BCCI IN THE UNITED STATES
INITIAL ENTRY AND FGB AND NBG TAKEOVERS
BCCI's entry into the United States was inevitable, given Abedi's desire to make BCCI into a global bank, and the size and importance of the United States financial and banking markets. Since BCCI was undercapitalized from its inception, its success required constant growth as a means of filling the ever-increasing hole created by its lack of capital and its operational losses. Securing a base in the United States was intended by Abedi from the beginning as a means of obtaining new opportunities for growth. The United States was one of the largest money havens for flight capital. It was also unique among banking systems in insuring deposits at a very substantial level for FDIC member banks. FDIC insurance made deposits in U.S. banks more secure than deposits anywhere else in the world. As a foreign bank, BCCI could not legally accept deposits from U.S. citizens, or itself become an FDIC member bank. But if BCCI could find a way to enter the FDIC system, it would be able to offer a whole new, and highly valued, service to its customers -- U.S. government guaranteed deposit insurance. Abedi decided that he would first acquire legitimate banks in the United States for BCCI, and then determine later how to merge BCCI into them.
BCCI's initial strategy for the United States was to infiltrate the U.S. banking system through purchasing beachhead banks in major banking centers, and then to expand the beachhead operations until BCCI had U.S. banking operations of sufficient size that they could ultimately merge with BCCI itself. Later, after state regulators in New York had proven resistent to BCCI, and BCCI had successfully acquired National Bank of Georgia and FGB/First American, this strategy was modified. BCCI expanded in the United States by opening BCCI branch offices in regions with significant populations from the Third World engaged in trans-national commercial activity, such as Miami, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. BCCI's intention was to use these branch offices to feed depositors and banking activity to NBG and First American, expanding BCCI's activities through pushing deposits into the federal deposit insurance system. BCCI then formed an additional beachhead institution in California in 1985 through a nominee. By then, Abedi had decided that he would work systematically to integrate the various U.S. banks BCCI now secretly owned, until the survivor was strong enough and large enough to in turn purchase BCCI.(1)
BCCI had significant difficulties implementing this strategy due to regulatory barriers in the United States designed to insure accountability. These barriers included:
** a strong bias against any bank, such as BCCI, which did not have a primary regulator with the responsibility for conducting oversight on a consolidated basis of the foreign bank.
** requirement for certified financial statements from would-be foreign shareholders seeking to acquire a U.S. target.
** reporting requirements in take-over attempts of federally chartered banks, subjecting any shareholders seeking to acquire a bank to the diverse disclosure rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
** prohibitions on the ability of a bank holding company, such as Bank of America of California, which still had a 28 percent interest in BCCI, from purchasing banks in other states, directly or indirectly.
** limitations against interstate banking and branching, which slowed the ability of BCCI's flag-ship U.S. bank, First American, to purchase the National Bank of Georgia, and prevented First American from integrating with any bank in California, such as the Independence Bank, as desired by BCCI.
However, while these barriers did delay BCCI's purchases of banks in the United States, and the integration of its U.S. empire, they failed to stop the purchases. In the end, BCCI was successful in acquiring four banks, operating in seven states and the District of Colombia, with no jurisdiction successfully preventing BCCI from infiltrating it. The techniques used by BCCI in the United States had been previously perfected by BCCI, and were used in BCCI's acquisitions of banks in a number of Third World countries and in Europe. These included purchasing banks through nominees, and arranging to have its activities shielded by prestigious lawyers, accountants, and public relations firms on the one hand, and politically-well connected agents on the other. These techniques were essential to BCCI's success in the United States, because without them, BCCI would have been stopped by regulators from gaining an interest in any U.S. bank. As it was, regulatory suspicion towards BCCI required the bank to deceive regulators in collusion with nominees including the heads of state of several foreign emirates, key political and intelligence figures from the Middle East, and entities controlled by the most important bank and banker in the Middle East.
Equally important to BCCI's successful secret acquisitions of U.S. banks in the face of regulatory suspicion was its aggressive use of a series of prominent Americans, beginning with Bert Lance, and continuing with former Defense Secretary Clark Clifford, former U.S. Senator Stuart Symington, well-connected former federal bank regulators, and former and current local, state and federal legislators. Wittingly or not, these individuals provided essential assistance to BCCI through lending their names and their reputations to BCCI at critical moments. Thus, it was not merely BCCI's deceptions that permitted it to infiltrate the United States and its banking system. Also essential were BCCI's use of political influence peddling and the revolving door in Washington.
By 1976, it had become clear to both BCCI and its U.S. partner, Bank of America, that their relationship was causing problems for both parties and might not long survive. Moreover, BCCI's top officials, especially Abedi, had come to believe that entry into the U.S. market in a manner that BCCI could control was critical. Since its creation, BCCI had been a bank whose deposits and activities were denominated in dollars. Its settlements with other banks were carried out in dollars. There were numerous inconveniences associated with BCCI's inability to conduct business in the U.S. itself, and its forced reliance on western banks like Bank of America to act as its correspondent banks for all dealings with the U.S. Moreover, given the hostile attitude of regulators in the United Kingdom, BCCI had to make sure it was not fenced out of expansion in the industrialized countries. If the Bank of England ever acted against it, and BCCI had no alternative site in a major western financial center, it might be destroyed.(2) Additionally, the U.S. was home to numerous "high net worth" individuals from Third World countries, who could be induced to bank at BCCI. Unlike many countries, the U.S. had no restrictions on the movement of capital in and out of its borders, making it an attractive place to park BCCI's real financial assets. Finally, both Abedi and his key financial backer, Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi, may have had political motives to strengthen their position in the U.S.
According to T. Bertram Lance, BCCI's initial partner in its most important acquisitions in the United States, both Sheikh Zayed and Abedi felt that BCCI could become a critical element in strengthening ties between the United States and their constituencies. As Lance described a meeting between him, Sheikh Zayed and Abedi in Islamabad, Pakistan in late 1977:
Abedi was concerned about the shifting tides towards the Soviets in Afghanistan, Iran, India and the Mideast. Both Abedi and Zayed each expressed their concerns about the Arab worlds lack of ties to the US. They wanted to do something about it.(3)
Friends of Lance told journalists at the time gaining access to President Carter and the White House was one of the explicit goals of doing business with Lance and one of the reasons the "Arabs" were interested in having Lance represent them and in buying his interest in the National Bank of Georgia.
An Atlanta source close to the negotiations says the Arabs see Lance as giving them access to the administration. Though a private citizen, Lance is a regular visitor at the White House and is the chairman of a $500-to-$1000-a-plate fund-raiser for President Carter scheduled for January in Atlanta.
"Under normal circumstances," says this source, "NBG would be the last bank anyone would be interested in. But the investors see this as an opportunity to do a favor for someone close to the President."(4)
BCCI's initial attempt to obtain a bank in the United States was notably unsuccessful. Initially, BCCI decided it would begin with a small acquisition, that of the Chelsea Bank, a national bank with a state-chartered holding company in New York. In order to keep the transaction low-key, BCCI decided to proceed through a nominee, a member of the Gokal family, whose shipping empire could be characterized as much BCCI affiliate as BCCI customer. Unfortunately, the nominee chosen had few resources of his own, and was a transparent alter ego for BCCI, prompting the very regulatory scrutiny in New York that BCCI had sought to avoid. As recounted by former Comptroller of the Currency John Heimann:
My first supervisory contact with BCCI occurred when I was New York Banking Superintendent. New York law requires the Superintended to approve the change of control of a New York chartered bank. . . A young Pakistani national was the proposed purchaser. His uncertified financial statement showed total assets of $4.5 million, of which $3 million was in the form of a loan from his sister. His reported annual income for the prior year was, as I recall, approximately $34,000. Since he was not an experienced banker . . . and since BCCI was his primary banking relationship, he indicated that he would be relying upon that institution for advice and counsel.
Since he was relying upon BCCI to meet his qualifications of experience, we sought to determine what we could about that organization.(5)
Heimann determined that BCCI had no central regulator, which meant that there was no banking authority anywhere with the right to review and the responsibility to oversee all of BCCI's activities. BCCI also had divided its operations between two auditors, and thus had no consolidated financial report, so it was impossible for Heimann to be certain he could identify and understand BCCI's actual financial condition. According, Heimann put a hold on the application. BCCI identified a second bank in New York, and a second nominee, and made a second application, with the same result. Finally, Abedi decided to approach Heimann directly.
On each occasion, the subject of the meeting . . . concerned itself with BCCI's apparent desire to enter the United States. In each instance, Mr. Abedi attempted to convince us of the secure nature and correct operations of BCCI, its financial strength, etc. On each of these occasions, I expressed my concern that BCCI did not have a primary regulator, and that, until it did, my office was reluctant to permit entry into the US.(6)
Abedi had by now tried the back door into the United States twice and been rejected, and the front door once, with the same result. New York, the most important U.S. banking market for BCCI, would be closed to BCCI so long as Heimann was its chief regulator.
Soon thereafter, however, Jimmy Carter was elected President, and Heimann was appointed to become Comptroller of the Currency, responsible for supervising national banks, and in a position to opine on nearly any attempted purchase by BCCI in the United States. At the same time, Carter appointed as his new director of the Office of Management and Budget, T. Bertram Lance, head of the National Bank of Georgia (NBG), which Lance had purchased in 1975 from the Financial General Bankshares (FGB) group, a bank holding company headquartered in metropolitan Washington. BCCI alone might not be able to circumvent Heimann. Abedi knew that in such circumstances, the only way to proceed was through going over a bureaucrat's head through making use of one's political ties. In 1975, Abedi had few such ties in the United States. In 1977, however, Abedi was introduced to Bert Lance, and BCCI's previous failures in trying to penetrate the U.S. banking system were replaced with success.
In 1910, a socialist visionary named Arthur J. Morris decided to find a means of providing credit to small wage earners and consumers through creating a kind of cooperative banking system later to be known as the "Morris Plan."
