02 January 2008

Bank of Credit and Commerce International

The Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) was a major international bank founded in London, United Kingdom by Agha Hasan Abedi, a leading Pakistani national, in 1972. The company was registered in Luxembourg. At its peak, it operated in 78 countries, had over 400 branches, and claimed assets of US$ 25 billion.

BCCI, at one point the seventh largest private bank in the world, collapsed in 1991 after an international effort had exposed it as a massive criminal enterprise.

Agha Hasan Abedi
In 1959 he founded United Bank in Pakistan and became its first general manager in addition to being a director. He was later designated as president and managing director. He was finally elected chairman of the board while at the same time holding office of the president.

He founded the BCCI with Bank of America NT&SA as one of the major share-holders and became BCCI's first president. In addition to being a member of the board of directors, he was a director of BCCI Holdings (Luxembourg) SA.

The corrupt organization used Bank of America as an important resource in a global Ponzi scheme to collect deposits, funneling most of its cash in the U.S. into Bank of America accounts. At the same time, the flow of deposits helped prop up the struggling California bank during its hard times in the mid-1980s. "The B.C.C.I. headquarters money always flowed through Bank of America," says a former B.C.C.I. executive.

The two organizations had a strong human link as well, grounded in the friendship between B.C.C.I. founder Agha Hasan Abedi and Bank of America's A.W. (Tom) Clausen, who was chairman during 1970-81 and 1986-90.

When regulators seized B.C.C.I. offices around the world in July 1991, three of the seven directors on its board were former high-ranking Bank of America executives. On that same day, the California bank disclosed that it still had $177.4 million of B.C.C.I.'s money in its accounts.

BCCI became the focus in 1991 of the world's worst financial scandal and what was called a "$20-billion-plus heist". It was found by regulators in the United States and the United Kingdom to be involved in money laundering, bribery, support of terrorism, arms trafficking, the sale of nuclear technologies, the commission and facilitation of tax evasion, smuggling, illegal immigration, and the illicit purchases of banks and real estate. The bank was found to have at least $13 billion unaccounted for.

Investigators in the U.S. and the UK revealed that BCCI had been "set up deliberately to avoid centralized regulatory review, and operated extensively in bank secrecy jurisdictions. Its affairs are extraordinarily complex. Its officers were sophisticated international bankers whose apparent objective was to keep their affairs secret, to commit fraud on a massive scale, and to avoid detection"; BCCI organized its own intelligence network, diplomatic corps, and shipping & trading companies.

The liquidators, Deloitte & Touche, filed a lawsuit against Price Waterhouse and Ernst & Young, the bank's auditors, which was settled for $175 million in 1998. A further lawsuit against the emir of Abu Dhabi, a major shareholder, was launched in 1999 for around $400 million. BCCI creditors also instituted a $1 billion suit against the Bank of England as a regulatory body. After a nine-year struggle due to the Bank's statutory immunity, the case went to trial in January 2004. However in November 2005 liquidators Deloitte dropped any action against the Bank of England as it was no longer considered in the best interests of the creditors after a High Court ruling.

BCCI's founder, Agha Hasan Abedi, started the bank in Pakistan in 1972. Abedi had previously set up the United Bank of Pakistan in 1959. Following the nationalization of United Bank in 1971 he sought to create a new supranational banking entity. BCCI was created with capital from Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan, emir of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Bank of America (25%) and, allegedly, the CIA. It is claimed that the CIA were seeking a funding route for the Afghan Mujahideen, similar to the Investors Overseas Service and the Nugan Hand Bank in the 1970s[citation needed]. However, the vast majority of BCCI's assets were initially from Abu Dhabi.

BCCI expanded rapidly in the 1970s, pursuing asset growth over profits, seeking high net-worth individuals and regular large deposits. The company itself divided into BCCI Holdings with the bank under that split into BCCI S.A (Luxembourg) and BCCI Overseas (Grand Cayman). BCCI also acquired parallel banks through acquisitions: buying the Banque de Commerce et Placements (BCP) of Geneva in 1976, and creating KIFCO (Kuwait International Finance Company), Credit & Finance Corporation Ltd, and a series of Cayman-based companies held together as ICIC (International Credit and Investment Company Overseas, International Credit and Commerce [Overseas], etc.).

Overall, BCCI expanded from 19 branches in five countries in 1973 to 27 branches in 1974, to 108 branches in 1976, with assets growing from $200 million to $1.6 billion. This growth caused extensive underlying capital problems. By 1977, BCCI was in sufficiently dire financial straits that the Guardian later wrote that at this time "BCCI, founded in 1975, was almost certainly insolvent by 1977" - it was using cash from deposits to fund operating expenses, rather than making investments, taking on the attributes of a Ponzi scheme. Nevertheless BCCI continued to expand, moving into the African markets in 1979, and Asia in the early 1980s.

They were among the first foreign banks awarded a license to operate in the Chinese Special Economic Zone Shenzhen. Some of China's largest state banks were depositors in BCCI's Shenzhen branch.

In 1988, BCCI was implicated in a drug-money-laundering scheme based in Tampa, Florida: the C-Chase case. The BCCI was called the CIA’s money-laundering facility. BCCI pleaded guilty in 1990, but only on the grounds of respondeat superior.

In 1990, a Price Waterhouse audit of BCCI revealed an unaccountable loss of hundreds of millions of dollars. The bank approached Sheikh Zayed, who made good the loss in exchange for an increased shareholding of 78%. Much of BCCI's documentation was then also transferred to Abu Dhabi.

The black network
The BCCI Affair
Agha Hasan Abedi
Scandals: Gilt by Association

No comments: