BCCI IN THE UNITED STATES, PART TWO
ACQUISITION, CONSOLIDATION, AND CONSEQUENCES
Initial Plan For BCCI in the U.S. After the Takeover
Following the exhausting process of the FGB takeover, BCCI began undertaking a number of steps to carry out Abedi's plan for penetrating the U.S. banking and capital markets, with the intention of making BCCI's U.S. holdings its largest and of controlling a substantial market share of U.S. banking overall by building First American into one of the twenty largest banks in the United States.(1)
Abedi set into motion a dual approach, in which he would establish branch offices of BCCI in the U.S. which would be permitted to accept deposits from foreigners but not take deposits from Americans, and use those offices to feed business to the U.S. banks BCCI owned. An undated BCCI memorandum, titled, "A Strategy for the USA," gives the flavor of the bank's thinking.
The memorandum states that BCCI's purpose in the U.S. is "to make it the most successful country in the BCC network in the next 5 years," through building upon BCCI's existing base of correspondent banking for Third World Central Banks, trade finance, and private banking, and adding to that base the financing of the "export of technology and services from USA." In addition, BCCI would use its U.S. network to branch out into the U.S.'s then profitable real estate development industry, growing through direct investments in U.S. real estate.(2)
According to the memorandum, "penetration of the market" would require BCCI's presence in at least twelve jurisdictions: California, Washington state, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Chicago, DC, Virginia and Maryland.
Accordingly, Abedi assembled a team of BCCI people for North America, placing them, variously, at the BCCI representative offices and branches, at First American, and at National Bank of Georgia. Within BCCI, management discussions on operations in the United States viewed the operations of FGB/First American, National Bank of Georgia and BCCI's branch offices as an organic whole, to be thought of together.
As described by BCCI regional general manager Abdur Sakhia:
In any management discussions, in any discussions on our future in the United States, we would think of three entities -- BCCI, National Bank of Georgia, First American, then Financial General -- in the same breath. Who would be going where, who would work in which entity, what area of business would be handled by which entity, allocation of businesses, markets, geographical territories, all took place as if this was one entity.(3)
To ensure a discreet BCCI role in its new U.S. empire, Abedi placed key employees at each of the institutions BCCI had purchased. At National Bank of Georgia, four officials with ties to Abedi or BCCI were installed. At First American, BCCI limited its direct employment of officers to First American New York, where long-time BCCI officials K. K. Elley and Aijaz Afridi were put into place, where they continued to draw benefits from BCCI while officially employed by First American. Elley obtained his job at First American in 1983 as a consequence of Swaleh Naqvi, the number two official at BCCI, telling Altman to hire him. Afridi, who had previously worked for another secretly-controlled BCCI entity in Switzerland, Banque de Commerce et de Placement of Geneva, was placed at the First American through Abedi's intervention.(4)
From the point of view of BCCI, it was the senior partner in this arrangement, despite the official title given to Clark Clifford as chairman of the board following the death of Stuart Symington. As an article written for Worldpaper on August 24, 1982 following interviews with BCCI officials, including Abedi, described it, BCCI's intention was to "manage" First American and all of its branches in the U.S., just as it was already managing the National Bank of Oman. However, in the years that followed, mid-level BCCI officials in the United States would feel that they were engaged in a struggle for control of First American with Clifford and Altman. Whenever BCCI officials would push too hard to more directly involved in controlling First American's affairs, Clifford and Altman would appeal to Abedi, and Abedi would usually -- but not always -- take steps limiting the BCCI intrusion into First American.
To preserve deniability for the regulators, Abedi and top BCCI management sought to segregate and compartmentalize their activities, making certain that Clifford and Altman would meet separately with Abedi outside the presence of other BCCI officials. As BCCI regional manager Abdur Sakhia described it, typically, when Clifford and Altman visited BCCI offices in New York and Miami from 1982 onwards, Mr. Abedi would meet with them first, they would leave, and Abedi would then separately brief the BCCI staff as to what happened.(5)
In pursuit of a unified U.S. strategy, within one year of the FGB takeover, BCCI moved to establish its U.S. presence directly, opening offices in New York, Miami, and San Francisco, with later branches and representative offices targeted for Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Tampa, Boca Raton, and Washington, D.C. These offices primarily engaged in marketing commercial banking services to import-export businesses, and in providing personal banking to "high net worth" individuals who were non-U.S. citizens, and therefore permitted to make deposits at a branch office of a foreign bank in the U.S.
BCCI worked make these branch offices high-profile from the beginning. In Miami, for example, the bank deliberately sought out well-known public officials and invited them to visit the bank. Both past and present Florida governors accepted the invitation, as did a U.S. Senator, and the then-son of the Vice President of the United States, Jeb Bush, who was at the time Florida's Secretary of State. Miami branch chief Abdur Sakhia said although BCCI had only been in south Florida a short time before its opening, it was already growing rapidly and becoming profitable, and political figures were glad to help the bank celebrate its growth.
We started in April 1982, but our formal opening in August 1982. Governor Graham came to that opening. Jeb Bush came to that opening too, along with Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. Oil ministers from Venezuela, Abu Dhabi, the minister of economy and finance from Jamaica, Barbados, officials from Central Banks from all over the region. We had eight to ten ministers and central bank governors and leading businessmen from Venezuela and Peru and Trinidad, everywhere. It was a very successful opening. . .I have a videotape of portions of those in which Graham is being introduced to all BCCI people. Jeb Bush is also in those videotapes. Dante Fascell came to my house. We had met socially a couple of times. Reuben Askew came to the bank several times and had been to my house. Paula Hawkins came to the bank several times separately.(6)
Shortly after purchasing First American, BCCI recognized that expansion of First American's operations to include offices in New York would be expensive. Accordingly, Abedi and BCCI decided to add $30 million in capitalization to First American/CCAH, with some of these funds coming from the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi's deposits with BCCI, and the remainder from BCCI itself, as loans to its nominees, Fulaij, Khalil, and Shorafa.(7)
Initially, First American had intended to retain the Bank of Commerce in New York, which had been one of the banks owned by FGB in New York. However, the Bank of Commerce board opposed the acquisition, and purchased the New York branch themselves, leaving First American without offices in New York City. As Robert Altman testified:
In the spring of 1982 we were then in a very awkward, and to some extent, unhappy posture. We were under an obligation to sell the New York City bank. And we were under a need to set up a new bank and really start it from scratch. We had nothing in the city. We had no staff. We had no location. We had no resources. It put us, as I say, in a difficult position. . . We essentially had two contacts in New York. One was the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz that was cocounsel with us . . . the other was BCCI which had a representative office and was acting as an investment advisor. And we used those resources to try to get set up in New York.(8)
Thus, according to Altman, BCCI, acting as an investment advisor to the shareholders, helped First American set up its New York offices as a convenience to Clifford, Altman and First American. This account raises the question of why, under the circumstances of having no resources in New York City, First American would have wanted to establish officers there at all. New York City was already among the most competitive of all banking environments in the United States with giants as Citibank, Chase Manhattan, Chemical Bank, as well as dozens of other already well-established domestic and foreign banks.
The key business reason for opening a New York bank of First American was BCCI's desire to have it become the correspondent bank for BCCI's commercial bank relationships in the United States, and to act as BCCI's U.S. alter ego, free from interference by the DC-Maryland-Virginia banks of First American, which were being managed by Clifford and Altman.
A memorandum dated July 25, 1983, from BCCI employee Aijaz Afridi to BCCI Number 2 Swaleh Naqvi, with copies to BCCI officials Kemal Shoaib and K.K. Elley, described BCCI's plan for First American New York in terms that suggest it would operate independently from the other First American banks, apart from using them as sources of funds and sources for "their entire international business," in which First American New York would "become their Central Treasury."(9)
The memorandum discusses such issues as how to achieve growth and profitability for First American New York, how to project its image domestically and internationally, how to introduce the bank to Third World countries, new products and services, and related issues. Under "basic assumptions," Afridi noted:
Management style and Philosophy will be on the pattern of BCC -- No interference from the Holding Co. and free hand to the Management.(10)
The record also shows that BCCI's involvement in directing the establishment of this office was pervasive. For example, as both BCCI officials and BCCI documents show, it was BCCI, not First American, that determined how much office space First American would lease in New York. As Sakhia testified:
The decision of hiring, decision for acquisition of space . . . the New York office of First American was identified by BCC officers and approved by Mr. Abedi. He made the decision to rent that space.(11)
Over the ensuing decade, the space would prove grossly excessive for the actual needs of First American, and its costs would become a significant drain on First American's resources. A letter dated December 13, 1982 from Elley to Swaleh Naqvi, Abedi's number two at BCCI, on BCC New York stationery, documents the nature of the relationship between BCCI and First American in New York. In the letter, Elley brings Naqvi up to date with a meeting he has had with Altman concerning the First American Bank in New York, and covering the subletting of space at 350 Park Avenue, renovation of the space, selection of board directors, recruitment of key staff, selection of auditors and attorneys, and coordination with the holding company and the shareholders -- all matters being handled for First American by Elley as a BCCI employee and reported to Naqvi, the BCCI senior executive at a time when Clifford and Altman were ostensibly in control of First American.(12)
BCCI also handled the purchase of new branch offices in New York for First American. In March 1983, while Elley was still employed by BCCI as head of its New York representative office, he began discussions with Bankers Trust officials regarding the purchase of branches of their bank for First American. Six weeks later, when First American submitted bids for the branches, BCCI officials -- not First American officials -- handled the negotiations.(13)
From the outset, officials at National Bank of Georgia and First American frequently travelled to meet with top management at BCCI. Soon after Pharaon's purchase of the National Bank of Georgia was approved by the OCC, NBG hired as its president former Bank of America officer Roy Carlson, who had worked closely with Abedi in the Middle East. Carlson soon began making trips to London to visit BCCI and in return, entertaining Abedi and his wife in Atlanta. In 1983, Carlson made two BCCI-related trips abroad, to London and Athens. In 1984, he made three such trips. In 1985, he made three such trips again, together with trips to Miami and Chicago to meet with BCCI officials there. Tariq Jamil, a former BCCI employee who went to National Bank of Georgia until its sale to First American in 1986, when he returned to BCCI, had a similar pattern of BCCI-related trips, as did two other Pakistani NBG employees with ties to BCCI. And National Bank of Georgia in turn financed the travel of top BCCI officials like Abedi and Naqvi to the United States, beginning as early as August, 1982.(14)
Apart from the situation in New York, where BCCI's branch office managed the start up of First American before its two principal officers there, Elley and Afridi, transferred to the new start up office of First American, BCCI was sufficiently busy during the first two years of its start-up in the U.S. that little effort was made to coordinate the activities of First American and BCCI overall. For example, the first branch in Manhattan of First American Bank opened its doors for the first time on March 1, 1984. By late 1984, BCCI had established a network of branches, representative offices and agencies in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America, including Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. Abedi believed that both First American and BCCI were sufficiently well-established that it was time to begin coordinating the different parts of BCCI's empire. In early 1984, Abedi asked the BCCI officials in the Americas to form a committee, which first met in April, 1985 in New York, "to coordinate the efforts of different locations of BCC and other institutions so that the President's desire to have a totality in approach is achieved." (emphasis added)(15)
In attendance at this first meeting were representatives of all of BCCI's offices in the United States and Canada, along with Elley and Afridi from First American New York and Tariq Jamil from the National Bank of Georgia. Its purpose was described by BCCI officers as coordinating the efforts of the entire group of BCCI-controlled institutions, including National Bank of Georgia and First American, to increase their overall market share in the United States. During the meeting, Jamil presented a report on the operations of NBG and Elley presented a report on the operations of First American Bank of New York. The memorandum summarizing the meeting ended with the following conclusion:
Mr. Elley concluded that in America we are sitting on 7 Billion dollar assets and this is just the beginning. There is much to do and inspite [sic] of diversity of operations as different agencies and banks we have to find a common denominator.(16)
The reference to seven billion dollars accurately described BCCI's assets in the U.S. only if one included both National Bank of Georgia and First American.
