittee that he could not, for legal reasons, discuss in any detail his activities in Colombia. He was willing, however, to make some general statements about the flow of funds from BCCI Colombia to the United States.
First, it was true that BCCI, like other foreign banks based in Colombia, was moving dollars out of Colombia into FDIC-secured banks in the United States. According to Bilgrami, one of the key goals of many of his Colombian clients was to obtain federal insurance for their cash deposits. Accordingly, BCCI would take their funds, and immediately transfer the funds to accounts set up in their names in First American, which BCCI secretly controlled, and in National Bank of Georgia, which BCCI then separately secretly controlled. According to Bilgrami, most of this was typical flight capital:
You know, all flight capital is questionable money: Tax evasion, drugs money, arms transactions, pure political corruption. But we were small, only able to take in $100 million yearly. Other banks were taking in a billion each. So we were losing out on that business. Credit Suisse was repatriating $1 billion per year in flight capital from Colombia. Union Bank of Switzerland, another $1 billion. We only handled $100 million. But that amount did go from BCCI Colombia into the United States.(56)
In Colombia, as in so many other nations, BCCI found that to stay in business, it had to pay bribes. Because the bank it had acquired was in such poor shape, and so near to collapse, the Colombian government had made no objections to BCCI's acquisition of it, and no payments by BCCI to officials were necessary. That changed, however, after BCCI bought the bank. According to Bilgrami:
Colombia was a unique situation. We never paid any illegal money to purchase the bank. But when we inherited the bank, we learned that it was a tradition to pay the treasurer of the bank commissions on the largest accounts. I asked Mr. Naqvi for clarification, you know, should we pay it? And he said to pay it in dollars so that it couldn't be traced to us. So we paid it, around $20,000 to $30,000 monthly.(57)
BCCI's situation in the Congo was different from its situation in many other countries, in that the best known example of its criminality emanated from government cheating, rather than BCCI's.
Originally, BCCI had purchased government securities, at a discount, under an agreement by which the government promised to repay BCCI, and then the government had, after making some of the repayments, failed to follow through on the deal. Thus, BCCI's original wrongdoing was merely its creation of a mechanism for repayment through skimming off commodities transactions. However, BCCI then wound up paying bribes only after Congo officials failed to honor the deal worked out originally. In essence, BCCI made the payoffs to protect itself after it had been the victim of fraud by the Congo.
As Nazir Chinoy advised the Subcommittee, in August 1985, BCCI had worked out what looked like a profitable arrangement with the Government of the Congo by purchasing notes issued by the Congo in the range of $65 million to $67 million. These notes had been originally purchased by Mohsen Hujaj, a Lebanese contractor, with extensive contacts in the Congo. Hujaj accepted the notes from the Congo in payment for services he had performed after the government proved unable to pay under the terms of its contract with Hujaj. In a three-way deal, Hujaj got the government to acknowledge this indebtedness to BCCI and agree to certain repayments starting every three months.
A complex scheme was devised to insure that BCCI would be repaid on the notes without the government of the Congo having to acknowledge the payments or set aside funding for them. The Congo government placed 17 million in deposits in dollar terms in BCCI Paris, while BCCI was given the right to handle funds generated through the sale of oil and to take a charge off the proceeds of these sales. Under the terms of the deal, the oil sales were made from the Government of the Congo to a French company called ELF. ELF paid the money to an offshore account in a Swiss bank which had lent Congo $60 million. When the oil proceeds came in, the balance after paying for the oil would be sent to BCCI Paris, which got about $20 million of the proceeds and would use this for repayment on the notes. The arrangements worked well until January 1986, when suddenly the money stopped coming in from the Swiss bank.(58)
With some difficulty, BCCI learned from the Swiss bank that the government of the Congo had repaid the Swiss bank directly for its lending, and in the future they took payment directly for the oil from ELF, bypassing BCCI entirely. In response, BCCI turned once again to a tried and tested technique -- bribery. As Chinoy explained:
We had to make expensive presents to the finance minister to get much of our money out. We were still owed $40 million by 1987 and having difficulty with the Lebanese, Hujaj, who threatened to get me killed because we were holding $11 million of his deposits at BCCI which were pledged. We released $6 million and had to find other means of securing repayment on the rest.(59)
In the meantime, French authorities, under the leadership of Jacques Chirac, had recognized the Congo's parlous financial condition, and convened a meeting of bankers in an attempt to restructure Congo's debt. Under the terms of the restructuring, BCCI, which was the second largest of all lenders to the Congo, would be forced to accept losses on its lending, which it did not wish to do. Accordingly, BCCI officials discussed what kind of payments could be made to the ministry of finance in the Congo to solve the problem:
Dildar Rizve [a senior BCCI official] said, if I can get to him, if he releases our funds, I'll set up a scholarship for him. I have a feeling it was $100,000 for his children. But in 1987 the finance minister was replaced and a new finance minister came in who was a younger and more honest man. The new chap wanted $5 million as a temporary overdraft to assist the President for his tribe. If we could get him that, they would pay us back within 5-10 days. I spoke to Naqvi [then BCCI's second highest ranking official] who said, go and do it. It was repaid and he was honest. He said, if you want money, lend me another $20 million. Congo had changed from socialism to joining the World Bank and becoming capitalist. He said I will see that your outstanding [loan]s are paid before we join the World Bank. The money was given. On June 29 1988, the new finance minister was in Paris and Security Pacific [which was lending the Congo new funds] paid us the full amount outstanding.(60)
BCCI was one of only two out of 32 banks that was fully repaid on its lending. While the new finance minister was, in Chinoy's view, honest, to keep him that way, BCCI did make sure that he and the Governor of the Central Bank received presents from BCCI. According to Chinoy, "we gave him the expensive presents and that made the difference."(61)
Shortly after establishing offices in the United States, BCCI cornered the market for government funds and programs in Jamaica as the result of establishing a personal relationship with then-Prime Minister Edward Seaga. Ultimately, this relationship involved BCCI being involved in financing all of Jamaica's commodity imports from the United States under the U.S. Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) program and handling essentially every foreign current account of Jamaican government agencies.
According to Abdur Sakhia, who brought in the Jamaican account, unlike BCCI's practice in so many other countries, its relationship with Jamaica was based on nothing more than reaping more benefits for having taken some additional risk.
Sakhia told the Subcommittee that the relationship began, in part, because he had known Mr. Seaga's family as a result of his children and Sakhia's children attending the same school in Toronto, Canada. Soon thereafter, Seaga invited Sakhia to Jamaica to find out if BCCI would lend Jamaica any money. Jamaica began to borrow from BCCI, and the borrowing continued until BCCI executives began to become concerned about whether or not BCCI would be repaid. Seaga began personally telephoning BCCI, and Sakhia personally, to beg for additional money for Jamaica.
They owed a lot of money to BCCI. Seaga told me, we need oil, we need seeds for planting, can we make an exception here? Finally he called me in desperation at home. He told me, there is an oil ship which is here in Kingston already, it is ready to unload the oil. If we don't unload it we will have a dark Christmas in Jamaica. Just give us and extra $4 million or $5 million and we will make it up to BCCI. I promise you personally.(62)
Sakhia decided to take the risk. When the crisis was over, Seaga insured that BCCI received essentially all Jamaica's foreign business. BCCI soon wound up with "practically every foreign currency account of Jamaican government agencies at BCCI," including lucrative concessions in which Jamaica selected BCCI as the bank to handle all of the U.S. government or international organization sponsored guarantee programs. As Sakhia told the Subcommittee:
By the mid-1980's, we handled every penny that came into or out of Jamaica in terms of foreign currency.(63)
We were bankers to the central bank, we were bankers to all official governmental organizations in Jamaica.(64)
Typically, BCCI would provide financing, usually for the import or export of products, which in turn would be guaranteed by the foreign or international organization. Jamaica provided BCCI a no-risk means of generating profits through international organizations and foreign governments, and BCCI in return loaned funds to Jamaica which other banks refused to provide, on the basis of the personal relationships involved, and BCCI's expectation that these relationships would in the long run guarantee its repayment.(65)
At the time of BCCI's collapse, Jamaica owed about $34 million to BCCI. Thus, Jamaica may well be one of the few nations to have actually benefitted from the unusual deal worked out between BCCI and its political leaders.(66)
BCCI's activities in Nigeria were so profoundly, overwhelmingly corrupt as to suggest a very significant level of corruption in Nigerian officialdom generally. Whereas BCCI's activities in most countries merely involved corrupting a few, key people, in Nigeria the corruption was systemic and endemic, and touched nearly every operation of the bank in Nigeria.
According to BCCI officers, this was not the consequence of BCCI applying its practices to Nigeria, but rather, BCCI adapting itself to the conditions already present in Nigeria. According to BCCI officers interviewed by the Subcommittee, few European or American businesses active in Nigeria would have been able to do business without making one or another form of pay-off to Nigerian officials during the 1980's, and, to the knowledge of some BCCI officials, several such corporations, including some well-known European and U.S. banks, did.
During the Subcommittee's original investigation of BCCI in 1988, corruption involving Nigerian officials was one of the earliest allegations of BCCI criminality made to staff. As former Subcommittee investigator Jack Blum testified:
There are extraordinarily close relationships at all levels of the Nigerian Government with BCCI. [During my intial investigation] I had been called . . . by the Nigerian Ambassador who had been asked to call by the President [of Nigeria] to say, what's happening here? What are you guys doing with respect to BCCI?(67)
Several BCCI officials described BCCI having made cash payments to officials of the Nigerian central bank. As Abdur Sakhia testified:
During a meeting of the World Bank in Seoul, Korea -- I think it was in 1985 -- I saw one of the BCC officers with a lot of cash, handing it out to the staff of the central bank of Nigeria. This is what I saw personally being given to them.(68)
The most detailed account of BCCI's activities in Nigeria came from Nazir Chinoy, convicted in the Tampa case of money laundering during the time he was BCCI's Francophone regional manager. Prior to moving to BCCI-Paris, Chinoy had been stationed by BCCI in Nigeria for the first half of the 1980's, where he saw first hand the pervasive corruption of the Nigerian banking system, and BCCI's solutions for dealing with it profitably.
At the time Chinoy arrived in Nigeria in December, 1980, he found that BCCI already had purchased a minority interest in a commercial bank in Nigeria -- owning just 40 percent of the Nigerian bank, with corrupt Nigerian officials insisting on controlling the remaining 60 percent. But even with only 40 percent, the Nigerian offices of BCCI were earning BCCI very significant profits. In fact, the profits were so large that BCCI feared the Nigerians might try to take remaining interest in the bank away from BCCI. Chinoy's job was to establish a second bank for BCCI in Nigeria to protect BCCI against the possible expropriation by the government of the first bank.(69)
BCCI was already being used for short-term commercial financing through letters of credit for the purchase and sale of goods by various Nigerian governmental entities. Moreover, some Nigerian officials were using BCCI in London and elsewhere to store cash they had earned through off-the-books deals while in the government. As Chinoy explained:
Nigerians were keeping large laundered funds generated by influential people who got contracts from international companies and commissions paid abroad. The money was kept abroad and not repatriated to Nigeria. BCCI was a good place to keep it.(70)
The simplest means of generating funds for Nigerian officials was requiring a "commission" on each transaction. As Chinoy stated:
Commission means kick-back. The government approves a $300 million contract. A multinational corporation agrees with the government which has helped him, 10 percent gets kicked back. A company is established abroad or they nominate a cousin or someone who is paid 3 percent. It is known as a commission but it is actually a kickback.(71)
Other mechanisms by which these funds were generated for Nigerian officials were through over invoicing of imports and under invoicing of exports. When over invoicing would take place, the government would pay more for goods than the actual market price. BCCI would disguise this through shell entities which would appear to any outsider as arms-length brokers, but which in fact were mere mechanisms by which money would be skimmed off from the government and deposited in BCCI, to be shared by BCCI and by the official responsible for handling the purchase. When under invoicing would take place, the reverse would happen. The government would ship greater commodities than were reflected on the government invoices; the additional commodity would be sold at the same time as that invoiced, and the additional funds generated would again be split by BCCI and the Nigerian official, who of course would have keep his profits outside his home country. As Chinoy explained it:
Essentially, BCCI was handling the financing of commodities through bribery. For example, BCCI loaned $250 million to Nigeria to be repaid within the next six months for oil exports. Nigeria would charge OPIC prices but would load ten percent more than the invoice. That way you are giving a 10 percent discount.(72)
Business was so good that Chinoy's predecessor and superior at BCCI, Alauddin Shaikh, who was a senior official at the bank, decided to leave BCCI to form a partnership with a Nigerian, Razar Sareef, who had gained control of Nigerian oil exports. Shaikh has been implicated by numerous BCCI officials in making pay-offs not only in Nigeria, but in several other countries. His new venture was in any case a success. It wound up controlling the National Petroleum Corporation of Nigeria account for the United States, an account it continued to control at least as of 1991.(73)
Other techniques used by Nigerian officials with the connivance of BCCI were currency swaps involving government funds. Government funds were placed in an account at BCCI in London. BCCI would place the funds with Lloyds or another bank and swap it into different currencies or make stock investments with it. If there was a loss, Nigeria bore it. If there was a profit, the first 8 percent went to Nigeria, on anything additional, the money was split between Nigeria and the traders at BCCI.(74)
In addition to the skimming that was taking place of government funds, BCCI found itself in the position of being able to earn enormous fees from ordinary commercial transactions in Nigeria, because Nigerian officials insured that financial transactions undertaken by BCCI for its customers would be handled much more efficiently than similar transactions undertaken by any other foreign bank doing business in Nigeria. While other banks would have to wait days or weeks for their transactions to be processed by the relevant government ministries, BCCI, would have their transactions handled promptly. As Chinoy explained:
BCCI got big profits because early release of foreign exchange was the crux of any deal. BCCI was two to three times faster than Chase Manhattan or the Bank of America or any other joint venture. BCCI was faster than any Nigerian bank in getting foreign exchange out of the Central Bank. It had very good relations with Central Bank of Nigeria. Unless you were friendly with receptionist, it would lie in the tray and wouldn't go anywhere for days. BCCI used to look after the girl at the foreign exchange desk. When the BCCI clerk would hand in the foreign exchange she would do that first for processing its release. Release of foreign exchange was important. Clerks at every level were looked after by presents. We had an officer, Mr. Saddiqui, who used to go and spend at least 10 days a month in Nigeria. His specific job was to look after people at all levels. In addition, he had appointed one to two expatriates who did nothing but spend their time at Central Bank. I do not think that cash was actually paid, but presents were bought in large amounts, as much as 20-40 dresses, shirts, ties at a time brought in from London and given. Everybody was kept happy. so that there is no objection raised by a clerk that a document isn't filled in exactly correctly. Because BCCI was so good and there was a BCCI application where someone had forgot to cross a "t" or dot an "i" and they would get it rectified quickly. This is Nigeria.(75)
The result was that BCCI began to develop almost a monopoly on handling import-export financing in Nigeria. As Chinoy explained:
For banks other than BCCI, sometimes it could take 90 days for your letter of credit to take. If some clerk is unhappy he says your documents are not in order and he throws it back and doesn't give a reason. In Nigeria it is very important to have contacts because it takes 14 days for a letter to reach you. BCCI would get its letters of credit three times faster than anyone else. They will get it through the Central Bank faster than other banks. Business increases due to this reputation.(76)
According to Chinoy, the price-tag on some of the presents provided Nigerian bureaucrats was not small -- typically, they included such items as silver canteens, cutlery sets, tea sets, coffee sets, and $5,000 luxury watches and similar goods valued at a few thousand pounds, and given to Central Bank and other Nigerian officials.
Chinoy knew about the corruption of top Nigerian officials personally. During his residence in Nigeria, three Nigerians controlled the release of foreign exchange in Nigeria. One of the three, the country's comptroller of foreign exchange, was named Al Haji Balu:
Once when I was in marketing in 1985-1986, I saw a deposit from Balu of 280,000 Deutschmarks in a certificate of deposit in Frankfort. I knew what his salary in Nigeria was. This was at the time worth about $150,000 US, for deposit at BCCI Frankfort. He didn't have that kind of money from his government salary. It was obvious what was going on.(77)
Another extremely prominent Nigerian political figure who was being paid bribes by BCCI was Al Haji Ibrahim Dasuki, chairman of BCC Nigeria up until 1990-1991, when he became the Sultan of Sokoto. BCCI audit records show a $1 million loan from BCCI to Dasuki which BCCI provided him to pay for his shares of BCCI-Nigeria. Dasuki repaid this favor -- although not this loan -- to BCCI in many ways. According to Chinoy:
Dasuki had fantastic contacts with the government. He was a politician and religious leader of great eminence, and in line then to be Sultan of Sokoto. He could help the bank and used to be paid. He was paid from Caymans as well as from Nigeria. He was paid in London by one of Mr. Naqvi's special assistants, Asad Matualah, now in custody in Abu Dhabi.(78)
Chinoy explained that Dasuki was the one who would fix problems with other government officials for BCCI if anyone noticed that exchange laws were being broken or other problems arose. Dasuki was able to perform this role because of his position as a religious leader, making his support indispensable to other key Nigerian officials:
Dasuki came from the North where all presidents in Nigeria come from, and even the President has to go and pay homage to the Sultan of Sokoto. When he became Sultan all of the leaders would owe him a measure of deference. He took full advantage of that. Two to three times BCCI got into trouble and Dasuki would sort it out.(79)
Dasuki also acted as a local representative for BCCI, obtaining the right to import goods for Nigeria, and providing that right to a business associate affiliated with BCCI. The BCCI associate would then arrange for import of the commodity involved, such as rice. According to Chinoy:
It was like a license to make money. Rice was gold. Dummy companies were created on a per transaction basis and had no other life beyond that.(80)
Dasuki had so much business activity, he was able to establish his nephew, Ibrahim Katuni, to a level where by the mid-1980's, every foreign country did business with him because he had access to every ministry and had cut deals with each of them.
