Crooked Banks

from the book

The CIAs Greatest Hits

by Mark Zepezauer


Since British bank examiners first shut down its London branch in 1991, BCCI (the Bank of Credit and Commerce International) has become known as "the world's crookedest bank"-or, as CIA Director Robert Gates called it, the Bank of Crooks and Criminals International. He, of all people, should know.

Throughout its entire history, the CIA has set up an elaborate shell game of "proprietaries" (front companies), money-laundering operations and off-the-books projects so complex that no outsider- and few insiders-could ever keep track of them. BCCI was neither the first nor the last of these.

An important predecessor was the Nugan Hand Bank, which helped the CIA topple a pesky government in its host country, Australia. Capitalized with booty from drug and weapons deals in the last years of the Vietnam War, it helped finance agency operations in Angola and the Middle East

Nugan Hand's board was loaded with spooks, including former CIA Director William Colby. When Australian bank examiners closed in on the bank in 1977, Nugan killed himself and Hand disappeared with billions in depositors' funds.

The CIA flirted with a similar operation in Hawaii, but eventually chose the Pakistan-based BCCI. It welcomed anyone with large amounts of cash to launder, from narcotics traffickers to arms merchants, terrorists to gangster governments.

Naturally, the CIA felt right at home. In fact, one former BCCI official claims to have been told that the CIA, and Director Richard Helms in particular, actually started the bank, and that it "wasn't a Pakistani bank at all."

Before collapsing, BCCI managed to facilitate a host of CIA covert operations, notably George Bush's efforts to pump weapons to Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Edwin Wilson's "unauthorized" arming of Libya.

Efforts to unravel all of BCCI's mysteries will never succeed. Its directors had the good sense to feather the nests of enough prominent US politicians, of both parties, to ensure that any investigation will be half-hearted at best.

Not surprisingly, CIA-connected lobbyists have worked to undermine any probe. Roughly $20 billion of BCCI's assets remain unaccounted for.

CIAs Greatest Hits

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