According to Abdur Sakhia, who was the U.S. coordinator for the meetings, the key mission of the meetings was to find ways to better cross-market between BCCI, First American, and National Bank of Georgia:
There was a plan within BCCI to market for First American. The international division, based in London, marketed for correspondent relationships for BCC group, including First American. So not only the branches of BCCI worldwide sent business to First American, but BCCI correspondents also were sending business to First American. Similarly, the deposits of U.S. residents or U.S. corporations that we could not take in BCCI branches because of the agency status we would market to First American. . . we were parking -- we were giving profits to First American. . . because the overhead, the marketing overhead, was absorbed by BCCI, the profit that was made was made in First American. But it was coming back to us because it was one and the same thing. . . because First American was owned by BCCI.(17)
Later memoranda of the America's Coordinating Committee of BCCI described the sharing of information between First American's officers handling Latin America and BCCI's; the possibility of BCCI procuring mortgages and selling them to First American; and similar coordination among BCCI, National Bank of Georgia, and First American New York.
The absence of First American's Virginia, Maryland and DC banks from these memoranda, despite the inclusion of First American New York, is notable. Clifford and Altman, in their Senate testimony, suggested that the lack of involvement of their branches was evidence that they were deceived by BCCI and BCCI officers at First American New York, Afridi and Elley. An alternate explanation, consistent with the testimony of a number of BCCI officials interviewed, suggests that there was an ongoing battle between BCCI's officials in the United States on the one hand, and between Clifford and Altman on the other, for control of BCCI's empire in the United States; that Abedi insisted on the purchase of First American New York to meet BCCI's needs, despite the lack of market justification for the purchase on the part of First American itself; and that Clifford and Altman temporarily ceded control of aspects of First American New York while jealously guarding First American's metropolitan Washington franchises against encroachment by BCCI's Pakistani second-level managers. Later, Altman would try to regain that control.
Nazir Chinoy, head of BCCI's Paris branch, learned of the struggle over First American New York at a BCCI annual conference in Luxembourg in 1985, from Afridi himself, who confessed over a glass of wine that he was increasingly unhappy at First American New York.
Afridi felt that Altman was not permitting him to run First American on BCCI lines and yet he was answerable to Mr. Abedi for profits. He said Altman was interfering in the management and that he had reported to Naqvi on many an occasion about Altman interfering with his management, or trying to change the management structure or style.(18)
As Chinoy described it, from his point of view as a BCCI official operating outside the U.S., there was not so much a separation between First American and BCCI as two different types of management, one Pakistani and one American.
I saw rivals competing for power -- Afridi wanting to be the top man, and Altman wanting to be the top man.(19)
Abdur Sakhia, who was directly involved in U.S. expansion plans for BCCI, saw the problem in similar terms.
I was insistent that BCCI should have a direct presence of BCCI in the United States because we had a lot of opportunity, we were marketing with out hands tied behind our back because we were agencies. And he would say: Well, why don't you do marketing for our other banks, First American Bank, for National Bank of Georgia? Here are two banks; what do you want? I'd say: Sir, it makes a difference because we do not control the transactions, we do not provide the services directly . . . We were frustrated at the response time, turnaround time, service of First American. In BCC we in terms of business used to give a very good turnaround time, very good service. First American was in that sense very bureaucratic.(20)
Numerous BCCI and First American documents demonstrate that the offices of the two banks were working together in the early 1980's in an effort to expand First American's and National Bank of Georgia's business, especially in the international realm. For example, BCCI officers helped First American develop relationships with the Government of Sri Lanka for handling it imports of U.S. agricultural products under the Department of Agriculture's PL 480 program; BCCI officials set up meetings with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to which officials of First American and National Bank of Georgia would be invited; and sponsored meetings with officers of various Latin American central banks.
Documents retrieved by Subcommittee staff from BCCI's files at its former offices in New York after liquidation provide detailed information about some of the joint marketing efforts. One such document, a discussion paper concerning "Relationship With First American Bank," describes the relationship between BCCI and First American for joint marketing as follows:
We are liasing [sic] closely with First American Bank in their marketing efforts in the Washington area. Already a number of accounts of individuals/corporations have been subpoenaed and a good beginning has been made on Embassy accounts (Brunei, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Pakistan, Panama). We hope to gear up this activity and make substantial progress in the coming months. In addition next week we are jointly calling on thirteen embassies in Washington to get PL 480 business. . . . All efforts are being made to mobilize deposits for other BCC offices and in some cases for First American Bank.(21)
Another document from BCCI's Washington representative office, written by BCCI protocol chief Sani Ahmad, and dated July 5, 1985, suggests that First American would takeover any business in the United States that BCCI could not lawfully engage in, such as taking deposits, or participating in U.S. government programs like agricultural credits.