Under the Morris Plan, wage earners depositing their paychecks in a cooperative fashion into Morris' institutions became entitled to receive small loans back in return. The concept was successful, and lead to Morris building consumer banks that by the 1940's extended to Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New York Tennessee, Virginia, and the District of Colombia. All of these lending institutions were under the control of another entity, incorporated in 1925, called Financial General Bankshares ("FGB"). Eventually, these banks converted to and merged with conventional banks, and expanded their services to cover insurance, venture capital, mortgage banking and industrial operations.(7)
In 1955, FGB came under the control of retired Army General George Olmstead. By then, the FGB franchise was one of a small number of banks that had been grandfathered to permit interstate banking, generally prohibited by the McFadden Act. The Federal Reserve grandfathering also permitted Financial General's ownership by another corporate entity of Olmstead's, International Bank ("IB"), despite the fact that IB also had several non-banking subsidiaries.(8)
FGB's unique market position attracted criticism from other banks and by 1966, the Federal Reserve decided that FGB was a holding company subject to its regulation, and that International Bank could not retain FGB. General Olmstead was forced by the Federal Reserve to sell out his interests in FGB on or before 1978.(9)
General Olmstead decided to retire as soon as he could sell FGB, and began looking for buyers. Bank stocks were not in favor with investors at the time. Olmstead was initially unable to find anyone who would buy the entire franchise. But in June 1975, he was able to sell FGB's Georgia operation, the National Bank of Georgia, to Georgia banker Bert Lance.
By September 21, 1977, when Bert Lance tendered his resignation from the position of director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to President Jimmy Carter, Lance had become the most notorious banker in the United States.
Prior to coming to Washington, Lance's entire career had been in banking in Georgia, starting in 1951 with his work as a teller at the Calhoun National Bank, a bank owned by the grandfather of his wife, Labelle. Lance had stayed with the Calhoun Bank and eventually become its president. He began to support Jimmy Carter in his political activities in 1966, when Carter first ran for governor and lost, and again in 1970, when Carter ran for governor and won. In 1974, at the end of Carter's term, Lance himself ran for governor and lost, before emerging as Carter's most important fund-raiser and political advisor in his successful race for President in 1976.
Lance had become president of National Bank of Georgia in January 1975, and quickly come into conflict with Financial General's headquarters in Washington for making loans which both exceeded his lending limit and were not secured by collateral. FGB's chairman, William J. Schuiling, was sufficiently disturbed by Lance's practices that he intended to force a show-down with Lance. But by June, 1975, Lance instead offered to buy FGB's controlling interest in National Bank of Georgia for $7.8 million.(10)
When Olmstead needed to sell the rest of FGB in 1976, he turned first to Lance. At the time, Lance was working to elect Jimmy Carter president. Anxious to join the Administration, rather than to remain in banking, he turned Olmstead down.(11)
Lance was formally precluded from engaging in financial transactions while director of OMB. However, according to later SEC charges, Lance continued to meet with General Olmstead regarding the sale of FGB, and put Olmstead in touch with William G. Middendorf, a former secretary of the Navy who ultimately decided to take over FGB. Lance met with both Olmstead and Middendorf at the Washington Metropolitan Club about the proposed sale while director of OMB.(12). As of April 1977, Middendorf and a group of twenty investors purchased Olmstead's interests in FGB, and Middendorf was installed as the chairman of the bank. But the takeover group, including former ambassador to Iran Joseph Farland, Arkansas banker Jackson Stephens, and Occidental Petroleum chairman Armand Hammer, swiftly began to disintegrate. By November, 1977 the shareholders had split, with Stephens heading a group opposed to Middendorf -- even as the Federal Reserve ordered Olmstead and his group to end their dual relationship to both International Bank and FGB by January 31, 1978.(13)
It was precisely at this point that FGB, Bert Lance, and BCCI came together to bring about BCCI's secret purchase of a $2 billion bank in the nation's capitol.
Lance's problems had begun on July 11, 1977, when President Carter asked the Congress to suspend ethics rules that would have forced Lance to sell 190,000 shares of stock he owned in National Bank of Georgia. He based his request on the ground that Lance would lose $1.6 million if he was forced to sell, because the bank's stock was depressed. Weeks of bad publicity followed, as well as an investigation by the Office of the Comptroller of Lance's Georgia banks which found "unsafe and unsound" banking practices at NBG and the other banks, but no criminal behavior by Lance.
Following Congressional hearings in which he was represented by Clark Clifford and Robert Altman on September 8-14, 1977, Lance resigned from OMB and found himself in terribly difficult circumstances. Not only was he exiled from President Carter's Administration, but his greatest asset -- his network and experiences as a banker in Georgia -- had been turned into an apparent liability. Also, Lance was still deeply in debt as a result of his borrowing $3.4 million to purchase NBG just two years earlier, and had no ready buyer for his interest in the National Bank of Georgia, his principal asset, given the fall in the price of its stock. Moreover, as Lance's practices at NBG had received a vast amount of negative national publicity, the value of the franchise itself was potentially permanently impaired.
Lance's and NBG's perilous position, coinciding with FGB's perilous position, provided a unique opportunity for Agha Hasan Abedi and BCCI to exploit.
The marriage between Lance and BCCI in 1977 was one not merely of convenience, but necessity. At the time, BCCI had already attempted to enter the United States market and failed; and Lance was facing indictment, deeply in debt, and had literally no other place to turn. Moreover, Abedi and Lance shared some characteristics in common. Both Abedi and Lance were entrepreneurial financiers who liked to operate at the border of legal restrictions, in disregard of customary and usual banking practices. Both had reached high positions in their home countries through providing financial and other backing to political figures in their home countries -- Abedi to a succession of Pakistani prime ministers, Lance to Jimmy Carter. And both had come to a point in their respective careers where their entrepreneurial spirit had been stymied by their respective establishments. They both needed to create new opportunities to escape their difficulties. Without Abedi, Lance was only a few steps away from bankruptcy. Without Lance, Abedi lacked any clear means of entering the United States. Together, they were able to make Lance wealthy, and to gain for BCCI secret entry to several of the most important financial and banking markets in the United States.
During the process, both BCCI and Lance -- each notorious within banking circles -- drew the persistent scrutiny of bank regulators, federal investigators, and journalists alike. Both experienced the most bitterly contested bank take-over in U.S. history in connection with the Financial General Bankshares' takeover litigation. In the face of this unusual regulatory scrutiny and public attention, BCCI was still ultimately able not merely to enter the U.S. market, but to acquire the most important bank in metropolitan Washington. This advantageous market entry would ultimately result in BCCI owning a network of U.S. banks extending coast to coast through seven states and the District of Colombia.
As in most areas concerning BCCI, there is more than one, mutually inconsistent, account of how BCCI and Bert Lance came together, and of how BCCI came to target Financial General Bankshares (FGB) for takeover.
The first account, as testified to by Lance himself, suggests that a former Georgia state Senator named Eugene Holly had developed a relationship with Abedi and BCCI and wanted Lance to meet Abedi to see if they could help one another. By this account, Lance went to New York in October 1977, met Senator Holly there, was joined by Abedi and his number two at BCCI, Swaleh Naqvi. Lance was told that BCCI had developed a unique approach of economic development for the Third World which it wanted to expand in the United States. As Lance testified:
Basically, Mr. Abedi said to me: I am building a bank headquartered in London that has a deep and abiding interest in the problems of health, hunger, economic development. . . I shared that concern, especially about economic development, because I had come from a poor section of Georgia.(14)
After discussing economic development issues, Lance and Abedi got down to basics: BCCI was looking to expand into the United States, and wanted Lance's help. As Lance testified, Abedi understood that Lance might need to know more about BCCI -- the last thing either Abedi or Lance would wish to do was further embarrass the President of the United States. Accordingly, Abedi would leave Lance with BCCI's annual reports, and Lance could get back to him as to whether Lance could help. According to Lance, he then turned to Clark Clifford, who had represented him in Congressional hearings into Lance's activities in Georgia, and asked Clifford to do due diligence on BCCI. When Clifford called Lance back to tell Lance that Abedi was "a man of integrity and character," Lance agreed to meet with Abedi and Naqvi in London, and there became BCCI's agent for its forays into the U.S.(15) Thus, by Lance's account, Clifford first had contact with BCCI on behalf of Lance in October, 1977.
According to Lance, while in London on October 15, 1977, he learned that Abedi had already targeted the Bank of Commerce in New York for possible purchase by BCCI. Lance told Abedi that FGB was a much better prospective purchase for BCCI, because it "enjoyed a very unique position in American banking at that point in time in the sense that it was one of the two or three, maybe four, multistate holding companies that were in existence in the United States."(16)
Lance testified that while he had read other accounts of how BCCI became interested in FGB, it was his belief that he brought FGB to Abedi's attention, not anyone else.(17)
Lance also testified that in London, he also piqued Abedi's interest in purchasing National Bank of Georgia from Lance -- on behalf of Abedi's investor clients, not BCCI, and that Abedi soon advised him that Ghaith Pharaon might be interested. As a result, Abedi arranged to have the Pharaon purchase of National Bank of Georgia proceed on one track, while Abedi arranged for the other Middle Eastern "investors" to work on the FGB takeover on a second track.(18)
A second, and inconsistent, account of BCCI's initial entry into the U.S. was provided to the Washington Post in 1978 by participants in the FGB takeover battle, and later reiterated in filings with the Federal Reserve by Lance and BCCI attorney Robert Altman. By this account, the initial contact between BCCI and FGB came from Arkansas multi-millionaire and FGB shareholder Jackson Stephens.
At the time, Stephens was both a close friend of Lance's, and a longtime activist in Democratic political circles. Stephens had been instrumental in fundraising efforts for President Jimmy Carter, who had been his classmate at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Moreover, Stephens retained a financial interest in National Bank of Georgia after Lance purchased it from FGB.(19)
According to the Post account, by the time of Lance's resignation, Stephens had already begun to broker the sale of National Bank of Georgia to "a client of BCCI" -- BCCI front-man Ghaith Pharaon -- as a means of assisting Lance. Stephens then went to BCCI and Abedi to see if BCCI might be interested in acquiring the metropolitan Washington FGB franchise directly. As the Post wrote:
A BCCI executive said the Arabs weren't interested in FGB, but the subject came up again on Nov. 26 when Stephens and Lance met Abedi in Atlanta for more talks about National Bank of Georgia. Abedi began to sound interested, and Stephens reportedly offered to sell a block of 4.9 percent of FGB and recommended Abedi meet [Eugene Metzger, a dissident shareholder with a significant number of FGB shares] to pursue the matter.(20)
Altman's account to the Federal Reserve removed Lance from the picture even further, contending that Jackson Stephens, not Lance, handled all the negotiations regarding National Bank of Georgia, and first proposed to BCCI the possibility of buying FGB.