Katuni would tell a foreign businessman, this is how you'll make $100,000, and I'll take 20 percent. He kept Dasuki happy and was hoping to become President of BCCI.(81)
BCCI found other ways of circumventing practices in Nigeria which frustrated other banks and prevented them functioning normally. As the indictment of BCCI officials in New York described it, BCCI's success in this area involved defrauding the Central Bank of Nigeria. Foreign exchange shortfalls in Nigeria had caused the government in about 1981 to impose restrictions on imports, requiring letters of credit used in connection with imports to be secured by 100 percent cash deposits in Nigerian banks. In turn, the banks were required to certify that the payment had been made to the Central Bank. As the transactions involved might take months to be completed, this would tie up the company's funds for substantial amounts of time, discouraging the import activity altogether. BCCI's way around the problem was to create phony loans for the importers and deposit the "proceeds" from the phony loans on BCCI's books in Nigeria, and then inform the Central Bank that the deposits had been made. Once the import transaction was over, the paperwork would be reversed. Through this technique, BCCI generated letter-of-credit business from importers who would not otherwise have been able to do business; earned commissions on opening the letters of credit; earned interest on the fictitious loans it granted; and realized exchange profits from converting currencies.(82)
BCCI also handled black market foreign exchange transactions for Nigerian officials for use in Nigerian elections. Because Nigeria has never developed credit cards, and Nigerians rarely use checks, essentially all transactions in Nigeria are in cash, with few record-keeping requirements adequate to monitor graft, which is endemic.(83) Most of the time, officials sell their cash in Nigerian currency and buy foreign exchange with it for purchasing goods abroad, or for maintaining deposits and homes abroad, typically in the United Kingdom. But sometimes the Nigerians found they needed Nigerian currency, especially during election time. According to Chinoy:
At elections, the officials need the money and sell the foreign exchange at black market price and that money is paid in Nigerian currency to them and they return the foreign exchange abroad. This method is employed by Nigerian politicians to obtain political money. It is commonplace throughout Africa.(84)
As noted above, BCCI's Nigerian operations were among the bank's most profitable. This is understandable. In the case of BCCI and the Nigerian government, crime paid.
Pakistan was the home of almost all of BCCI's top officials, including founder Agha Hasan Abedi. Long before BCCI itself was started by Abedi, he began the practice of making pay-offs to politicians as a mechanism for securing business and strengthening his banks.
For example, when Abedi formed the United Bank in 1959, he appointed as chairman of its board I. I. Chundrigar, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, who was a close confidante of Pakistani's then current prime minister, Ayub Khan. Abedi maintained close ties to Khan's government, later hiring General Khan's minister of information to become the "publisher" of a BCCI promotional magazine, "South."(85)
When the Pakistani military government was replaced following the civil war that resulted in the severance of East Pakistan into Bangladesh, Abedi became just as cozy with Pakistani "socialist" Ali Bhutto, Khan's ideological opposite, making political payoffs on behalf of Bhutto during elections.(86) When Bhutto was overthrown in 1978 in a military coup, Abedi swiftly changed allegiances again to Bhutto's successor, Islamic "puritan" General Zia.(87) Zia later executed Bhutto for financial crimes, in which Abedi, among others, was clearly involved, while forming close ties to Abedi, on whose financial skills he increasingly relied.
The relationship was personal as well as professional. A sample BCCI payment to General Zia was obtained by the Subcommittee, showing BCCI's branch in the United Arab Emirates making a payment to Zia of 40 million Pakistani rupees -- several hundred thousand dollars -- on May 26, 1985.(88)
The BCCI-Pakistan relationship was important to both the bank and a succession of Pakistani governments. Although Abedi had been close to Bhutto, and formed a close relationship with the current President of Pakistan as well, it was General Zia was who in charge of Pakistan during most of BCCI's existence, and General Zia who did the most for BCCI. As Nazir Chinoy, who was based in Pakistan in the late 1970's and early 1980's, recalled:
Every time Mr. Abedi came, he always called on President Zia. President Zia did not meet Abedi during office hours, but in the night when Mr. Abedi would fly in, they would finish official dinners first and I would be sitting with Abedi and Abedi would leave for two to three hours and meet with Zia. It was the President Zia that he spoke to first before speaking to the finance minister. I think that Abedi used Zia and Zia used Abedi also for the gulf countries, when he wanted some assistance. It was a two way street.(89)
The Pakistani government guaranteed BCCI's ability to push aside immigration and customs requirements for its distinguished Arab visitors on their holidays in Pakistan, and BCCI's ability to engage in profitable banking. In return, BCCI assisting Pakistan in violating monetary controls imposed on its government by international organizations. As Chinoy explained:
In 1979, Pakistan was very short of foreign exchange, and under pressure from the World Bank to devalue the rupee. The World Bank had placed credit ceilings. The total lendings by commercial banks were limited to a figure by the World Bank. For BCCI's lending, the figure given was $750,000 US. This was just not viable to maintain. We had large deposits and had large surplus funds. Mr. Abedi was very keen that these limits go up. The World Bank would increase the limits each quarter based on how much foreign exchange Pakistan was able to generate based on central bank records. If the dollar reserves of the country went up, the World Bank would allow larger lendings in rupees. I am not sure who was the brains behind it, Mr. Abedi or Naqvi but between the two of them they came up with the idea. $50 million would be placed with BCCI Pakistan through BCCI's Kuwaiti affiliate, KIFCO. BCCI transferred money to KIFCO. I have a feeling that KIFCO got the money from Caymans. In any case, Kifco placed the money with BCCI Karachi.(90)
Thus, according to Chinoy, BCCI used an affiliate which was officially separate from BCCI, but secretly controlled by it and owned by it, to launder BCCI funds from one BCCI location to BCCI Pakistan, in order to make it seem as if BCCI Pakistan had generated an extra $50 million in legitimate deposits through this paper transaction. BCCI reported the extra $50 million to the Pakistan central bank, which in turn reported it to the World Bank to show the a $50 million increase in Pakistan's dollar reserves from abroad.(91)
A similar account of these transactions is described in the indictment of BCCI's top officials by the New York District Attorney on July 29, 1992. According to that indictment, the amount involved in all totalled $100 million.(92)
Zia died in a plane crash in mid-August, 1988, leaving a vacuum in relationships that BCCI very much regretted. Among BCCI officials, it was generally believed that if Zia had still been alive in October, 1988, he would have used his influence with the U.S. government to soften the handling of the case against BCCI in Tampa.(93)
With Zia gone, BCCI was not left without resources in Pakistan, however. The man who became President, Ishaq Khan, had served as chairman of the BCCI Foundation throughout the 1980's, and had close ties to Abedi.
The relationship between BCCI, the Pakistani government, and the BCCI Foundation had been deeply entangled from the start. As in the Bangladesh version of the BCCI Foundation, the Pakistani BCCI Foundation was created as a means of sheltering BCCI profits from taxation. In 1981, it received tax-free status while Ishaq Khan was Pakistan's minister of finance. In turn, the foundation received BCCI's profits from Pakistani operations, and then used some of those profits to finance projects the Pakistani government wanted and could not pay for itself. For example, BCCI provided $10 million in grants in the late 1980's to finance an officially "private" science and technology institute named for Pakistani President Ishaq Khan, whose director, A. Qadir Khan, has been closely associated with Pakistan's efforts to build a nuclear bomb. The institute is believed by some experts to be the headquarters for Pakistan's efforts to build an Islamic bomb. In the same period, other BCCI officials were assisting Pakistanis in purchasing nuclear technologies paid for by Pakistani-front companies through BCCI-Canada.(94)
The Foundation also made payments to somewhat less political entities, such as $3 million dollars for an "investment" in Attock Cement, a private cement company in Pakistan ostensibly owned by BCCI front-man Ghaith Pharaon, but in fact a front for BCCI itself. As BCCI officer Nazir Chinoy testified:
this foundation was set up . . . with the government of Pakistan nominating as the chairman, one or two trustees from the public and two or three from BCCI management . . . 90 percent of [BCCI Pakistan's] pre-tax profits being generated in rupees [were] given to the Foundation. It is a lot of money. . . .A charitable foundation is not subject to the same audit strict audit procedures or scrutiny by the central bank or the state bank of Pakistan. . . it becomes an opportunity to get employment. If you want to do somebody a favor, you could put him on the staff of the foundation and find a job for him.(95)
Among other officials whose activities were financed by BCCI in Pakistan were Jam Sadiq Ali, the highest ranking official in the province of Sind -- where Karachi is located -- whose personal expenses were financed by BCCI for years of self-exile in London, and who defended BCCI and Abedi after its collapse.(96)
Yet another high-ranking Pakistani official placed on BCCI's payroll after his government service was Pakistan's former Ambassador to China, Sultan Khan, who was provided a job at BCCI at its representative office in Washington, D.C. There, according to BCCI records, Khan solicited business for BCCI and its secretly-held subsidiary, First American, from the Chinese Embassy and Chinese officials in the mid-1980's, sponsored occasional events on behalf of the Chinese to which he invited prominent Americans, and had lunch with foreign diplomats who controlled accounts whose business BCCI was interested in acquiring. By the late 1980's, Khan continued to go to BCCI's Washington representative office, but according to him had little to do there beyond reading the newspapers and picked up his paycheck until the office closed after BCCI's indictment in Tampa.(97)
According to BCCI's former head of Latin American and Caribbean operations, Akbar Bilgrami, such appointments of retired Pakistani officials were typical.
