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COLUMN LEFT : Bankers to the New World Scum Class : BCCI and its ilk flourish because they serve the needs of spies, tyrants and crooks.

August 01, 1991|ALEXANDER COCKBURN | Alexander Cockburn writes for the Nation and other publications

To do their dirty business, spy agencies like the CIA need dirty money and the services of dirty banks, which is why we find the Central Intelligence Agency using the same institution as did Abu Nidal, Manuel Noriega, the Contras and the Medellin cartel.

One day they'll probably make a soap opera out of the daily business life of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, whose sordid affairs are slowly coming to light and many of whose officers have just been indicted in New York. The soap opera could use such authentic scenes as:

-- The CIA depositing millions to the account of the Contras, in straightforward defiance of U. S. law;

-- Agents of Abu Nidal making withdrawals and deposits in a BCCI London branch, where the manager has said that British intelligence monitored the account, whose balance usually stood between $50 million and $70 million;

-- Mrs. Manuel Noriega depositing millions in London on behalf of her husband in BCCI's Sloan Street branch, whose manager, Amjad Awan (son of a former head of Pakistani intelligence) will be the U.S. government's main witness against Noriega;

-- The South African government making secret deposits in the BCCI account of the Zulu Inkatha movement.

BCCI is not the first and will not be the last bank to stand at the crossroads of international knavery. In January, 1980, the body of Frank Nugan was found in a car on a back road in New South Wales, Australia. Nugan was half-owner and chairman of the Nugan Hand Bank, whose specialty was, like BCCI's, the no-questions-asked acceptance and transfer of large sums of cash from one country to another. In the wallet of the deceased Nugan were found the business cards of William Colby, former director of Central Intelligence and subsequently a legal adviser to Nugan Hand Bank, and of Bob Wilson, at that time ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, and guest at a dinner Nugan had recently held.

Nugan Hand, which started its existence in Sydney, Australia, in 1973, operated in 26 countries including the United States. It shunted drug money from one haven to another; smuggled money out of the Philippines for the Marcos family account; financed such CIA schemes as the sale of a spy ship to Iran in the 1970s and the funneling of money to the UNITA rebels in Angola. Eventually the bank, its payroll resplendent with retired U.S. generals and admirals, collapsed just like BCCI in scandal and ruin.

The reason drug moguls and CIA agents stood shoulder to shoulder in line at Nugan Hand or BCCI branches was that their interests often ran in tandem, whether in Central America, the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia or in Pakistan, home of Agha Hasan Abedi, founder of BCCI.

BCCI was a relay station in Pakistan for CIA money on its way to the Afghan moujahedeen, and for heroin profits garnered by the moujahedeen, many of whom regarded fighting and drug smuggling as inseparable activities.

Spies and criminals favor banks that accept without question sacks full of $100 bills and that agree, for a fee, to transfer the money to the destination of choice. The world's rich people like banks that liberate them from the attention of the tax man or the currency export control officer or the national bank. BCCI was the institution of choice for Third World elites smuggling their swag out of town.

To buy the complicity and silence of regulatory officials, BCCI dished out bribes on a colossal scale. The indictment of BCCI officials handed down in Manhattan on Monday was full of vivid language about Third World villains but markedly prudent when it came to BCCI's First World agents of influence.

Are we to suppose that American and British officials were uniquely resistant to bribes tendered in the millions? Is there no member of Congress prepared to demand full hearings into the relationship of the CIA and the BCCI, with long overdue scrutiny of the agency's secret accounts? Have all CIA officers, sending covert millions round the world, managed to resist the temptation to open personal accounts in the ever-hospitable BCCI?

It's clear enough that these days we have a world scum class--crooks, mercenaries, murderous U. S.-client tyrants, corrupt Russians dispersing national assets. BCCI was their bank and expressed their philosophy, which is everything they don't teach you in school about the free movement of capital. Is BCCI something that could be regulated and exposed by a "new world order," or in fact the true expression of what that new world order is really about?

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