As set forth in a May 9, 1978 letter from Altman to the Federal Reserve, Jackson Stephens told a BCCI representative during negotiations over the sale of National Bank of Georgia to Pharaon in November, 1977 that FGB might be available and could be a good investment for other BCCI customers. In late November, Stephens told Abedi that Abedi should meet with FGB investor Eugene Metzger, and designate Metzger and Stephens as agents for these Middle Eastern investors. Neither BCCI nor any of its affiliates provided financing for the purchase of the stocks, although BCCI advanced the funds through the accounts the Middle East investors maintained at BCCI. Some funds were borrowed by one "investor," Fulaij, from the Kuwait International Finance Company ("KIFCO"), which BCCI purportedly had a 49 percent interest in, but actually owned and controlled through its nominee, Faisal al-Fulaij.
A fourth account of the genesis of the BCCI's interest in FGB, completely inconsistent with the Lance, Post, and Altman accounts, came from BCCI shareholder and front-man Kamal Adham, who advised the Federal Reserve on April 10, 1991 by letter that an Middle Eastern friend of his, Hasan Yassin, told him that FGB would be a good investment, and Adham as a result brought the prospective investment to BCCI for review as his business agent. Adham did not explain to the Federal Reserve how Yassin had known of FGB's availability, or why Yassin believed Adham might be interested, nor had Lance ever heard of Yassin. Two weeks later, Adham reiterated these statements in formal testimony before the Federal Reserve.(21)
Oddly, given Altman's representation to the Federal Reserve that the Middle Eastern investors became involved as a result of a meeting between Stephens and Abedi, Clifford himself told the Federal Reserve in 1981 that Adham's involvement came "from a friend who was associated with the Saudi Arabian embassy" with "contacts" to Mr. Middendorf. Clifford's reiterated this statement to the Senate on October 24, 1991, testifying that "the man in the Saudi Arabian Embassy looked into [FGB] in more detail and concluded that it might be an attractive acquisition. Apparently, that was one of his functions in the Saudi Arabian Embassy, to pass information of that kind back to Saudi Arabia."(22)
Later, Adham, Clifford, and Altman would seek to resolve the contractions in these accounts in testimony before the Federal Reserve, discussed below.
On July 29, 1991, the Federal Reserve issued findings concerning the genesis of the 1977-78 takeover suggesting that in fact, Lance, Stephens and BCCI, working together, had initiated the discussions regarding the BCCI group's purchase of FGB in a meeting on November 7, 1977. According to the Federal Reserve:
At the suggestion of T. Bertram Lance ("Lance"), Abdus Sami ("Sami"), a senior BCCI officer from its inception and a close associate of Abedi, met with Jackson Stephens ("Stephens") to discuss the purchase by a BCCI client of the interest of Lance and others in NBG. . . During the meeting, Stephens, who was dissatisfied with his investment in Financial General, told Sami that Financial General might be a good investment for BCCI clients.(23)
The Federal Reserve findings are indeed the only account that is consistent with the contemporaneous documentary records concerning what took place. These Federal Reserve findings show Lance's testimony to have incorrectly omitted Stephens' key role; Altman's account to have incorrectly omitted the key roles of Lance and of BCCI; and Adham's account, bolstered by Clifford at the Federal Reserve hearing, to be at best, immaterial to the FGB purchase, and at worst, an outright fabrication.
In both the National Bank of Georgia and Financial General Bankshares takeovers, although BCCI was the real party at interest, it disguised that interest for a number of reasons, including the fact that at the time, Bank of America's 24 percent ownership of BCCI would have made BCCI's purchase of a U.S. bank outside California illegal under any circumstance.
Both purchases began moving on a fast track in November and December, 1977. Although Lance and the others involved took pains to suggest that the two purchases were unrelated, as Lance acknowledged, Lance, Abedi, Clark Clifford, and Robert Altman were central to both of them, and the two transactions took place simultaneously.(24)
For example, while Clifford and Altman have testified that they did not become involved with Lance and the FGB transaction until February, an article in the Washington Post on December, 18, 1977, quotes Altman, as Lance's representative, confirming negotiations among "Middle Eastern financial interests" and Lance concerning Lance's establishment of "a holding company to direct their capital into banks and other U.S. investments."(25)
The article describes Abedi's role as the "matchmaker" for the proposed transactions, and specified that "Lance's attorney, Altman" had announced earlier in December that Lance was negotiating to sell shares of NBG stock for $20 each -- precisely the price paid in early 1978 to Lance by BCCI nominee Ghaith Pharaon.(26)
Of the two transactions, the National Bank of Georgia transaction was far simpler, and consummated with far greater ease. The principal reason for the difference was that the National Bank of Georgia was not a bank holding company, and as a result, was regulated only by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which was more worried about the wretched condition of the bank and its possible failure than about the possibility that its purchaser, Saudi "billionaire" Ghaith Pharaon, might be a front-man for BCCI.
BCCI's relationship with Pharaon went back to the foundation of Pharaon's fortune. Pharaon inherited funds and opportunities, from his father Rashid, who had been a physician for the founder of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz. His father became close to the King, and was posted abroad as a Saudi Arabian Ambassador to all Europe from 1948 to 1954, during which the younger Pharaon was educated in Paris. Later, Pharaon studied in Lebanon, Syria, and Switzerland. He completed his education in the U.S. at the Colorado School of Mines and Stanford University, where he studied petroleum engineering, and completing it with a Harvard MBA, after which he began referring to himself as "Dr. Pharaon."(27)
While in his twenties in the mid-1960's, Pharaon became friendly with then-Saudi intelligence chief Kamal Adham, who introduced him to Abedi and BCCI. Pharaon and Adham went into business together, building a Hyatt Hotel in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, financed by BCCI, which in turn generated enough money for Pharaon to found a construction firm, REDEC, whose success formed the basis for Pharaon's reputation as a billionaire. Ultimately, numerous banks financed Pharaon's activities as well as BCCI, and by 1977, Pharaon had already taken short-term passive interests in banks in Texas and Michigan.
The National Bank of Georgia sale to Pharaon and BCCI began, according to testimony by Bert Lance, through discussions and negotiations between Lance, Abedi and other BCCI officials in Atlanta over Thanksgiving weekend in 1977.(28) It was precisely the same time that Lance, Abedi and BCCI reached agreement on beginning the takeover of Financial General Bankshares as well.(29)
Abedi handled all the negotiations with Lance concerning the purchase of National Bank of Georgia. Although Pharaon was the apparent buyer, Lance never even met him until January 1978, after the negotiations had been completed, the day before the sale of National Bank of Georgia from the Lance group to Pharaon was announced. Ultimately, Lance received $2.4 million for his interest in the bank, twice the previous market value of the shares.(30) In addition, Lance received another $3.5 million from BCCI's Grand Caymans affiliate, ICIC, for acting as BCCI's business agent. Lance used these funds to repay debts to the National Bank of Chicago, and to purchase shares of FGB.(31) The funds provided Lance were originally described as "loans," but BCCI never asked Lance to sign a note or to arrange terms for repayment, and in time, the payment came to be understood as a consulting fee, or retainer.(32)
Unlike the bitterly contested FGB takeover, the sale of National Bank of Georgia from Lance and its other investors proceeded quickly, and reasonably smoothly. The $20 per share tender offer, with a total cost of $21 million for Pharaon at twice the recent market value of the shares, assured little opposition from the shareholders. Moreover, Pharaon's purchase of his stake of NBG shares from Lance was completed by the beginning of January, 1978 -- before the regulators knew of the BCCI group's attempt to take over FGB, and before a federal grand jury in Atlanta began a criminal probe of Lance's banking affairs.
Nevertheless, federal regulators were uneasy about the Pharaon transaction from the beginning because of the involvement of BCCI officials in it. A memorandum to the files from then-Comptroller of the Currency John Heimann on January 4, 1978 articulated the nature of the concerns:
Tomorrow, January 5th, the sale of Lance's stock to Pharaon will be completed at 2 pm. . . Guyton [President of NBG since Lance's departure for OMB] noted he was somewhat disturbed about the role played by the Pakistanis in this transaction. Not that he knew anything negative about them but their role at present or in the future, seemed to be ill defined and caused him some concern. He believes that Lance is presently on the BCCI payroll working with Addabi [sic] and Sami. As a matter of fact, Lance went to London last week and will be back today. The purpose of that trip, presumably, was to discuss further expansion of BCCI in the U.S.(33)
In the conclusion of the memo, Heimann noted that Pharaon and BCCI apparently had plans for acquiring additional U.S. banks. This fact gave Heimann additional cause for concern given his opposition to BCCI's entry into the U.S. in New York two years previously.
Pharaon had told [Guyton, the NBG president] that Pharaon was negotiating for another bank in the United States and would have an announcement to make within 30 days. Guyton also understands that BCCI is looking for another bank in the United States.(34)
There is no evidence that Pharaon was looking at any other U.S. bank at this time, apart from BCCI's still secret interest in FGB. Thus, while Pharaon was ultimately not involved in the 1978 FGB takeover, in retrospect, this reference suggests that Pharaon may have been considering participating with BCCI in its FGB takeover as a nominee for the bank.
Within two weeks, OCC received additional disturbing information. A small aviation company was requesting an unsecured loan for $890,000 from NBG to purchase a Grumman airplane, backed up by a irrevocable letter of credit issued by BCCI, all at Lance's request. The president of the company was Lance's personal pilot, and the loan was being made to purchase a plane to facilitate Lance's business activities for BCCI. The loan was not one that NBG, or any well-run bank would ordinarily make, because the credit was unsecured. However, NBG officers felt they were under pressure from Lance to approve the loan, who was now on BCCI's payroll, receiving "a tremendous salary," an airplane, office space, and secretarial assistance from BCCI. NBG president Guyton told the OCC that BCCI intended to invest for its own account as well as for other investors in the U.S., and Lance was to be its business agent.(35)
OCC officials told Guyton it would be "foolish" to make the loan, and NBG accordingly agreed not to make it. The incident represented precisely the kind of self-dealing that Heimann had already seen in reviewing Lance's finances at part of the inquiry that arose while Lance was director of OMB. When the FGB takeover attempt became public month later, Heimann directed OCC officials in enforcement to determine whether Pharaon, like Gokal before him, was a front for BCCI.
On March 30, 1978, Robert B. Serino, director of Enforcement and Compliance of OCC, met with Pharaon, to find out just what role BCCI and Lance were going to play in Pharaon's NBG. Pharaon assured the OCC that Lance would not be involved further in his bank, and that BCCI would act merely as an advisor, but Serino, in a memorandum to Heimann, was uncertain as to whether to believe him.
Pharaon . . . indicated that there never was an understanding or desire on his part to have Lance participate in the management of NBG and this was not to be a term of his purchase. This is contrary to the representations given to us and the SEC by Lance's counsel during the original meetings . . . at that time, they indicated that one of Pharaon's conditions of the purchase would be that Lance would be acting as chief executive officer.
Pharaon indicated that Abedi, in fact, was the one who suggested to him that this would be a good investment and essentially put the deal together for him. He indicated that BCCI was, in fact, one of his financial advisors and that he had hoped to use employees of BCCI (paid by him personally) to review the transactions at NBG periodically to advise him as a controlling shareholder of the condition of the bank in the future. . .
My conclusions from meeting with Pharaon are that he tells a convincing story; however, it appears that he is "beholden" to or at least influenced by Abedi. I believe he could, in fact, be Abedi's alter ego in the United States.(36)
There is no evidence in OCC files to suggest that OCC sought to investigate further its suspicions about Pharaon acting as a front man for BCCI in the purchase of National Bank of Georgia. Instead, the OCC, accompanied by the SEC, filed a joint civil suit against Lance, National Bank of Georgia, and Lance's other bank, the Calhoun bank, charging them with "fraud and deceit" in violating banking and securities laws, and including among the charges allegations that Lance used the banks to personal enrich himself by providing himself with excessive and unsecured loans. All three signed consent decrees, neither admitting nor denying the allegations -- but agreeing not to engage in unsafe and unsound banking practices in the future.
Given OCC's concerns about Lance, there was an obvious tension between trying to protect the National Bank of Georgia from Lance's practices by letting a sale to Pharaon go forward, and with trying to protect the National Bank of Georgia by stopping the sale because of concerns about BCCI. The likely consequence of the latter course of action, however, would be that no one would buy NBG at all and it would be left in Lance's hands. The OCC knew in private what was not known by the public, although it was whispered in banking circles -- that NBG was in financial trouble, and had inadequate capital. Pharaon's tender offer for the shares of the bank would expire on June 20, 1978. If the OCC took any action to delay or prevent that acquisition, NBG might never recover.(37) The OCC gave Pharaon permission to move forward and he concluded his tender offer to purchase a 60 percent interest in NBG on May 30, 1978. OCC thus took the conservative approach of accepting Pharaon's dubious account about his relationship to BCCI, and permitting Pharaon to "rescue" the bank, rather than challenging Pharaon's purchase and placing the bank at immediate risk.
The truth was that Pharaon and BCCI had purchased NBG in a partnership, with BCCI lending Pharaon some of the funds to buy the bank, and agreeing to share the expenses, profits, and losses with Pharaon 50-50. This arrangement was convenient for both Pharaon and BCCI because it permitted them to rearrange the ownership of NBG as needed depending on their respective financial situations.(38) It went undetected until 1991, when the Federal Reserve for the first time investigated the NBG takeover of 1978 and concluded that Pharaon had borrowed at least part of the funds he used for the acquisition, with BCCI as his partner in the transaction from the beginning.(39)
OCC's decision about NBG was unfortunate. As later bank examination documents demonstrate, NBG remained what OCC termed a "problem" bank for years following its sale to Pharaon, with a substantial number of Lance-related substandard and non-performing loans remaining in its portfolio. A decade later, after its purchase by First American at the behest of BCCI, NBG -- renamed First American Georgia -- remained in "unsatisfactory" condition according to OCC examiners, with serious problems of asset quality, earnings, loan losses, and monitoring system. Moreover, in buying National Bank of Georgia through its nominee, Pharaon, BCCI had succeeded in overcoming the regulators to acquire its first bank in the United States. This lesson would have been especially powerful to Abedi. During this very time, he was in the very midst of high publicized actions in Washington involving many of the same players and where allegations were again being raised about BCCI's possible use of front-men. It was a lesson that with persistence, BCCI would also be able to succeed in deceiving the regulators in its attempt to take over FGB.
By all accounts, Clifford and Altman's introduction to BCCI and FGB came as a consequence of their representation of Lance before Congress beginning on Labor Day weekend in 1977. But the parties involved provide differing accounts of how and when Lance brought Clifford and Altman into his bank deals in the ensuing months.
According to Lance, he first discussed the possibility of Clifford becoming counsel for Abedi and BCCI as early as October, 1977, because Lance "thought that Mr. Clifford ought to be Mr. Abedi's counsel in regard to what he was doing." Lance said that Clifford was already familiar with BCCI at this time, because Clifford had on Lance's behalf "done the due diligence that he reported back to me on from the standpoint of BCCI and Mr. Abedi" before Lance became involved with them in October.(40)
By contrast, Clifford testified that his and Altman's involvement with BCCI began in December 1977 when Lance, as a "former client," brought Abedi in to talk with Clifford for "a social visit." Although the FGB takeover attempt had in fact already begun in November, according to Clifford, there was no discussion at the meeting involving Lance, Clifford, and Abedi, of any prospective takeover. Rather, according to Clifford, Abedi confined himself to telling Clifford of his philosophy of banking -- to provide the Third World with banking services which they had never had before, as a means of bringing progress to developing lands.(41)
According to Clifford, in the weeks that followed, he would "hear from time to time [from] little reports [that] would sift in that Mr. Abedi and BCCI were in the process of acquiring stock in a company called Financial General Bank Shares . . . I had not heard of them before."(42) According to Clifford, only after BCCI and the Middle Eastern investors had made their acquisitions of FGB stock, and only after the SEC had been alerted by the Middendorf group of the action by the BCCI group, did Abedi and the others involved retain Clifford and his firm, Clifford & Warnke to assist them in the litigation regarding the attempted takeover. Clifford testified that his representation of the bank and its investors began in February, 1978.(43)
As Clifford affirmed in his written testimony to the Senate:
Without our involvement or advice, four of these investors had purchased stock in an American bank holding company called Financial General Bankshares ("FGB"), the predecessor to First American, without filing certain disclosures with the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC"). The SEC investigated these transactions, and the management of FGB, concerned that these purchased foreshadowed a possible corporate takeover effort, filed suit against the Arab investors, BCCI, Mr. Abedi and others. We were retained to represent Bert Lance, Agha Hasan Abedi, BCCI, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zaied al Nahyan, Sheikh Sultan bin Zaied al Nahyan, Faisal al Fulaij, and Abdullah Darwaish, certain of these defendants.(44)
Thus, by Clifford's account, the entire structure of the FGB transaction and the assembling of the shareholders had been conceived and implemented by BCCI and the "investors" before Clifford had ever become involved. The representation began in connection with SEC action that took place in mid-February, 1978. This account would buttress Clifford and Altman's contentions that they were "grossly deceived" from the first by BCCI.(45)
However, the chronology described by Clifford is inconsistent with both the details and the sense of Lance's testimony, and with a contemporaneous telex sent to Abedi and BCCI by BCCI official Abdus Sami, who was working closely with Lance in late 1977 and early 1978 on the FGB takeover.
The Sami memo to BCCI chairman Agha Hasan Abedi, written January 30, 1978, provides the best documentary summary of the actual structuring of the FGB takeover by Lance and BCCI. It reveals the clear involvement of Clark Clifford in the month of January, 1978, a time when Clifford contends he was uninvolved in BCCI's attempt to take over FGB, and prior to what Clifford described as the triggering event for his involvement, the commencement of litigation involving the SEC in mid-February, 1978.
The Sami memo, written in Washington and sent to Abedi in Karachi, Pakistan, first describes the "situation of acquisition of FGB," noting the purchase to date by the BCCI group of 17.5 percent of the FGB stock, with commitments or control over 23 to 24 percent of the stock, and that a meeting needed to take place between "our friend," Bert Lance, and the Middendorf group, to determine whether the BCCI takeover would proceed by with the consent of the Middendorf group, or through a contest. In the telex, Sami advised Abedi that they needed to prepare for litigation in which the Middendorf group would argue that it was undesirable for FGB to be taken over by foreigners. He added that BCCI needed to retain Clark Clifford as counsel in the event of a contest for control. Sami then described further steps BCCI needed to take in preparation for such a struggle:
To keep individual ownership to below 5 percent we have to distribute the ownership to 4 persons of substance. We have already given the names of Sheikh Kamal Adham and Mr. Fulaig [sic]. We want two other names immediately. Under Securities and Exchange Regulations we are also obligated to report to Commission as well as Financial General details of purchases. We require their biodata and powers of attorney for them. We must have this early this week to avoid possible liability on Mr. Metzger and purchases. We have to be careful that our name does not appear as financier to most of them for this acquisition. The necessity of filing this return has arisen on account of concentration of over 5 percent in the hands of Metzger, his knowledge and our intention to acquire control.(46)
The Sami memo described an intentional strategy by BCCI, Lance, Adham, Fulaij, and other members of the BCCI group to disguise BCCI's underlying interest in the transaction, and the fact that the individuals were acting as a group, in order to circumvent SEC disclosure rules. Under American securities law, anyone who buys five percent of a publicly traded company must file a disclosure form with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In the memo, Sami also advised Abedi that he has "met Clark Clifford and explained to him our strategy and our goal. He was happy to know the details and has blessed the acquisition," suggesting that Clifford was a knowing participant in BCCI's takeover scheme on or before January 30, 1978, and had already been retained as lawyer for the group prior to that date.(47)
Sami's dating of Clifford's involvement is buttressed by the legal bill sent by Clifford to BCCI for this period. The bill, dated May 24, 1978, describes the legal services rendered them by Clifford as dating not from mid-February, but from January 1978.
Significantly, the federal district court judge who heard the case brought by the Middendorf group against BCCI and the Lance group made a specific finding regarding BCCI's apparent use of nominees in connection with the initial takeover, as suggested by the Sami memorandum. On April 27, 1978, the court found that in early December 1977, BCCI's agents sought to purchase a percentage of Financial General shares substantially in excess of any amount for which Abedi then had purchasers.(48) Thus, rather than responding to investment requests from clients, BCCI was in effect acting not only as agent but as principal in the takeover.