Repatriating U.S. dollars from Latin America to the United States was an essential function of BCCI Panama from its inception. This was apparent to anyone who had contact with BCCI's Panama offices. As a Colombian marijuana trafficker and cooperating Justice Department witness told the Subcommittee:
Everyone who did business in the drug trade knew about BCCI. We all used it. It was very conveniently located at the airport when you came into Panama. Its officers were very attentive. And even if something went wrong, and your money was frozen at the request of the United States, BCCI would make sure you could get your money back.(98)
As this trafficker explained, his accounts at BCCI had been frozen at the request of the United States as a result of an anti-drug operation it had mounted called Operation Pisces. After the funds were frozen, he went to Panama, where he was told by his lawyer that if he was willing to give up 10 percent of the full amount, BCCI would find a way to release his funds to him, while telling the U.S. government they were frozen. He agreed, and soon the lawyer produced a letter from the Attorney General of Panama -- who at the time was supposedly working closely with the United States on anti-drug efforts -- ordering the release of the funds.(99)
Cartel money-launderer Ramon Milian Rodriguez, who testified before the Subcommittee in February, 1988 concerning his knowledge of Noriega's involvement with drug trafficking and money laundering, wrote the Committee after BCCI's global closure to inform the Committee that he too banked at BCCI, and that a substantial portion of his remaining funds following his arrest and conviction in Tampa had remained at BCCI and was lost in its closure.(100)
Following BCCI's plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney in Tampa in January 1990 which required BCCI to cooperate with law enforcement in anti-money laundering activities, BCCI's own employees in Miami began to recommend that BCCI's attorneys refer to the Justice Department BCCI's overall operations in Panama, as well as Colombia, for possible further criminal investigation. When BCCI's attorneys refused to undertake this action, apparently out of concern that such a referral would wind up destroying the bank, these lower-level BCCI employees again asked the lawyers to criminally refer BCCI's Panama and Colombian operations to Justice. The lawyers again refused to do so.(101)
BCCI officials argued that in handling flight capital and dirty funds out of Panama, BCCI was little different from most other foreign banks which had decided to locate there.(102)
However, it was no accident that BCCI was the foreign bank that obtained the bank account of Panama dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega. Once again, BCCI systematically solicited relationships in Panama with top officials as the key to long-term profitability. While Noriega was in charge of Panamanian intelligence, G-2, under the government of General Torillos, Noriega had come to know Alauddin Shaikh, a BCCI official who frequently handled payoffs to government officials in a number of countries.
As Nazir Chinoy explained:
Originally Panama was set up by Alauddin Shaikh, Amjad Awan was his understudy only. Awan reported to Shaikh, not anyone else. Up until I was in London in 1985, Shaikh used to fly to Panama two to three trips a year to meet with General Noriega. The relationship was very close. General Noriega gave a copy of old hand-written Koran to Alauddin Shaikh.(103)
When Noriega visited London, Shaikh provided him with dinners and entertainment, and soon thereafter, Noriega assisted BCCI in obtaining a license to open a bank in Panama. Shortly thereafter, Shaikh's assistant, Awan, who had met Noriega in London, was transferred by BCCI from London to Panama, where he made the acquisition of Noriega's account a priority.(104)
Awan pressed Noriega on numerous occasions to open an account at BCCI, and in early 1982, Noriega agreed, opening an account in the name of the Panamanian defense forces. Under his agreement with Awan, Noriega would have sole control over the funds, which would be maintained by BCCI in the United Kingdom in numbered accounts.(105)
During the first two years he held the account with BCCI, Noriega used his accounts at BCCI to make political payoffs in the course of elections, and for intelligence operations. For example, Noriega directed BCCI to payoff the mortgage of his hand-picked candidate for president of Panama, Nicholas Barletta. Later, this changed, and he used his accounts with BCCI as a personal account for himself and his family, who received credit cards from BCCI and began making extensive charges for shopping trips in Miami, New York, London, Paris, and at popular European resorts on the BCCI "Panamanian Defense Forces" account. At its height, Noriega maintained about $25 million in the account, mostly from cash deposits. The largest single deposit of currency into the accounts was approximately $4 million.(106)
Noriega introduced members of his business clique to BCCI, and encouraged BCCI to make loans to them, including businessman Enrique Pretelt and arms dealer and drug trafficker Cesar Rodriguez. BCCI provided them with lines of credit that were secured by Noriega's promise to Awan that he would make sure that the loans were made good. However, these loans were defaulted on. In the case of Rodriguez, when BCCI raised the issue with Noriega, Noriega advised the bank to look his estate and that he would have no further responsibility. Against Awan's wishes, BCCI chose to swallow the losses -- which amounted to $10 million in all -- rather than irritate Noriega by pushing forward with attempts at recovery.(107)
The closeness of the relationship between BCCI and Noriega extended to Noriega's wife and children as well, each of whom made use of BCCI accounts. Noriega handled the purchase of Noriega residences in the United Kingdom. And Noriega's daughter was even hired as an employee at BCCI-Miami, where the bank trained her in its own techniques for banking.(108)
Later, when Noriega was indicted in Miami in February 1988, he told BCCI to move his bank accounts at BCCI-London to another location, in an effort to hide them from U.S. authorities. Awan and other BCCI officials, including Swaleh Naqvi, then BCCI's Acting CEO, discussed Noriega's request and decided to move the funds to BCCI-Luxembourg as a means of keeping the funds concealed from detection by law enforcement in the United States and United Kingdom. The funds stayed in Luxembourg for the next four months.
In July, 1988, when BCCI learned that the Subcommittee had subpoenaed it for Noriega's records, Awan met with BCCI officials Naqvi, Dildar Rizvi, and S.M. Shafi to discuss whether Noriega's funds needed to be hidden still further. Noriega then called Awan and asked Awan to transfer the money out of BCCI entirely, to Panama's government bank, Banco Nacional de Panama, and immediately from there to a small European bank. Awan then met Ziauddin Akbar, BCCI's former head of Treasury operations, who in 1986 had left BCCI to become the head of Capcom, its commodities trading affiliate. Awan discussed Noriega's problems with Akbar, who offered to hold the $23 million in Noriega funds for BCCI in one of the trading accounts Capcom maintained for laundering money, a company sometimes referred to as Finley and sometimes as Findley. At BCCI's direction, Awan then travelled to Panama through a circuitous route designed to ensure that there would be no record of Awan's travel to Panama through the United States, and while in Panama, met with General and Mrs. Noriega. The Noriegas authorized BCCI to transfer their money to the Findley account at the Middle East Bank in London, and Akbar then moved the Noriega funds through Capcom to different entities, breaking up the trail by which Noriega's money could easily be traced by anyone.(109)
Thus, BCCI officials in the United States, Panama, the United Kingdom and Luxembourg colluded with one another to hide funds which they knew were the subject of a pending criminal action in the United States from law enforcement. They hid the funds through using the rather traditional mechanism in money laundering of layering -- moving the funds from entity to entity and from location to location until they could no longer be traced.
BCCI's method and scope of operations in Peru parallelled its functions in most, if not all, other countries. First, officers of the bank cultivated favorable relationships with powerful members of government and the private sector. Second, BCCI sought to do business in Peru with the hope of securing the high net worth depositors upon which its operations depended regardless of the source of the deposits. Finally, the bank conducted the full range of highly suspect or outright illegal activities that it conducted in other countries, including allegedly giving bribes and kickbacks, hiding money in numbered accounts, evading regulatory inspection, and laundering stolen government funds and drug profits.
Near the end of 1984, the government of Peru ceased making any payments on its national debt. The breach of its debt repayment obligations subjected Peru to two direct results over the next year. First, Peru became a bad risk to which very few, if any, banks or countries outside of Peru would extend loans and lines of credit. These loans and lines of credit were essential to financing trade between Peru and other nations because the external sources were Peru's only source of foreign currency. Second, those banks and countries to which Peru had already become indebted sought to collect the money that Peru owed them. The directors and managers of Peru's central bank -- the Banco Central de Reservas del Peru ("BCRP"), which managed all the funds of the government -- particularly feared attachment and seizure of Peruvian assets located in other countries.(110) In short, Peru was faced with a dilemma: On the one hand, its need to finance foreign trade compelled it to form a relationship with a bank outside the state. Yet Peru faced attachment and seizure of any funds placed outside of the protection of its own borders.
Thus, entering 1986, Peru was faced with two immediate needs as a result of its refusal to pay its debt obligations. First, it needed to form a relationship with a bank which would extend lines of credit in foreign currency in exchange for deposits of Peruvian currency. Second, insofar as Peru faced attachment and seizure of its assets by countries and banks to which it was indebted, it needed to form a relationship with a bank which could "hide"(111) Peruvian deposits from creditors. These two criteria -- "reciprocity" and "safety" -- formed the express agenda of the BCRP as it began to approach BCCI and other banks in mid-1986.(112)
Just as in the United States, one of BCCI's very first actions lay in hiring a prestigious law firm. Jorge del Castillo, a member of the Peruvian House of Delegates, testified that, upon entering the country in 1984,
BCCI . . . asked for and got the legal advice of a very important law firm in Peru, . . . Arias & Davis & Associates, which is a very well known law firm.(113)
Moreover, just as in the United States, the law firm hired was well-connected to the Peruvian government. Del Castillo testified that the partner at Arias & Davis's representing BCCI was:
. . . Dr. Sterling, . . . a person whom all of us respect and could not possibly be suspected of anything illegal, he is a member of Dr. Lunes Flores' party, and is the President of the Peruvian Senate. He is beyond reproach.(114)
Thus, from its entry into Peru, BCCI sought to cultivate the patina of respectability that it had sought to cultivate since its creation.
