The Bank of Commerce and Credit International

But actors come and go. It is the roles that stay, and that we need to be concerned with.
-Jonathan Kwitny, The Crimes of Patriots

On Friday October 26, 1991 the CIA was called to testify before a Senate committee concerning their involvement with the Bank of Commerce and Credit International. BCCI has become involved in an international scandal that has touched several governments and their intelligence agencies. It has been alleged that BCCI was involved in laundering drug money, financing gun running, bribing government officials and influencing policies around the world. On Wednesday October 23rd Burt Lance testified before the Senate hearings that Mr Aga Hasan Abedi, the founder of BCCI, had gotten over his fears of the CIA around 1984. By 1987 the international accounting firm of Price Waterhouse had taken over as sole auditor of the books for BCCI. During this same time period the National Security Council and the CIA were running into trouble with Congress over the diversion of funds from third parties (notably the Sultan of Brunei) and the sale of weapons from Iran to the anti-Sandinista contra guerillas in Nicaragua.

What is notable is that in 1980 a banking scandal broke out in Australia involving some former Pentagon and CIA officials. The Nugan Hand bank was officially based in the Cayman Islands to maintain banking secrecy. The Nugan Hand bank failed and resulted in millions of dollars disappearing. The Nugan Hand bank was also found to have been laundering money, often from heroin deals, involved in the financing of munitions for anti-Communist resistance, and influencing the politics of several countries around the world. In addition Michael Hand, a former Green Beret in Vietnam and co-owner of Nugan Hand, disappeared from Australia in 1980 amid government investigations and has not been seen since. Francis Nugan, the other partner, was found dead in the front seat of his Mercedes with its parking lights flashing on a virtually abandoned road in the Australian countryside. Amid his papers were found handwritten the names of the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Bob Wilson, and the former head of the CIA, William Colby, who had been acting as legal counsel for Nugan Hand. Strangely enough the firm that had been auditing the books for Nugan Hand was the same Price Waterhouse that had been doing the books for BCCI. This may be a coincidence, but perhaps Price Waterhouse has gained a reputation for glossing over the books of banks alleged to deal with dirty money and associated with the CIA.

Upon investigation of Nugan Hand, the timing of its rise in the banking world coincided with the troubles of the Castle Bank, which had been established by a former high ranking operative for the CIA, Paul Helliwell. It may seem peculiar that at the time of the demise of the Nugan Hand bank the CIA, according to Lance's testimony, appeared to begin courting BCCI officials. Although it is speculation based upon circumstantial evidence of the sort that prompts the phrase "conspiracy theory", it would seem a pattern has emerged of the CIA using shady banks to move money around the world to finance insurrections and influence policies in foreign countries. Although some would argue that this is an appropriate role for the CIA to be playing, its results have often been counterproductive to US interests and of necessity hidden behind veils of secrecy. But Harry S. Truman put it aptly on December 22, 1963, "We have grown up as a nation, respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historical position, and I feel that we need to correct it."

By Tom Legg, December 7, 1991