Within a matter of days following the writing of the Sami memorandum, BCCI added the crown prince of the Abu Dhabi royal family, Sheik Sultan bin Zayed al Nahyan, and Abdulah Darwaish, financial adviser to the Abu Dhabi royal family, as the two additional shareholders for the purpose of the takeover referred to by Sami. Significantly, during this period, Abedi also solicited Iranian millionaire Mohammed Rahim Motaghi Irvani, a business partner of former CIA director Richard Helms, to be a nominee shareholder. Irvani, was listed in the original SEC filing in the early, 1978 takeover attempt, as a 5 percent shareholder of CCAH, and BCCI's lead front-man in the original takeover. Several documents, introduced in civil litigation involving Irvani in Georgia, describe Irvani's recruitment by Abedi in early 1978 to act as a front-man for BCCI.(49)
On February 7, 1978, a meeting of FGB shareholders was convened at which Lance announced that the BCCI group controlled 20 percent of the FGB stock and wanted eventual control -- despite having never previously disclosed its takeover intentions, as required by federal securities laws, to the SEC.
The Middendorf group, recognizing that Lance's statements amounted to a confession of violating SEC disclosure laws, immediately complained to the SEC and the Federal Reserve, which launched investigations.
Lance had made a significant mistake in advising the Middendorf group of the coordinated takeover effort by the BCCI group. Within days, both Lance and BCCI began publicly announcing that FGB investors had purchased the stock individually, not as a group. He also announced that BCCI was uninvolved in the purchases and honoring the legal prohibitions against its involvement that existed due to its partial ownership by Bank of America.(50) The revised version of events by Lance and BCCI had come too late: the Middendorf group, which still controlled FGB, filed suit on February 17, 1978 alleging violations of securities laws.
A month later, the SEC filed its own suit to block the Lance-BCCI FGB takeover attempt. Eleven defendants were named in the action, including Lance, Abedi, BCCI, and four BCCI clients. However, an agreement had already been struck between the SEC and the Lance-BCCI group, which suited both the SEC and the would-be investors.
Given Lance's admissions, and the careless assemblage of the Middle Eastern shareholders by BCCI, the SEC case against the Lance-BCCI group was formidable, and hard to contest. For example, each "individual" Middle Eastern investor sought to acquire, at precisely the same time, an identical interest in the bank of 4.9 percent, which placed each one, supposedly acting independently, at just under the level that would otherwise have required them to disclose their purchase to the SEC. It was all too obvious that they were acting jointly, as a group. But the SEC was not looking for punitive action, merely corrective action. So long as Lance-BCCI group agreed to live by SEC rules in the future, and compensate the injured parties by paying more for the shares of the bank, the SEC would let them go forward. The Lance-BCCI group agreed to pay the highest price to date for stock in FGB to any shareholders who wanted to sell -- and promised to keep BCCI out of any continued takeover efforts of FGB, other than as an investment "advisor."
The SEC's surprisingly mild position, given the baldness of the group action, was a further demonstration of Abedi's principal of not being overly concerned about laws. Here, BCCI had broken SEC laws and while hampered by SEC action, would be permitted to move forward with its arrangements to take over FGB so long as it paid the current FGB shareholders enough for the privilege.
On April 27, a federal judge permanently enjoined Lance and ten other defendants form violating securities laws, and the SEC consent decree was issued. In its injunction, the federal district court made specific findings that there was evidence BCCI was at the center of the takeover, and might well have controlled the takeover. The court said that the BCCI clients relied "heavily, if not exclusively" on Abedi and BCCI in deciding to purchase the FGB shares and, tellingly, that BCCI's agents had to sought to purchase a percentage of FGB shares substantially in excess of any amount for which Abedi then had purchasers. These findings should have been warning lights to regulators. In fact, because of these warnings, the Federal Reserve later sought and received assurances from BCCI, the Middle Eastern investors, and the attorneys, that BCCI was not behind the purchase.
In the meantime, BCCI executives began making false statements to the press in an apparent attempt to rewrite history and discourage further litigation. For example, two top BCCI officials, Allaudin Shaikh and Dildar H. Rizvi, told the Washington Post in mid-March, 1978 that Lance was merely "an informal adviser who pointed out investment opportunities in the U.S." for BCCI," suggesting that he was "not employed by the bank . . . was paid nothing by the bank. . . and had received absolutely no loans from BCCI or loans arranged by BCCI." The executives also told the Post that the Middle Eastern investors advised by BCCI were "four individuals from different countries, absolutely unknown to each other."(51)
On March 28, 1978, a memorandum to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors discussed the Fed's investigation into the Lance-BCCI activities, stating that the SEC had found "no evidence" that the Middle Eastern investors had actually acted in concert, despite Abedi's and BCCI's serving as their joint financial advisor. However, within days, the U.S. District Court judge hearing the SEC complaint found that BCCI, Abedi and the four investors had indeed acted as a group.
By April, the Federal Reserve was asking detailed questions of Clark Clifford and Robert Altman as attorneys for Lance and the "individuals" in the BCCI group, inquiring whether ICIC, BCCI's Grand Caymans affiliate, was acting as a vehicle for the acquisition of FGB. On May 9, 1978, Altman told the Federal Reserve that Abedi and BCCI were acting as the commercial banker and financial advisor for the Middle Eastern investors, and that while BCCI had been used to move funds for the investors into the U.S., it had not financed any of the FGB purchases.(52)
Thus, by mid-1978, BCCI had developed a theory of its involvement with the Middle Eastern investors in FGB designed to reconcile its central role in the original takeover with the various securities and banking laws which prohibited it having an actual direct interest in taking over FGB. The theory was that BCCI was a financial advisor to the actual parties at interest, and never a principal itself in their purchases of FGB stock. From May 9, 1978 onward, Clark Clifford and Robert Altman, as attorneys for Lance, BCCI, and the BCCI-related shareholders, would articulate the position that BCCI at no time acted inconsistently with this role.
Although the takeover was now able to move forward, Lance's poor judgment would soon result in his being severed from both National Bank of Georgia and FGB. In February, his statements had set off the SEC action and FGB civil litigation. Moreover, his own legal problems pertaining to his sloppy banking practices in Georgia were mounting. Over the remainder of 1978, Lance was eased out by Clifford, and replaced at the apex of the BCCI group by retired Senator Stuart Symington. Symington would later become chairman of the Board of Directors of the acquisition vehicle BCCI created for the takeover, and would remain so until his death.
In the months that followed, the Middendorf group and the BCCI group continued to litigate the takeover. Dozens of depositions were taken, and all the parties to the takeover were placed on the record. During those depositions, the BCCI investors repeatedly stated under oath that they were purchasing FGB shares for their own interest; that BCCI did not control, vote, or have the power to dispose of their shares; that BCCI would not finance the purchase of their shares; and that BCCI's role was limited to that of commercial banker and investment advisor for the Middle Eastern investors.(53)
In 1991, Clifford testified that "nothing in the course of this litigation . . . indicated in any way that they [the Middle Eastern investors] were nominees for BCCI, as is now alleged."(54) However, throughout the litigation and takeover, there were in fact recurrent allegations that BCCI was behind the takeover, and regulators, including the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and various state banking authorities, continued to insist on receiving affirmations from everyone involved that BCCI was not a principal.
The ambiguous nature of BCCI's role was demonstrated again during the summer of 1978, when BCCI, ostensibly on behalf of the Middle Eastern investors, formed Credit and Commerce American Holdings ("CCAH"), N.V., as a Netherlands Antilles holding company, which in turn held a subsidiary, Credit and Commerce American Investment, B.V., of the Netherlands, as vehicles for acquiring shares of FGB. In statements filed with the SEC, BCCI, Abedi, and the four Middle Eastern investors stated that BCCI would have no interest in CCAH. They advised the SEC that ICIC Overseas would own up to 5 percent of CCAH's shares. At the time, ICIC Overseas was ostensibly a staff benefit fund for BCCI, but in fact was then and remained a slush fund for and alter ego of BCCI itself.
By October, no agreement had yet been reached between the Middendorf group and the BCCI group. However, the BCCI group in the form of CCAH pressed forward with making a formal application to the Federal Reserve for the acquisition of all the voting shares of FGB. Under the terms of the application, CCAH, CCAI, and FGB would become bank holding companies and acquire all of the shares of Financial General Bankshares. The four Middle Eastern "investors" would contribute all of their shares of the bank to CCAI, in return for shares of CCAH. CCAI would then make a tender offer for the remaining shares of Financial General Bankshares. As stated to the Federal Reserve by Robert Altman in his capacity as counsel to CCAH, "neither BCCI nor any other organization related to BCCI contemplates owning any equity interests in CCAH."(55)
At the time, Clifford and Altman were dealing simultaneously with BCCI on the acquisition and with BCCI's various front-men and nominees.
For example, in this precise period, Clifford and Altman received a power of attorney from one acknowledged BCCI front-man or nominee, Iranian businessman Mohammed Irvani, for Irvani's proposed involvement as a participant as a shareholder of CCAH, in a transaction handled on Irvani's behalf by former CIA director Richard Helms. Helms drafted an agreement indemnifying Irvani from any loss in connection with Irvani giving Clifford's law firm a power of attorney to act in Irvani's name in purchasing CCAH shares.(56) The fact that Irvani was acting as a front-man for BCCI at the time was confirmed recently by his son, Bahman Irvani, who told the Atlanta Constitution that his father "lent his name to the 1978 takeover bid at the request of BCCI founder Agha Hasan Abedi."(57)
Through the remainder of 1978 and early 1979, the critical issue focused on by regulators was whether BCCI actually had a hidden interest in CCAH. For example, on November 7, 1978, Federal Reserve Lloyd Bostian of the Richmond Fed wrote Altman to ask for more information on the relationship between CCAH, CCAI, and BCCI. Two weeks later, Altman replied that although ICIC would have an ownership interest of 4.5 percent in CCAH, and one or two persons associated with BCCI or ICIC might serve as directors of FGB, neither BCCI nor ICIC would have contracts with the bank or their holding companies relating to management or investments. Soon thereafter, the Comptroller of the Currency raised concerns about who would be providing financing for the proposed FGB purchase. On January 12, 1979, Altman wrote the Federal Reserve to specify that no more than $20 million would be borrowed by the shareholders for the acquisition, and that all such borrowing would be made by institutions having no affiliation with either CCAH or CCAI.
In the meantime, the Middendorf group had continued to object to the takeover, and on January 26, 1979, the Attorney General of Maryland issued an opinion stating that Maryland law precluded a hostile takeover of a bank. On February 16, 1979, the Federal Reserve dismissed the 1978 CCAH application on the ground that it violated Maryland law, and in response, CCAH and CCAI sued to overturn the Maryland decision.