In the meantime, BCCI began to promise Peru terms that it, alone among international banks, could meet. Peru would deposit its funds at BCCI-Panama, BCCI-Panama would hide those funds under Panama's strict bank confidentiality laws, and BCCI would then lend money to Peru at a rate of about 50 cents on the dollar, which Peru could use to purchase foreign goods.
This attractive offer was offset, in part, from the beginning, by Peru's legitimate concerns about BCCI as a bank. The central bankers of Peru understood that BCCI had no lender of last resort, and that their funds could disappear if something went wrong. These concerns were met, in part, through bribes by BCCI to at least two of the decision-makers at the central bank, who from there on would become staunch supporters of the BCCI relationship.(115)
Following the bribe payments, the BCRP entered into a formal banking relationship with BCCI on April 28, 1986. The BCRP and BCCI signed two documents, "General Business Agreement for the Handling of Numbered Account" and "Operative Covenant for Numbered Account." These two documents described the accounts to be provided to the BCRP. The deposits were to be in a numbered account, with BCCI to "keep absolute secrecy about [the BCRP's] identity." The accounts were to be kept in Panama, which maintained strict bank secrecy laws. In a letter dated the same day, a $60 million line of credit was extended to the BCRP. In exchange for the credit line, the BCRP promised to keep at least $200 million in its accounts.(116)
These agreements were advantageous to BCCI for three reasons. First, BCCI required that the BCRP deposit four times the amount that it was obligated to lend. Thus, as long as the relationship between the two lasted, BCCI would have $140 million to use for purposes other than its loan obligations to the BCRP. Loans are traditionally considered assets to a bank, and deposits, because they are due upon a customer's demand, are considered liabilities. Thus, the $140 million wouldn't be considered a traditional asset increasing the book value of the branch.(117) However, within the context of the transaction itself, the $200 million minimum requirement limited the BCRP's ability to withdraw the money at will and thus provided a near-certain $140 million for BCCI's use.
Second, the account agreements were advantageous to BCCI because they did not obligate BCCI to pay any interest on the BCRP deposits. This savings in interest would amount to millions in itself.(118) However, the letter of credit did obligate the BCRP to pay an interest rate on any amounts borrowed, as well as "[o]ther charges like Confirmation, Commitment, Negotiation, etc. . . . as per BCCI schedule of charges."(119)
The agreement between BCCI and the BCRP was advantageous to the BCRP in at least one way. Peruvian Central Bank official Ricardo Llaque testified that no other bank with which the BCRP had a relationship would provide a letter of credit as high as BCCI:
Senator Kerry[:] Did not other banks in Panama offer numbered accounts?
Mr. Llaque[:] Yes, but not levels of credit which were very high . . . . It [the size of the line of credit] was one of the most important points in the decision of the board to accept the corresponding relationship . . . and since it was a revolving line of credit it meant that this was a benefit . . . at an amount much higher than what the nominal amount of the line of credit really was.(120)
Llaque was contending that the line of credit BCCI was advancing Peru was greater than that offered by any other bank. However, it was still substantially below the level of the amounts deposited by Peru. More importantly, since BCCI needed Peru's assets, and as an institution tended not to be concerned about the repayment schedule of loans, BCCI's needs and Peru's needs fit one another perfectly.
As described above, in the course of obtaining the Central Bank account, BCCI officials paid bribes to the Central Bank officials handling the accounts.(121) The purpose of these bribes was to ensure that once the relationship was established and BCCI had agreed to lend funds against Peru's central bank assets, the Peruvians would have a personal stake in keeping Peru's assets at BCCI.
As the District Attorney of New York has alleged in his July 29, 1991 indictment of BCCI, and his indictment on July 29, 1992 of BCCI's top officials and front-men:
The BCC Group made corrupt payments to the President and the General Manager of the Central Bank of Peru. In or about 1985, the BCC Group made payments of money to the President and General Manager of the Central Bank of Peru upon an agreement and understanding that said President and General Manager would take deposits of hundreds of millions of dollars of Peruvian government reserves with banks of the BCC Group. Hundreds of millions of dollars of the Central Bank of Peru's funds were placed on deposit with banks of the BCC Group, and said payments to the President and General Manager of the Central Bank of Peru were calculated as a percentage of the amount on deposit.(122)
Or, as BCCI's head of Latin American and Caribbean operations, Akbar Bilgrami put it:
We had to make payments into a Special Project Accounts. I was told that BCC's relationship with Peru arose because Mr. Brian Jensen joined the bank in 1986; he was an ex-Central Bank official. BCC's push in 1987-1988 was to get big chunks of deposits from Peru. You see, Peru was being cheap, not paying its foreign debt. BCC offered to keep Peru's money hidden: $320 million in Panama.(123)
Or, in the more laconic conclusion of Abdur Sakhia, the head of BCCI's Miami office:
the relationship between Peru and BCCI was not kosher.(124)
However, even with the payment of bribes, BCCI officials worried that the $250 million in assets could disappear from BCCI if the officials they had paid-off were to lose favor. Given the significant size of the lending BCCI had agreed to in return, they wanted assurances that in the view of BCCI, could only be had from Peru's president, Alan Garcia. Accordingly, after the relationship had been established, S. M. Shafi, head of BCCI's Latin American operations, went to Lima, Peru to meet with Garcia and receive such assurances. The meeting took place in mid-February, 1987, and Garcia promised BCCI that the funds would remain at BCCI. Following the meeting with Garcia, the Peruvian central bank raised its limit for deposits with BCCI by another $50 million.(125) Moreover, the BCRP agreed to "irrevocably and unconditionally" guarantee any loan provided by BCCI. That is, if a local bank or institution defaulted on a loan from the BCCI letter of credit, the BCRP promised to repay the loan. Moreover, the guarantee covered the entire $110 million dollars. In August, 1987, the BCRP received another $50 million increase, but it appears that no corresponding deposit was required.(126)
BCCI sought and had been granted permission from the government (as required by law) to open branches in Peru as early as 1984. Although BCCI never in fact opened branch offices in Peru, its actions in 1984 established a presence in the country which laid the groundwork for the deal eventually struck between BCCI and the BCRP in 1986. Llaque said, "It [BCCI] had sent its people to Peru, and when we began to look for new corresponding banks the bank was already there."(127)
However, it has been alleged that, when the BCRP began searching for corresponding banks in 1986, the relationship between BCCI and the government was already so strong that the BCRP did not even seek proposals from banks other than BCCI. Fernando Olivera, presiding officer of an committee formed by the Peruvian Parliament to investigate Peru's financial operations, testified before the Subcommittee on August 2, 1991. Olivera suggested but did not clearly state that his investigation had revealed that the BCCI proposal was the only proposal sought and entertained by the BCRP.(128) He also testified that the BCRP based its decision to invest in BCCI based solely on a three-page report regarding BCCI Holdings, S.A., in Luxembourg.
The documents do not provide a clear answer as to whether Llaque's explanation or Olivera's explanation was correct. For example, it is unclear how BCCI's mere presence in Peru would in itself be helpful in convincing the BCRP to make deposits with it. Even the placement of deposits in numbered accounts in Panama was not a service unique to BCCI; the BCRP held similar numbered accounts in Panama branches of four European banks other than BCCI as early as December, 1985, six months before its accounts with BCCI were opened.(129)
In opening the BCCI accounts, four BCCI executives held meetings with members of the BCRP.(130)
Over the next year and a half, while the BCRP's relationship with BCCI continued, several more meetings were held between members of the Peruvian government, BCCI executives, and foreign VIPs. On 12/18/86, Akbar Bilgrami came to Peru accompanied by Panamanian General Manuel Noriega. On 07/21/87, Alberto Calvo, an agent of BCCI, met with Daniel Carbonetto, Economic Advisor to Alan Garcia Perez, the President of Peru, who Calvo described to his superior at BCCI, S. M. Shafi, as the person "who the public opinion considers the most influential person in the decision-making process regarding economic policies." Carbonetto and Calvo discussed how the Peruvian government could obtain additional lines of credit through BCCI. They also described the risk of BCCI continuing to hold Peru's central bank reserves at BCCI-Panama, given "Panama's political situation."(131) Calvo concluded:
Mr. Carbonetto asked me to go with him to visit the President Mr. Alan Garcia, and to brief him about our conversation. I politely refused with the excuse that I was leaving for Chile.
In reality I prefer to meet with the President after knowing what will be the policy of the Central Bank regarding the placement of it's reserves and after having a chance of receiving your instructions on this matter.
We agree to meet with the President of the Central Bank one week after he takes office and after that we will visit the President of the Republic.(132)
This meeting between Shafi and Alan Garcia appears to have occurred finally in October of 1987. A separate meeting involving Garcia, Manuel Noriega, and BCCI official Akbar Bilgrami, apparently took place December 18, 1986, according to Fernando Olivera, a Peruvian legislator who headed a commission reviewing the relationship in 1991, discussed below.
