WASHINGTON — The missing $10 million the Sultan of Brunei gave the Nicaraguan rebels last year has been found in the bank account of a wealthy Swiss shipping magnate, who faces criminal charges, congressional investigators revealed today.
"I suppose the question before us is, does the Senate select committee get a finder's fee?" joked Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) after announcing that the mystery of the missing money had been solved.
"What we know now is that the $10 million was transferred into the account of an individual at Credit Suisse, and that this individual withdrew the funds," Inouye said.
"The money was apparently transferred to this individual's account by mistake," he said. Credit Suisse is a bank in Geneva.
Inouye did not name the person who received the money, but Mark Belnick, a Senate staffer who helped trace the money, said the recipient was a wealthy, 60-year-old Swiss businessman involved in shipping and said to be prominent in Swiss society.
Belnick confirmed news reports that the money reached the wrong destination apparently because the Credit Suisse account number that was given to the sultan by Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams contained the prefix "368" instead of "386."
Abrams, who solicited the $10 million last August from Sultan Muda Hassanal Bolkiah, the absolute monarch of Brunei, has said he was given the account number by Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, then a National Security Council aide.
At first, the money was to be put in an account set up by the CIA in the Bahamas, but Abrams decided to ask Brunei officials to transfer the money to an account controlled by North and his private associates aiding the contras.
Money Never Received
Businessman Albert Hakim, who managed the Swiss account for North, said the money was never received.
The solicitation on behalf of the contras came at a time when Congress had cut off all assistance for the Nicaraguan rebels and they were facing serious financial problems. Brunei is an oil-rich kingdom in Southeast Asia with a population of about 200,000.
Swiss federal police have been told that the unintended recipient of the $10-million deposit had expected a large deposit around the time the Brunei money appeared, Belnick said.
The businessman transferred the millions to a certificate of deposit at another bank, he said.
$253,000 in Interest
Since then, the certificate has earned $253,000 in interest, and it is scheduled to mature on May 21. A Swiss judge has frozen the account pending resolution of claims, Belnick said.
Meantime, police have filed criminal charges against the businessman, but whether the matter goes to trial depends on whether a judge believes the man intended to steal the money or made an honest mistake, Belnick said.
The disappearance of the money had deeply distressed State Department officials, who were informed last December by Brunei that the money had been deposited four months earlier.
Abrams said then that the money probably wound up in "somebody's pocket."