Those involved in the original takeover believed that the Federal Reserve's objections would end if they were able to resolve the continuing fight with the Middendorf group and end the take-over battle. They therefore sought to sweeten the financial reward to the non-CCAH shareholders of FGB, and find ways to shield the CCAH purchase from the shadow of BCCI. Tentative agreement was reached with the non-CCAH shareholders for the sale of the bank in March 1980, while Senator Symington was pressed into a leading role as chairman of CCAH and a would-be director of Financial General Bankshares. Thus BCCI had arranged to replace its shady reputation with the very distinguished and respectable reputation of retired United States Senator and former Democratic Presidential nominee. In May, the non-BCCI faction sent a letter of understanding to Symington setting out the guiding principles of the FGB acquisition, which included the requirement that Symington himself hold and vote 60 percent of the stock of CCAH for the first five years, with Clifford succeeding Symington in the event of his death or inability to complete his term. The provision was suggested by Clifford as a means of assuring regulators that BCCI would not secretly control the bank.(58)
Even at this point, lawyers for the Middle Eastern investors knew that the actual shareholders they were representing were potentially a fluid group. As former Federal Reserve lawyer Baldwin Tuttle explained in a May 27, 1980 memorandum to Robert Altman and two other BCCI attorneys, entitled "The Application (At Long Last!)":
It will be necessary to determine who the new investors will be (we should try to keep as closely as possible to the original cast of characters to help with our moratorium problem.) (emphasis added)(59)
The memorandum from Tuttle implies that even in 1980, the attorneys for the acquiring group believed that the identities of the "investors" were not in control of the proposed takeover, but names to be manipulated at will to deal with legal, regulatory, and financial issues as they arose.
On November 25, 1980 -- three years after the original takeover of the bank began with Bert Lance -- CCAH and CCAI filed a second application with the Federal Reserve to become bank holding companies. The application made a number of key representations, required by the regulators, regarding the nature and source of the financing of the venture, in part to demonstrate that BCCI had no direct or indirect interest in the transaction. These representations included:
** None of those purchasing the CCAH stock would retain any personal indebtedness in connection with the transaction.
** All of the funds used in the transaction would be provided from the personal funds of the investors.
** None of the funds would be from financial institutions affiliated with BCCI.
The application, filed on CCAH's behalf by Clifford and Altman, also made an iron-clad statement that BCCI had no interest, direct or indirect, in the bank:
BCCI owns no shares of [Financial General], CCAH, or CCAI, either directly or indirectly, nor will it if the application is approved. Neither is it a lender, nor will it be, with respect to the acquisition by any of the investors of either [Financial General], CCAI or CCAH shares."
In a written response to questions concerning the relationship between BCCI and CCAH, Altman further stated that the shareholders of CCAH had all made personal investments, and none of them were acting "as an unidentified agent for another individual or organization."
As part of the application process, the investors provided the Federal Reserve with financial information, typically consisting of extremely general statements about the net worth of the applicants. For example, the certificate provided for Kamal Adham consisted of a declaration by a Middle East accountant based in Saudi Arabia on June 19, 1978, addressed "To whom it may concern," that states:
Without any responsibility, we here certify that the estimation of the net worth properties [sic] and investments of H.E. Kamal Adham, as at June 15th 1978, is U.S. dollars 134.000.000 ($134 million).
According to the accountants, this conclusion was based on an estimated value of his investments in land and buildings at $100 million, buildings outside Saudi Arabia at $8 million, and "investments" not otherwise specified at $26 million.
The Federal Reserve made additional efforts to secure more precise information on the finances of the would-be purchasers, and were eventually told that the financial resources of many of the shareholders could not be calculated, because they were rulers of nations who owned all of the land of the countries they ruled, and their financial resources were essentially the net national wealth of their countries.
In a letter from BCCI lawyer Baldwin Tuttle to the Federal Reserve, dated November 5, 1990, Tuttle advised the Federal Reserve:
By tradition and historical background of the Trucial Sates, the ruler of an Emirate owns all of the land of his State . . . Similarly, all the natural resources of the State are also regarded as the personal property of the ruler and his heirs who enjoy complete authority to utilize them as they consider fit.(60)
Tuttle told the Federal Reserve that it was "impossible to estimate or segregate" the assets of the Al Nayhan family from those of the Sheikh himself or of the emirate of Abu Dhabi because they are "not regarded as separate entities." According to Tuttle, the legal situation of all property in these emirates was identical -- the proposed investors in FGB owned everything of value in the emirates they ruled.(61)
Assured of the solvency of these apparent investors in FGB, by early 1981 the Federal Reserve was moving to lift the remaining barriers to the purchase, if it could be certain that BCCI was not secretly behind the transaction. This issue was of deep concern not only to the Federal Reserve, but to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which knew the most about BCCI. OCC had learned of BCCI's use of nominees in connection with its review of Bank of America's interest in BCCI; it had concerns about Ghaith Pharaon being BCCI's alter ego in his purchase of National Bank of Georgia. Given its knowledge, the FGB transaction made OCC officials uneasy. But the Federal Reserve was the primary regulator, and the OCC was not willing to stop the FGB transaction from moving forward, so long as they received assurances from everyone involved that BCCI was not a party to the transaction.
On March 12, 1981, the OCC finally signed off on the CCAH takeover based on the understanding that BCCI would have no involvement with the management of the bank or the holding companies or with the financing of the acquisition.
As Charles Muckenfuss III, the senior deputy comptroller of the currency, explained in the letter to the Federal Reserve:
We note that in the October, 1978 application a relationship between the investors group and the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) was outlined. Members of the proposed investors group or Credit and Commerce American holdings, N.V. and Credit and Commerce American Investment, B.V., also hold an interest in BCCI. It has now been represented to us that BCCI will have no involvement with the management and other affairs of Financial General nor will BCCI be involved in the financing arrangements, if any are required, regarding this proposal. This commitment is critical, both now and in the future, since such a relationship with another financial institution would be a significant factor in appraising this application. This is especially important in light of the overlapping ownership which will exist between Credit and Commerce American Holdings N.V., Credit and Commerce American Investment, B.V., and BCCI. Moreover, any enhanced direct or indirect affiliation or relationship would take on even greater significance in light of the fact that BCCI is not subject to regulation and supervision on a consolidated basis by a single bank supervisory authority.(62)
Thus, by early 1981, the technical securities and banking regulatory issues had been solved by the CCAH group. The only remaining obstacle to approval of the CCAH group takeover was continued suspicion by regulators that BCCI -- investment advisor to most of the shareholders and owned by a number of the shareholders -- might still somehow be a direct or indirect shareholder. The regulators therefore repeatedly asked Clifford, Altman, and the CCAH shareholders for assurances on this point, and repeatedly received them. The Federal Reserve and the OCC were now ready to accept these assurances. State regulators, especially Sidney A. Bailey, the chief bank regulator for Virginia, responsible for overseeing FGB banks in Virginia, were not.
Bailey had served at OCC for twenty years as a bank examiner before becoming the number one bank regulator for Virginia in 1978. Bailey had previously been visited at the state banking offices in Richmond by Clifford and Altman, and had felt that Clifford's representations to him were theatrical and rehearsed. Clifford had argued that America was strengthened by foreigners recycling petrodollars to the U.S., while Bailey believed in local control, so that regulators would have access to the people in charge if there were trouble.(63)
As far as Bailey was concerned, there was no way of knowing who this Middle Eastern group really represented, what they intended to do with the bank after they took it over, or why they had selected this bank in the first place. Bailey believed that banks were like churches, not just basic local institutions in which citizens placed their money, but the repositories for that which is good and sound in a community, the embodiments of a community's past, present and future. The representations that were being made to him by Clifford and Altman were designed to provide comfort to him concerning the intentions of the Middle Eastern investors, but to Bailey, they were inherently unverifiable. For that reason, Bailey had told the Federal Reserve that as far as the State of Virginia was concerned, "the proposed acquisition will be inimical to the convenience and needs of the community."(64)
As Bailey later testified:
Representations were made that the operation of the subsidiary banks of Financial General Bankshares . . . would be improved, that their quality and quantity of service to the communities they served would be raised . . . However, how that was to be done was not made clear and it seemed, with control to pass outside the country, it seemed, well, a little hard to believe that the real intent of this group of individuals was to improve the quality of banking service in the Shenandoah Valley or Virginia or in McLean and Washington, D.C. or anywhere else. There wasn't any real incentive for them to do that . . . Take me at my word. Believe me. Have I ever lied to you? That sort of thing. . . I had the word of the people speaking to me that none of these negative detrimental things would occur, and nothing more.(65)
Bailey was also concerned about the corporate walls created by the holding company structure of CCAH, CCAI, and FGB. With neither CCAH nor CCAI being located in the U.S., Bailey felt the offshore holding company structure provided an invitation to abuse. He was sufficiently concerned about the problem that he had contacted both the State Department and CIA in an effort to learn more about the shareholders, but had received no information from either about any of those involved in the transaction.(66) In all of these objections, Bailey was joined by state regulators from Tennessee, who, in concert with the local bankers at FGB's Tennessee branches, opposed the takeover as against the interests of the community.
In response to Bailey's concerns, and in an effort to put the allegations concerning BCCI's involvement to rest, the Federal Reserve scheduled an unusual hearing on the CCAH application for April 23, 1981, convened by associate counsel Robert Mannion. Prior to the hearing the Federal Reserve advised Baldwin Tuttle, as lawyer for the CCAH group, that the first issue the Federal Reserve wanted answered was how the various shareholders became involved in investing in U.S. banks and decided to acquire FGB. In the letter, the Federal Reserve also asked the applicants to "clarify the historical, current and expected future relationships between the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, S.A., London, England, and its affiliated companies, on the one hand, and Applicants and their principals, on the other."
The hearing opening with Bailey reiterating his opposition to the takeover, and reiterating the concerns he had previously expressed to the Federal Reserve by letter. First, the U.S. might not be able to insure that these foreign owners would abide by its laws. Second, it would be difficult to tell who really controlled the bank. Third, it was possible the bank's new Middle Eastern owners might strip the bank of its assets and move them elsewhere before anyone found out. Bailey listed another half dozen related reasons, mostly related to the difficulties of verifying financial information of foreign shareholders. Finally, Bailey suggested that the key issue the Federal Reserve should consider was why the Middle Eastern investors were willing to pay so much for the bank.