There is a characteristic of BCCI's activities in Peru not present in other countries which should be emphasized at the outset. The BCRP's purpose in entering into a relationship with BCCI, if not illegal, was at least highly suspect. The BCRP -- a branch of the Peruvian government acting in this matter as government -- expressly intended to conceal its country's funds from legitimate creditors, because of its desire to avoid paying off its debts. Just as Manuel Noriega used BCCI with the intention of hiding funds which rightfully belonged to the Panamanian government, the BCRP used BCCI to conceal funds with were rightfully owed to private banks and other countries. The formal difference between Noriega's use of BCCI and the BCRP's lies in the fact that Noriega was acting as an individual using the bank to deceive his government, while the BCRP was acting as an arm of government using BCCI to deceive banks and other countries. In his testimony before the Subcommittee, deputy central banker Llaque used the euphemism of "safety" to describe the BCRP's purpose:
Senator Kerry[:] . . . [O]ne of the services that you were looking for was an ability to be able to hide the money from seizure, was it not? . . .
Mr. Llaque[:] Yes. Perhaps "hide" is not the word . . . . We had at least two cases of embargoes of funds from the Central Bank in U.S. banks, and also an embargo of funds from commercial banks in the United States as well.(133)
It is apparent from the Subcommittee's review of testimony and documents that "hide" was exactly the word to describe the BCRP's intent in using BCCI. No witness or document disputed that the funds were due to legitimate creditors; not did any witness or document question the propriety of an outside nation seeking to attach funds.
The need for safety manifested itself in two requirements. First, the funds had to be kept in an account shielded from creditors. Thus, BCCI provided Peru with a numbered account which bore no connection with the Peruvian government on its face. Second, the account needed to be kept in a country with strict regulatory laws protecting disclosure of account owners. Thus, the account was opened not in Peru, but in Panama.(134)
By mid-1987, despite the bribes paid by BCCI and its efforts to secure the support of President Garcia, officials at the Peruvian central bank were becoming increasingly uneasy about the bank's relationship with BCCI. The officials had learned about BCCI's massive commodities trading losses in London, which had in effect wiped out BCCI's capital. They also feared that the Noriega regime in Panama was potentially unstable, and that the United States might ultimately take action against it -- as it did just six months later in shutting down Panama's banks through refusing to accept dollars.
Accordingly, they asked the senior analyst of foreign banks at the Central Bank to provide the Central Bank with an analysis as to the safety and security of Peru's funds at BCCI. The analyst, Gonzalo Aramburu, was only too glad to provide the facts about BCCI -- it had no lender of last resort in case of a default in any of its operational units; over the previous two years BCCI had showed significant losses in operations in the options market; and BCCI "uses an unusual accounting system in that it does not make it possible to clearly identify the level of losses of the fiscal year, or the activity that led to them."(135) Accordingly, Aramburu recommended the Central Bank to take immediate action to protect itself by cutting back on the $270 million in was then maintaining in BCCI.(136)
Over the following month, Peru removed $70 million in deposits from BCCI. By the end of the year, it had removed over $150 million. The remaining funds were pulled at the end of January, 1988, as Panama fell into a crisis over accusations concerning Noriega's drug trafficking.
Following BCCI's indictment on drug money laundering charges in Tampa in October 1988, and growing international concern about BCCI during 1989 and 1990, a legislative commission was created in Peru to review a number of charges of Peruvian corruption, including issues pertaining to the Central Bank's decision to place the government funds at BCCI. The head of that commission, Fernando Olivera, a member of the Peruvian House of Deputies from an opposing political party to former President Alan Garcia, testified before the Subcommittee on August 2, 1991 about the meaning of BCCI's activities in Peru:
We think that the cause of this behavior and the decision to place Peru's international reserves in BCCI was corruption. And here we have a document of the Swiss Bank Corp. in Panama providing that BCCI oversees George Town Bank Corp Grand Cayman. From there, transfers were made to the Security Bank to the Swiss Bank in New York and transferred from there to an account in Panama of the Swiss Bank. These were the bribes for these officers [Lionel Figueroa and Hector Neyra of Peru's Central Bank]. . . . There are some other people under the Selva Negra and Terra Firma codes, and . . . we are convinced that there are other authorities higher up who intervened.(137)
As another member of the Commission, Pedro Cateriano, testified before the Subcommittee:
In Peru the members of the [Central Bank] board of directors are political. They are named by the President and members of the board . . . That is why the function they carry out is not really technical. It is basically political.(138)
The clear message of the legislative commission was that the Central Bank officials could not have been acting alone, and that other important Peruvian political figures, including former President Alan Garcia, were involved.
Another Peruvian legislator, Jorge Del Castillo, who requested to testify before the Subcommittee to defend President Garcia, stated that the Central Bank was independent of the President and autonomous in all respects with no relationship to the Peruvian executive branch. Del Castillo also provided documents to the Subcommittee consisting of an investigation on behalf of Garcia of alleged BCCI accounts maintained by Garcia that did not, in fact, exist. Del Castillo testified that this investigation disproved that allegations concerning Garcia's involvement in any bribes that may have been failed.(139)
BCCI officer Akbar Bilgrami, who, unlike the other witnesses is neither Peruvian nor affiliated with any Peruvian political party, told the Subcommittee that it was his understanding that Garcia had indeed provided assistance BCCI, but that he had not heard of specific payments being made to Garcia.
My main sources for information on payments in Peru were two BCCI officials, Amir Lodhi and S.M. Shafi. According to them, President Garcia approved that funds be placed in BCCI. Mr. Shafi told me that the BCC had to pay for the deposit, but we didn't know how much, or to whom the money went. This was handled by Mr. Saddiqui [one of BCCI's top officers in London]. Two Central Bank officials and Mr. Jensen were handling it in Peru. Mr. Shafi went to President Garcia as an insurance policy of getting the amounts. I heard that the money went into the hands of the Central Bank officials and Mr. Jensen. Mr. Shafi did not tell me that Mr. Garcia received money. He said that he went there to guarantee that the money would be placed in the account, as an insurance policy. Mr. Tariq Jan [another BCCI officer] also went with Mr. Shafi to the meeting with Garcia. I believe that Mr. Shafi went to see him to make sure that the relationship would occur. You know, it wouldn't be good for BCC to start down this road without the support of the country's president. I also think that Mr. Lodhi also met with Mr. Garcia, but that meeting was more general. The meeting with Shafi was just with regard to this relationship -- the money for the letters of credit. Lodhi's meeting with Garcia was about Latin America and third world causes, and so on.(140)
On September 22, 1992, the Attorney General of Peru announced that she would seek Garcia's extradition from Colombia after charging him with alleged irregularities for his role in depoisiting Peruvian resesrves in BCCI. The official, Blanca Nelida Colan, had "drawn up charges against Garcia for the possible existence of foreign bank accounts for his alleged participation in depositing $287 million in reserves" in BCCI.(141)
There were more than enough reasons for BCCI and Peru's Central Bank for the two to development a relationship in 1986. Peru was seeking to hide its money from foreign creditors, as it began refusing to pay its foreign debt. BCCI was engaged, as always, in a quest for deposits to prop up finances which were in an especially rickety and fragile state in this period. BCCI, as usual, met with top officials in the country to secure and strengthen its relationship with the Central Bank, including President Garcia. Bribes allegedly were paid to two Peruvian central bankers. When BCCI finally collapsed, Peru escaped harm principally because its exposure had previously been so large and so imprudent, especially given both Panama and BCCI's shaky state by the beginning of 1988, that responsible officials in Peru had acted to end the relationship.
In Senegal, BCCI paid bribes to employees of the Foreign Exchange Department of the Central Bank, and provided them with gifts, to assure that BCCI received preferential treatment in the release of foreign exchange funds. This preferential treatment again placed BCCI in a favorable position in relationship to other banks for handling imports to Senegal, similar to that described in some detail above concerning BCCI's activities in Nigeria.
Additionally, BCCI helped the Central Bank of Senegal in defrauding the International Monetary Fund through falsifying deposits in Senegal to the IMF. At the time, Senegal was required by the IMF to maintain cash deposits of a certain level on reserve, and was unable to do so. On the critical reporting dates for the Central Bank, BCCI discounted a $5 million to $6 million promissory note to a Senegal corporation for two to three weeks, the corporation then placed the funds on deposit with the Central Bank of Senegal for that period, showing the IMF that Senegal was meeting its banking obligations, and when the IMF review was concluded, the transaction was reversed.(142)
BCCI's situation in Sudan was similar to its situation in a number of African countries -- it assured its access to central bank funds through making payoffs to officials. As Akbar Bilgrami described it, this was a general practice which he personally participated in only once, by his superiors at BCCI London when he was a very junior officer of the bank:
In 1977, I was asked to go with the Senior Official of the Central Bank and given 100,000 pounds. I was told to buy him anything he wanted. I kept the receipts as we were buying items. This made the central bank official very nervous, the keeping of receipts. He said, 'Barclays doesn't keep receipts.' I brought the receipts back to my boss, who said 'What did you do that for?' and threw them away. We spent about 70,000 pounds that day.(143)
In Zambia, BCCI once again worked with government officials to defraud an international lending institution, in this case, the World Bank. In 1987, the World Bank required Zambia to reduce its borrowings by making a $35 million payment by December 31, 1987 from internal sources or savings. When Zambia could not come up with the funds, BCCI loaned $45 millon to Zambia, hiding the source of the funds so that they appeared to be from Zambia's own sources.(144) As a result, the World Bank granted a new $60 million loan to Zambia. As Nazir Chinoy explained the transaction:
The funds were given to Zambia by BCCI. The routing was that they were sent from BCC Paris to a Zambian commercial bank to London and from there, the World Bank was repaid. Two days later, Zambia was able to draw on the $60 million tranche from the World Bank. BCCI Paris was repaid from Copper exports. The terms for BCCI Paris were one percent front-end fees; one and a half percent over LIBOR [a standard European international banking rate].(145)
According to Chinoy, BCCI was able to make money in several additional ways off the Zambian transaction. In addition to the transaction fees specified above, BCCI made money converting the payments it received in French francs on the copper exports to dollars. Moreover, BCCI was able to use the transaction to assist with internal bookkeeping problems, by sending 50 percent of the front end fee to BCCI-Grand Cayman in compensation for BCCI-Grand Cayman having issued a letter to BCCI Paris underwriting the risk in case Zambia defaulted. In this way, BCCI-Paris reduced its taxable income.
Several BCCI officials interviewed by the Subcommittee referred to bribes paid to Zimbabwe's prime minister, and the political chief opposition figure in Zimbabwe, by BCCI at the time it opened a joint venture with Zimbabwe. By the account of Nazir Chinoy:
I accompanied Mr. Abedi and Mr. Sheikh to the opening of a joint venture with Zimbabwe. I think to get permission for establishing a bank in Zimbabwe that money was paid to President Mugabe and to Nkomo. The basis I am making this statement was that when I went there with Mr. Sheikh I was acting as Mr. Abedi's personal assistant or secretary. Mr. Sheikh went off on his own to see Nkomo who was the chief opposition at that time, and then he went off to see President Mugabe, and when they talked they wanted me out of the room. Many of us were there for the opening. But only Alauddin Sheikh and [BCCI CEO] Abedi were left in the room with these two political figures. Otherwise I was accompanying him and acting with him.
Mr. Sheikh carried a bag with him. At the time I had a suspicion that you don't get permission as a foreign bank so easily without a payment. Without favors, it wouldn't be so easy to get a bank that fast, especially given the opposition of the British banks who were already established there.(146)
By the account of Akbar Bilgrami:
We paid Mugabe and Nkomo. I was at the Parklane Branch. BCC was approached to look after the expenses of the delegates, which were paid. In addition, we paid 500,000 pounds from the Parklane Branch. Someone from Mr. Naqvi's office came to Parklane and picked up the money. I don't think than Ian Smith was getting paid by us. I think that the Rhodesian government was taking care of him. That was in 1980-1981.(147)
By the account of Abdur Sakhia:
I drove one of my colleagues in London to a hotel, and he went with a briefcase and he came back without a briefcase, and I asked him: What happened to your briefcase? And he smiled at me and he said: This was for those people. I said: What, did you carry gold bars? He said: No, some cash. . . So this was prior to independence of Zimbabwe, when they were negotiating for independence. Some officials, some politicians from Zimbabwe were staying at a hotel in London.(148)
BCCI official Nazir Chinoy provided a detailed account of corruption in the African Development Bank to the Subcommittee, which he referred to in a much more limited way in public testimony.
According to Chinoy, BCCI had a long relationship with African Development Bank, maintaining about $32 million in deposits in BCCI's Paris branch in the mid-1980's. When Chinoy arrived, he found the hard way that the African Development Bank was placing those funds on the basis of bribes being paid to the officials at the African Development Bank who controlled the placements.
Fifteen days after my appointment, we lost a deposit of $14.3 million. When this deposit was lost I was concerned. [Another BCCI official] rushed to me and asked me whether I had made the payment? I said, what are you talking about? She said, haven't you been briefed by London? I said, no. She said, have you failed to look after the Treasurer? We were giving them top of the market rates. So I said, no I haven't been briefed. I learned from [BCCI official] Zafir Iqbal that when my predecessor was here, he drew up his expense account and he took cash dollars in travellers checks to give to the man controlling the African Development Bank's accounts, his name was Ismael Emay. I asked how much? Either 1/32nd or 1/16th. $8,000 to $10,000 a year in all. I said, fine, will I be getting the money from Cayman? He said I don't know, you'll have to manage.(149)
Chinoy made a round of courtesy calls at the African Development Bank, meeting the president of the bank and the Treasurer. Chinoy stated that he told the Treasurer that he should look Chinoy up in Paris, that Chinoy did not know what his predecessor had failed to do, but if it hadn't been paid to the Treasurer, Chinoy would pay it. According to Chinoy:
We debited the account and started to pay him. $5000 back due. We opened an account for him and his wife in Monte Carlo. He would draw maybe a couple of thousand dollars as he wanted in expenses. The balance he would send to Monte Carlo. The account he opened later in 1986. The money came from BCCI Paris. We started building up a relationship. By the way, BCCI London had 10m in investment funds of African development bank, this was kept by Investment and finance section for investments in stocks and bonds and this was controlled by Iqbal Rizvi directly with African Development Bank. At this stage, there was rivalry between me and general manager. He wanted ADB under his wing and I wanted to push for Paris. I started building up a relationship but he wouldn't allow me to attend the ADB conference and he didn't take anyone from France in 1986 for meeting in Zimbabwe. Gradually, we started acting in parallel rather than in coordination. Deposits went up to $35 million, $45 million in dollar terms.(150)
Chinoy and BCCI intensified their marketing campaign to the African Development Bank and became friendly with its president, eventually obtaining the bank's entire French franc account, amounting to 200 million or more francs -- some $35 million dollars. According to Chinoy:
We continued the payment to the Treasurer. But I told him no more than $50,000 a year. Which he made in 1987-88.(151)
The above account of corruption involving officials of fifteen countries outlines typical methods by which BCCI acquired and maintained accounts and relationships with governments and government officials around the world. While lengthy, it is by no means complete and the size of the iceberg below remains difficult to measure. The above account should be enough, however, to demonstrate the fundamentally corrupt nature of BCCI's relationships with the politically prominent, and its strategy of corrupting those in or with access to government, for its own purposes.
The pervasiveness of BCCI's corruption of officials in so many countries also raises larger questions about the persistence of corruption as a way of doing business generally, around the world. BCCI officials contend that its practices were typical of those engaged in by other banks, including U.S. banks, doing business in developing countries. For example, if true, this would suggest that international lending institutions financed by the U.S. taxpayers, such as the IMF and World Bank, are routinely being defrauded by collusion between the governments of those countries and unethical banks that see the opportunity to make profits through helping such governments defraud those institutions.
BCCI officials further suggested that U.S. and European businesses that are successful in many of the countries in which BCCI was doing business, especially in Africa, can be so only to the extent that they themselves meet local standards and participate in the endemic corruption. Such participation by U.S. entities is, of course, prohibited by the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The testimony in staff interviews by BCCI officials raises the question of whether violations of that act may be substantially greater in number has been recognized.
Finally, the information concerning BCCI's corruption of officials around the world illustrates the public policy interest to lift the veil of secrecy regarding financial information that still obtains in too many jurisdictions. Strong bank secrecy and confidential laws were essential to BCCI preventing the detection of its criminality and its corruption of public officials. In case after case, BCCI shifted funds to bank secrecy havens in order to protect its payoffs from exposure. Moreover, secrecy laws have to this day impeded the ability of the Subcommittee to detail numerous further cases of such corruption that clearly exist. For example, documents subpoenaed in the United States by the Senate, and in the possession and control of BCCI's liquidators in the United Kingdom, have been withheld from the Subcommittee by the British courts on the basis of British secrecy laws. Little progress can be made in combatting corruption so long as many jurisdictions continue to promote numbered accounts and secrecy to flight capital and dirty money. The United States needs to take a fundamentally more active and aggressive role in changing the attitudes of many foreign governments on this issue.
1. Agence France Presse, July 12, 1991.
2. Indictment, People v. Abedi, et. al, Supreme Court of the State of New York County of New York, July 29, 1992.
3. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 2 pp. 507-508.
4. Staff interview, Sakhia, October 7, 1991.
5. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 2 p. 515.
6. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
7. See Bankrupt: The BCCI Fraud, Kochan and Whittingon, Gollancz, London 1991, pp. 61-62.
8. Sakhia, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 2 p. 508.
9. See reference to November 5, 1986 letter in minutes of Evidence Taken Before House of Commons Treasury and Civil Service Committee, Banking Supervision and BCCI, February 5, 1992, Sec. 252.
10. BCCI -- Consolidated Report, EWP, Loans Over $7.5 million, March 31, 1991.
11. s. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 288.
12. Staff interview, Helmy, January 12, 1992.
13. Staff interview, Akbar Bilgrami, July 20-28, 1992.
14. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
15. S. Hrg. 102-350 t. 2 p. 528.
16. See documents published in S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 6.
17. BCCI-FinAmerica-Gotelli documents, provided to Senate by BCCI liquidators, July, 1992.
19. People v. Abedi, Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, July 29, 1992, p. 23.
20. Letter, to Dr. Juan Sommer, February 4, 1988.
21. See Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1991, "Encino Bank Ordered Sold."
22. UPI, July 30,1 991, "Argentine Central Bank revokes BCCI license."
23. Reuters, August 1, 1991, "Argentina Had No Funds in BCCI; Minister Angry at Media," Washington Post, August 24, 1991, "BCCI Trail in Argentina Remains Untraced."