What is the motive giving rise to these protracted, expensive campaign to buy Financial General? Allegedly, Financial General is viewed by these applicants simply as an investment, but it is obvious that the price which the applicants are prepared to offer for control of Financial General bears little logical relationship to either the actual book value of those shares or their price in the market prior to the initial stimulation of the market by the applications or their agents. There can be little doubt that some incentives other than orthodox investment motives must have prompted this effort. . . One obvious plausible answer to this riddle lies in the unique position of Financial General in the market. No other single financial institution is situated in both the financial and government hubs of the United States.(67)
Bailey warned the other regulators that he believed the purchasers had some secret agenda. Bailey did not know for sure what it was, and neither did any of the other regulators. Until they could determine what it was, the Federal Reserve should turn the application down.
In response to this impassioned presentation by Bailey, Clark Clifford opened the presentation of the case on behalf of the Middle Eastern investors. He began by expressing his regret at Bailey's concerns, and promised to answer them, noting that if the Fed permitted the acquisition, Clifford looked forward "to many years of an agreeable relationship between us, Mr. Bailey."
Clifford described the genesis of the FGB takeover as arising from Adham -- not BCCI and Abedi, not Jackson Stephens or Lance -- and that as a result of Adham becoming interested in the bank, Adham had interested his associates and friends, and brought BCCI into the picture to analyze FGB as an investment.(68)
Clifford said that the Middle Eastern group put together by Adham was interested in bringing substantial new capital to the bank as passive investors, and that in addition to Senator Symington and Clifford, other prominent Americans such as retired General Elwood Quesada and General James Gavin would serve on FGB's boards, demonstrating the honorable intentions of the bank's shareholders and their commitment to quality.
He also suggested that it was critical for the national interests of the Untied States itself that the Federal Reserve permit the application to go forward.
It is in the interest of our country that an effort is made to bring back to the United States as many of the dollars as we can that through the years we send over to the OPEC countries.(69)
Clifford explained that some $90 billion in payments had left the U.S. for crude oil to the Persian Gulf countries the previous year. If those funds were taken and invested in West Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland, they would bring no benefit to the United States, whereas if the application was approved, it would be the U.S. that would benefit.
Clifford then introduced the investors, beginning with Sheikh Kamal Adham, whom Clifford described not as the brother-in-law to the late King, nor as the former head of Saudi intelligence, but merely as a prominent Saudi businessman. Clifford said that he had the "deepest respect for his [Adham's] character, for his reputation, for his honor and for his integrity." Clifford suggested that Bailey's concerns were founded on some naive form of anti-foreign bias. He warned that such anti-Arab bigotry was unfair and implied that such a factor could not justify a refusal to grant the CCAH application:
I believe deeply in this country. I believe deeply in its attitude of fairness. I believe deeply in its attitude that it is a country of laws and not of men. I do not believe in prejudice. I do not believe in bias. Our government does not, and with all of these factors, it seems to me that these men bring into this operation those qualities that our country can well receive.(70)
Adham then addressed the Federal Reserve, reiterating the account that his interest in FGB began not with Abedi and BCCI, but with Hassan Yassin of the Saudi Arabian embassy, that BCCI was brought in by Adham to evaluate the bank, and that Adham then learned that BCCI was already independently and coincidentally involved in evaluating the bank for other Middle Eastern investors.
Adham told the Federal Reserve that BCCI was a banker for him and some of the other investors, but that there were no understandings or agreements involving him or any of the investors and BCCI concerning FGB. Parroting language used by Clifford and Altman in formal statements to the Federal Reserve, Adham testified that "whatever relationships are developed between Financial General and BCCI in the future, if any, are matters to be decided by the new management of Financial General based upon that institution's best interests."(71)
Similar statements followed from Faisal al Fulaij, Abdul Raouf Khalil, and El Sayed El Gohary.
At this point in the hearing, Mannion, the Federal Reserve lawyer conducting the hearing, focused on the contradiction between Adham's explanation of how he became interested in FGB, and the apparent earlier involvement of BCCI and Abedi with the Lance group.
MR. MANNION: As I read the statements . . . Sheikh Adham and Mr. Fulaij were originally interested in this investment by the Bank of Credit and Commerce, BCCI.
MR. ALTMAN: That is not correct. . . I believe that Sheikh Adham's testimony was that he was advised of this by a friend who worked in the Saudi Arabian Embassy, Mr Yassin . . . Mr. Fulaij has said that he was seeking to make investments abroad, particularly in the United States, and asked for his representatives to locate some of them and advise him of their availability. They had contacted BCCI in that effort, and BCCI brought to their attention the fact that there was stock available in Financial General.(72)
Thus, according to Adham, Fulaij and Altman, it was sheer coincidence that BCCI was the investment advisor for everyone involved. This testimony, provided to the regulators for the purpose of attempting to reconcile the otherwise inconsistent accounts provided by Lance, Altman and others of how BCCI came to be involved in the takeover, strained the credulity of regulators even in 1981. Mannion again asked Altman whether Adham was the leader of the investor group, the person who had brought together all of the other investors. Adham responded by explaining, again, that there were two independent groups of Middle Eastern investors -- one Saudi, the other Kuwaiti -- who had become interested in FGB as a matter of utter coincidence. Oddly, at this point, Adham had chosen to ignore the third group involved, the Abu Dhabi investors, entirely. Given the fact that Abu Dhabi was even then the largest shareholder in BCCI apart from BCCI itself, the omission may not have been inadvertent.
SHEIKH ADHAM: I invited some of my friends from my part of the world and I guess some friends from Kuwait invited some friends from Kuwait and some of their friends. But I am called the lead because perhaps I now own more shares than the others.(73)
After a lunch break, Mannion returned to the issue that was troubling him.
MR. MANNION: We are still a little bit uncertain as to how the group came about. In Sheikh Adham's written and oral presentation this morning, he indicated how he became interested in Financial General, and then went to BCCI and had them do an analysis of the organization. Then we understand that Mr. Fulaij, on his own, was looking for investments in the United States, and he was advised by BCCI to get involved in or suggested that he might want to get involved in Financial General. Was Sheikh Adham aware that Mr. Fulaij was getting involved in Financial General or when Mr. Fulaij made his investment, was he aware that Sheikh Adham was involved in it?(74)
This question had apparently not been anticipated by Adham, Fulaij, or their lawyers, and hence Adham and Fulaij replied as follows:
SHEIKH ADHAM: I don't know what -- I certainly don't know.
MR. FULAIJ: The same.(75)
Mannion, troubled by the unbelievable nature of the coincidence, persisted.
MR. MANNION: So you were told that Financial General was a good investment by BCCI, and on that basis, is it just a coincidence that BCCI is first asked by Sheikh Adham to do an investigation or analysis of Financial General, and . . . they then gave advice to several of their investment clients to be involved in Financial General?
MR. FULAIJ: (Nods in the affirmative.)
SHEIKH ADHAM: That is very possible. Such things happen in our parts of the world.(76)
Adham then advised the Federal Reserve -- falsely -- that he had not met Fulaij for ten years, had no immediate contacts with him and that their mutual involvement was mere coincidence. In fact, both had been involved with other transactions involving BCCI, including acting as nominees for BCCI in connection with recent stock transactions involving BCCI's oil company, Attock Oil.
Concerned by the nature of Mannion's questions, Adham sought to put his concerns to rest directly.
SHEIKH ADHAM: I think that from the line of questions, it appears there is doubt that somebody or BCCI is behind all of this deal. I would like to assure you that each one on his own rights will not accept in any way to be a cover for somebody else.(77)
In an effort to enlighten the Federal Reserve, Clifford and Altman then compared BCCI's role as an investment advisor to Merrill Lynch in the United States -- independently looking at investment opportunities for its clients. Another lawyer for the BCCI group, Baldwin Tuttle, a former Federal Reserve attorney who previously had been Mannion's superior at the Fed, then took his turn to explain his understanding of what had happened:
MR. TUTTLE: Both [Adham] and Mr. Fulaij have stated that originally they were buying shares as an investment like anyone else buys a small minority interest as an investment. It is only after Financial General commenced the litigation that they considered the possibility of increasing their shareholding.(78)
Mannion then returned to the issue of BCCI directly, noting the similarity of the names "Bank of Credit and Commerce" on the one hand, and "Credit and Commerce Holdings" on the other. Why were the names so similar? Clifford responded:
The terms "Credit" and the term "Commerce" are terms that are used extensively in the Persian Gulf in financial affairs. His Excellency [referring to Adham] has said that he deals with banks that used the terms "credit," and used the terms "commerce." Of course a number of banks used the term "Commerce." . . . I know of no additional reasoning behind it.(79)
Clifford then reiterated the key representation pertaining to the application before the Federal Reserve. In response to a question from Mannion as to precisely the function of BCCI in the application, Clifford testified:
None. There is no function of any kind on the part of BCCI. I think when the question was asked, having to do with what might occur in the future, I think somehow may have given the answer, "well, that would depend upon the judgment of Financial General in the future." I know of no present relationship. I know of no planned future relationship that exists, and other than, I don't know what else there is to say.(80)
Based on the representations made by Clifford, Altman, Tuttle, Adham, Fulaij, and the other Middle Eastern investors, the Federal Reserve, despite its obvious suspicions, approved the application on August 25, 1981. The Federal Reserve also granted a request, made by Altman on behalf of the Middle Eastern investors and CCAH on June 2, 1981, to seal portions of the transcript of the hearing, preventing anyone outside the Federal Reserve from learning the identities of several of the shareholders.(81) A year later, perhaps as a way of breaking with the past and moving beyond the ugly publicity pertaining to the litigation over the takeover, and the bank's new Middle Eastern ownership, FGB formally changed its name of its banks to First American, and its holding company to First American Corporation.
In approving the application, the Federal Reserve explicitly accepted "the entire record" of statements made to it by the Middle Eastern investors, BCCI, and their attorneys. These included certain statements made in the April 23, 1981 hearing and in the applications which constituted loop-holes regarding BCCI's ability to be involved with FGB in the future, and which were contrary to the understandings which the OCC had said were critical for its approval of BCCI's application. These statements suggested that if BCCI loaned funds to the shareholders after the original acquisition in connection with CCAH, such loans would not be precluded. Together with the Federal Reserve's acceptance of the concept that BCCI could act as a liaison between FGB and the shareholders in its capacity as "investment advisor," the ability of BCCI to "lend" to its shareholders following the initial acquisition created a mechanism by which BCCI could at any time "call" its interest in CCAH shares, in collusion with its nominees, by "lending" funds, secured by those shares, on which the nominees defaulted, leaving BCCI in possession of the shares. In the decade to come, this device was used by BCCI repeatedly to deceive the regulators, in some cases with the apparent knowledge of some of BCCI's attorneys and agents in the U.S.