24. Associated Press, August 1, 1991, "BCCI in Argentina -- Political Headaches, But Little Economic Impact."
25. Associated Press, July 31, 1991, "Court Probes Alleged Money Laundering by Foreign Banks."
26. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 127.
27. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 159.
28. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 243.
29. See e.g. Los Angeles Times, November 2, 1991, id.; Newsday, August 13, 1991, "Ex-Bangladesh Ruler Linked to BCCI;" Daily Telegraph, August 13, 1991, "Bank Linked to Missing Bangladesh Disaster Aid."
30. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 2 p. 515.
31. Mark Fineman, Los Angeles Times, "BCCI Left its Mark on Bangladesh, November 2, 1991.
33. Los Angeles Times, id.
35. See Daily Telegraph, "BCCI Scandal: Bank Linked To Missing Bangladesh Disaster Aid," August 13, 1991.
36. See Agence France Presse, "Bangladesh Appeals to Canada to Unfreeze Some BCCI Accounts," July 26, 1991.
37. Mark Fineman, Los Angeles Times, "BCCI Left its Mark on Bangladesh, November 2, 1991.
38. Memorandum from Brian Jensen to Agha Hasan Abedi, January 30, 1986, Senate document 001546.
39. Banking Venture in Brasil - Aide Memoire, Jensen to Saddiki at BCCI-London, February 24, 1986, Senate document 001545.
40. Staff interview, Abol Helmy, January 12, 1992 and BCCI documents pertaining to Brazil, produced by BCCI liquidators and from BCCI document repository in Miami.
42. Memorandum/telex, Sakhia to Siddiki, May 6, 1986, Senate document.
43. BCCI internal memorandum, Helmy to Ameer Saddiki, September 2, 1986, Senate document 000653.
44. Staff interview, Abol Helmy, January 12, 1992.
45. Telex, Shafi to da Costa, October 28, 1986, BCCI Senate Document 000645.
46. BCCI Luxembourg Letter of Appointment, Ameer H. Siddiki to Ambassador Correa da Costa, October 28, 1986, Senate document.
47. Staff interview, Abdur Sakhia, October, 1991; see also BCCI telex concerning Da Costa, October 28, 1986, id..
48. Staff interview, Nazir Chinoy, March 9, 1992; see indictment, People v. Abedi, New York Supreme Court, July 29, 1992, p. 24.
49. Staff interviews, Chinoy, id. See also People v. Abedi, New York County, indictment, July 29, 1991, id. p. 23.
50. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
51. See testimony of Alan Kreczko, Deputy Legal Advisor, Department of State, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 3 pp. 575-578.
52. See Price Waterhouse Section 41 Report to the Bank of England, June 1991.
53. Commentary, Massihur Rahman, to Price Waterhouse Section 41 Report to the Bank of England, June 1991.
54. Sakhia testimony, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 2 p. 526.
55. Staff interview, Sakhia, October 7, 1991.
56. Staff interviews, Bilgrami, July 20-28, 1992.
57. Staff interview, Bilgrami, July 20-28, 1992.
58. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
59. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
60. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
62. Staff interview, Sakhia, October 7, 1991.
63. Staff interview, Sakhia, October 7, 1991.
64. Sakhia, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 2 . 508.
66. Price Waterhouse audit report, December 31, 1990.
67. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 63.
68. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 2 p. 515.
69. Staff interview, Nazir Chinoy, March 9, 1991, see also Chinoy testimony S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 4 p. 829.
70. Staff interview, March 9, 1991.
71. Staff interview, March 9, 1992.
72. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
75. Staff interview, March 9, 1992.
76. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
77. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
78. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
79. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
80. Staff interview, Chinoy, id.
81. Staff interview, Chinoy, id.
82. People v. Abedi, July 29, 1992, New York County Supreme Court, p. 20-21.
83. Staff interview, Chinoy, id.
84. Chinoy staff interview, id.
85. Testimony of Rahman, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1, p. 540.
86. White Paper on the General Elections, Government of Pakistan, July 1978, S. Hrg. 102-350, Pt. 3, pp. 314-317.
87. Former BCCI Pakistan branch chief Nazir Chinoy provided detailed information about the Zia-Abedi relationship in a series of interviews with Senate staff from March 9-16, 1992; see also check to General Zia from BCCI-UAE, May 25, 1985, S. Hrg. 102-350, Pt. 2 p. 511.
88. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 2 p. 510.
89. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
90. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
91. Chinoy testimony S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 4 pp. 368-369.
92. See People v. Abedi, New York Supreme Court, County of New York, July 29, 1992.
93. Staff interview, Sakhia, October 7, 1991.
94. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 3 p. 599.
95. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 4 pp. 392-393.
96. Los Angeles Times, August 9, 1991.
97. Staff interview, Sultan Khan, March, 1991.
98. Staff interview, Colombian marijuana trafficker and federal cooperating witness, September, 1989.
99. Id; the trafficker provided copies of the original letters to the Subcommittee in 1989, signed by the Attorney General of Panama.
100. Milian-Rodriguez letter to Senator Kerry, August, 1991.
101. Letters, Lino Linares, Miami branch, BCCI to Holland and Knight and to Raymond Banoun, July and August, 1990, and January 1991. Details on this interaction are set forth in the chapter on BCCI's lawyers.
102. Staff interviews, Akbar Bilgrami and Amjad Awan, July, 1992.
103. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
104. Awan testimony, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 6; see also Blum memorandum of Awan interview, Pt 1 pp. 17-22.
106. Id., see also Affidavit of Amjad Awan, Government Exhibit O, U.S. v. Noriega, Southern District of Florida.
108. Staff interviews, BCCI attorney Raymond Banoun, May-July 1990; see also Banoun notes produced to Subcommittee September 3, 1992.
110. An understanding of the nature and composition of the BCRP is important to the discussion which follows. Del Castillo testified that the Peruvian constitution designates the BCRP as "an autonomous body . . . not depend[ent] upon the executive branch." S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 233. However, Cateriano testified that its directors are partisan politicians "named by the President and . . . by the Senate." at 199. Thus, the BCRP should not be considered an autonomous body free from political pressure or private influence.
111. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt 1 p. 167.
112. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 166.
113. at 232.
114. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 232.
115. See People v. BCCI, New York Supreme Court, July 29, 1991.
116. Letter from A.M. Bilgrami and Ishtiaq Nasim to the BCRP, dated 28 April 1986 ("[T]his is to advise you that in consideration of your placing U.S. $200 [million] [sic] deposits with our Panama Office, we are placing at your disposal a line of [sic] credit for $ U.S. 60 [million]. It is our mutual understanding that you will continue to maintain equivalent sufficient balances in your Placement Account.").
117. Staff interview, Akbar Bilgrami, July 1992.
118. At an interest rate of 5% per year, for example, BCCI would save $7,200,000 per year in fees.
119. "Agreement on operational procedure between BCR and BCCI regarding utilization of credit line for US $60 millions by Peruvian local banks (PLBs)," dated May 30, 1986.
120. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 167.
121. Staff interviews, Akbar Bilgrami, July 20-28, 1992; see also indictments People vs. BCCI, July 29, 1991 and People vs. Abedi, July 29, 1992, brought by New York District Attorney.
122. People v. Abedi, et. al, New York County Supreme Court, July 29, 1992.
123. Staff interviews, Bilgrami, July 20-28, 1992.
124. Staff interview, Abdur Sakhia, October 9, 1991.
125. Staff interviews, Akbar Bilgrami, July 20-28, 1992; documents reprinted in S. Hrg. 102-350 pp. 202, 206-207.
126. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 165.
127. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 166.
128. 196-197. Compare the 8 July 1987 memorandum from Carlos Saito to Ana Ma. de Reategui (both of the BCRP) entitled "Evolution of BCRP deposits abroad" ("At the end of June 1986 work was already underway with seven banks" . . . . "The last bank with which correspondent relations were established was . . . BCCI.").
129. See the Evolution of BCRP deposits abroad, hearing book at 176.
130. S. Hrg. 102-350 PT. 1 p. 170.
131. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 206.
133. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 167.
134. See the Evolution of BCRP deposits abroad, at 175 ("[I]t was decided to open special accounts in the market in Panama, which have maximum security.").
135. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 173, "Central Reserve Bank of Peru, Memorandum to Juan Villanueva from Gonzalo Aramburu, August 7, 1987.
137. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 199.
139. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 233.
140. Staff interviews, Akbar Bilgrami, July 20-28, 1992.
141. Reuters, September 22, 1992, "Attorney General To Seek Extradition of Ex-President Garcia."
142. People v. Abedi, Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, July 29, 1992.
143. Staff interview, Bilgrami, July 20-28, 1992; Bilgrami testimony, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 6.
144. People v. Abedi, Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, July 29, 1992, p. 18.
145. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
146. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
147. Staff interview, Bilgrami, July 20-28, 1992.
148. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 2 p. 515.
149. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
150. Chinoy, id.