While there had been numerous warning signs in front of the Federal Reserve prior to its approval of the CCAH application to take over CCAH, and again, recurrently, through the 1980's, the Federal Reserve did not conclude that it had been lied to about BCCI's role until December, 1990, when attorneys for Sheikh Zayed and BCCI at the firm of Patton, Boggs & Blow, prompted by investigative activity by the District Attorney of New York and other factors, advised the Federal Reserve of the apparent control of First American by BCCI. Seven months later, after BCCI had been closed globally, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve voted to issue an order banning the four Middle Eastern investors from banking activities in the United States forever, on the basis of the false statements they made to the Federal Reserve in the course of the 1978 and 1980 applications to take over FGB, and in the course of the April 23, 1981 hearing. In that order, the Federal Reserve also made findings as to the true state of affairs pertaining to the FGB takeover a decade earlier.
On July 29, 1991, the Federal Reserve found:
** BCCI owned CCAH in violation of the Bank Holding Company Act.
** BCCI concealed its intended ownership and control of CCAH at the time of CCAH's 1980 application to acquire First American.
** At least four of the Middle Eastern investors involved in the 1980 application were nominees for BCCI, including all of the Middle Easterners who had appeared in person before the Federal Reserve during its April 23, 1978 hearing, Adham, Fulaij, Khalil, and Jawhary. In addition, other BCCI nominees included the head of one emirate within the United Arab Emirates -- Sheikh Naomi, ruler of the Emirate of Ajman and a corporation wholly owned by the head of a second emirate, Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed al-Sharqi, ruler of the Emirate of Fujeriah. Other nominees included Sheikh Shorafa, a government official of the United Arab Emirates.
** The head of BCCI, Agha Hasan Abedi, and his chief assistance, Swaleh Naqvi, had coordinated the nominee scheme for BCCI.
The Federal Reserve found that beginning in late 1977, BCCI began using these nominees to purchase stock in Financial General through an arrangement under BCCI loaned the money to the nominees to purchase the CCAH shares, subject to side agreements under which the nominees were not liable for serving or repaying the loans. Under the terms of the scheme, the nominees signed deeds to transfer their stock in blank, leaving it to BCCI to fill in the name of the transferee at BCCI's convenience. BCCI was also authorized by the nominees to sell the shares at whatever price it chose and to keep any profits it might earn, and BCCI promised to indemnify the nominees against any losses they might sustain for acting as nominees. BCCI was also given the power to vote the shares held by its nominees, had powers of attorney to sell the shares, and agreed to make fixed payments in fees to the nominees in compensation for their agreement to act as nominees.(82) The Federal Reserve found that BCCI also financed the start-up costs of CCAH and a $50 million loan to First American supposedly from an outside bank, BAII, which had interlocking directors with BCCI.(83)
In short, BCCI, Kamal Adham, Faisal al Fulaij, A.R.K. Khalil, and the other Middle Eastern nominees had secretly done precisely what the Federal Reserve had sought to assure they would not do, and had done precisely what they had promised not to do, in writing and in testimony to the Federal Reserve prior to its approval of the 1980 CCAH application. From late 1977 through December 1990, BCCI and its nominees lied to the Federal Reserve, repeatedly filling out false reports to the Federal Reserve, and providing the Federal Reserve false statements and information.
1. See e.g. Price Waterhouse Note of Audit Committee Meeting on 4 April 1989, BCCI, "SN [Swaleh Naqvi] said that it was unlikely there could be a merger between BCCI and CCAH in the immediate future, although it is possible that there could be a reverse merger in the future. In the view of BCCI's problems in the USA, he did not consider it advisable that this possibility was discussed [publicly] for a couple of years."
2. London Daily Telegraph Magazine November 19, 1991, "No Questions Asked."
3. Staff interview, Lance, October, 1991.
4. Harris and Berry, "Arab Investors Want Lance to Manage Funds," Washington Post, December 18, 1977, A1.
5. Testimony of Heimann, S. Hrg. 102-379, p. 76.
6. Id at 77.
7. Washington Post, April 2, 1978, John F. Berry and Jerry Knight.
9. See Washington Post, April 2, 1978.
10. Washington Post, April 2, 1978.
12. SEC civil complaint, US District Court Washington DC, March 17, 1078; see also Washington Post, March 18, 1978.
14. Lance, S. Hrg. 102-350, Pt. 3, p. 5.
15. Id. p. 6.
16. Id at 8.
18. Id. p. 11.
19. Forbes, December 15, 1976, p. 95, "A Couple of Country Slickers."
20. Washington Post, April 2, 1978.
21. S. Hrg. 102-350, Pt. 3 pp. 8-9; see also Federal Reserve Hearing April 23, 1981 transcript p. 54.
22. Federal Reserve Hearing transcript, April 23, 1981, p. 25; Clifford, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt 3., p. 59.
23. Summary of Charges, U.S. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, In the Matter of BCCI, No. 91-043, Paragraph 22, July 29, 1991.
24. Id. at 12.
25. Harris and Berry, Washington Post, December 18,1 977, A1.
27. Resume, Ghaith Pharaon, in BCCI Senate documents; see Atlanta Business Chronicle, April 27, 1987. While "Dr." Pharaon's doctorate was self-conferred, his decision to adopt the honorific had lasting impact. Even after Pharaon had been indicted by the Justice Department and New York District Attorney and cited for numerous violations of banking law, federal banking regulators continued to refer to him in prepared and oral testimony before the Subcommittee as "Dr. Pharaon." See, e.g. prepared testimony of John Stone, head of enforcement, FDIC, May 14, 1992, which refers to Pharaon as "Dr Pharaon" some 33 times, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 5 pp. 158-163.
29. In its suit in the FGB case, the SEC found the FGB takeover battle formally began just a few days later, on November 29, 1977, when Lance, Stephens, Metzger and BCCI, through Abedi, set in motion a plan for taking over FGB. Lance began buying up the bank's stock, telling none of the sellers that the secret purchaser was BCCI.
30. The Economist, April 1, 1978; Lance, id., p. 14.
31. See e.g. The Economist, April 1, 1978, "The Nine Lives of Bert Lance."
32. Facts on File, March 24, 1978; The Economist, September 9, 1978.
33. Memorandum, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, January 4, 1978, Comptroller John Heimann.
35. Memorandum, OCC, to File from John G. Hensel, January 17, 1978.
36. Memorandum, OCC, Serino to Heimann, April 3, 1978, "Notes On Meeting with Pharaon."
37. Various documents, OCC files on NBG, March-July, 1978.
38. See e.g. memorandum, Patton, Boggs & Blow re: National Bank of Georgia, March 14, 1991.
39. Summary of Charges, U.S. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, In the Matter of BCCI, #91-043 Paragraph 181, July 29, 1991.
40. Lance, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 3 p. 32.
41. Clifford, Id., p. 70.
42. Id. at 59.
43. Id. at 60.
44. Clifford, id., p. 70.
45. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 3 p. 63.
46. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 3 pp. 25-27.
48. See e.g. Summary of charges, Federal Reserve, In re Clifford, 92-080, July 29, 1992, Paragraph 23.
49. Confidential and Privileged Attendance Note, November 19, 1990, BCCI Attorney memcom of meeting with Roy Carlson, Exhibit D in G&H Montage case, id.; S Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 4 pp. 286-298.
50. Wall Street Journal, February 14, 1978.
51. Washington Post, March 22, 1978.
52. Letter, Robert Altman to Mannion of Federal Reserve, May 9, 1978.
53. See e.g. Clifford written testimony, id., at 71.
54. Clifford, id., at 72.
55. Federal Reserve Application, October 19, 1978.
56. Plaintiff's exhibit, Helms 9, G&H Montage, id., reprinted S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 4 p. 237. Helms' involvement with various BCCI figures is discussed in detail in the chapter concerning BCCI's links to U.S. and foreign intelligence.
57. Peter Mantias, "BCCI: Case reveals former CIA chief's ties to bank," Atlanta Constitution, February 15, 1992, A1.
58. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 3 pp. 75-77.
59. Letter, Tuttle to Altman, May 27, 1980, on file at Federal Reserve.
60. Tuttle to Bostian, Federal Reserve Bank Richmond, November 5, 1980.
62. S. Hrg. 102-350, Pt. 3 pp. 328-330.
63. Staff interview, Bailey, April, 1991. See also testimony of Bailey, S. Hrg. 102-379, pp. 60-63.
64. S. Hrg. 102-379, p. 61.
65. S. Hrg. 102-379 pp. 61-63.
66. Staff interview with Bailey, April, 1991; at the time, the CIA knew precisely who Adham was, having had extensive contact with him in his role as the liaison between Saudi and U.S. intelligence, but did not advise Bailey of this relationship. A detailed treatment of Adham and of the CIA are contained in separate chapters of this report.
67. Bailey, Federal Reserve Hearing, April 23, 1981, pp. 15-17.
68. Federal Reserve Hearing Transcript, April 23, 1978 p. 26.
69. Transcript, Federal Reserve Hearing, April 23, 1981.
70. Clifford, Federal Reserve Hearing April 23, 1981, transcript p. 46.
71. Adham, Federal Reserve Hearing transcript April 23, 1981 p. 56.
72. Federal Reserve Hearing transcript April 23, 1981 p. 75.
73. Id p. 76.
74. Id. p. 78.
75. Id p. 78.
76. Id. p. 79.
77. Id. p. 80.
78. Id p. 90.
79. Id. p. 143.
80. Id. p. 144.
81. The Federal Reserve only unsealed this material in 1990, after providing it in a heavily redacted form to journalist Larry Gurwin following repeated requests from Gurwin in the preparation of his ground-breaking story on the BCCI-First American connection for Regardies' magazine.
82. Summary of Charges, US Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, No. 91-043, July 29, 1992, pp. 1-11.
83. Id. Paragraphs 152-154; see also staff interview, Akbar Bilgrami, July 13, 1992.
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