All business that our own agencies in the United States are precluded from handling is being passed on to First American Bank, and also those contacts who desire local bank accounts. The accounts worth mentioning in this respect are the [deleted] Account with balances of around $100,000, [deleted] restaurant with a turnover of about $35,000 per month and the Bangladesh Embassy who have placed a Term Deposit of over $1 million with First American. . . Bangladesh business is already being routed through [First American] because of this office.(22)
A later BCCI memorandum states that "a number of personal accounts have been opened at different branches of First American bank" through BCCI's efforts . . . we are now working with their [First American's] Asset Management Group who have provided us with a number of top multinational contacts such as Westinghouse and Northrop Corporation."(23)
In early 1986, BCCI officials at the Washington representative office began conducting meetings with prospective clients at First American's Washington offices. Later that year, BCCI introduced First American officers to officials at the Chinese Embassy. According to a BCCI "Business Call Memorandum," dated April 18, 1986:
The purpose of the meeting was to introduce First American to the Chinese Embassy to try and obtain their account. Mr. Barry Blank and Ms. Maureen Mcdonald from First American attended the meeting. . . This meeting was with officers of the political section [which] maintains both current and fixed deposit accounts.(24)
First American documents maintained by BCCI describe the same transactions from the point of view of First American. These documents typically underplay the involvement of BCCI officials in the marketing, simply noting their presence at meetings. However, BCCI officers were provided copies of at least some of the letters produced by First American concerning the joint marketing operations, and were even copied on First American's internal memoranda.
The fullest documentary record of the joint marketing program pertains to BCCI's successful solicitation of UPI to use BCCI as its international bank and First American as its U.S. bank.
In May 27, 1986, Barry Blank of First American wrote to Mario Vazsquez Rana, whose Mexican company was about to purchase UPI, as a follow up to a meeting in Mexico City attended by representatives of both First American and BCCI, and referring to BCCI's involvement in the meetings. In July, additional follow up letters were written by First American officials to UPI, referring to BCCI as First American's "affiliate." In this letters, written by First American personnel, First American officials describe the interrelationship of First American and BCCI and the benefits of banking with them together:
First American Bank, N.A., in cooperation with its affiliate Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) and its extensive international correspondent bank network, is prepared to establish an international cash management program to meet your company's needs. . . The first step we recommend is that UPI establish banking relationships with BCCI in the locations where they have full service branches corresponding with your bureau locations, and that UPI establish the remaining banking relationships with our [First American's] correspondent banks . . .(25)
Ultimately, UPI agreed to open accounts at both BCCI and First American.(26) From the First American correspondence, it would appear that First American itself successfully solicited the business. A fuller account of the solicitation, contained in the BCCI memoranda, makes it clear that the UPI relationship was initiated by and developed by BCCI officials, and that UPI selected First American for its U.S. banking at BCCI's request. Ironically, UPI was unhappy with the handling of its accounts by First American and quickly ended the relationship.(27)
BCCI sought to strengthen First American through providing it with profitable activity from BCCI. As of February, 1991, some 46 branches of BCCI world-wide still maintained accounts at First American, with First American holding an average of $35 million in BCCI demand deposits, overnight placements and term placements. As part of its relationship with BCCI, First American made credit lines available to numerous BCCI branches and affiliates, for which First American received compensation in the form of demand deposits and cash fees. (28)
Abedi had from the beginning intended to expand BCCI's operations into California, as a means of linking BCCI's U.S. operations with its rapidly growing operations on the Pacific rim. Accordingly, BCCI officials in the U.S. were directed in 1983 and 1984 to investigate California banks for secret acquisition by BCCI. In November, 1984, they selected Independence Bank of Encino and began negotiating its sale. Soon thereafter, Abedi and Pharaon agreed to make Pharaon BCCI's nominee for the purchase in order to avoid the regulatory scrutiny that would follow if BCCI sought to purchase Independence directly. Abedi arranged for BCCI's alter ego, ICIC, to enter into an agreement with Pharaon in which Pharaon agreed to act as nominee and agent for ICIC in acquiring Independence. Under the terms of the arrangement, Pharaon would hold 15 percent of Independence Bank on his own behalf, and the 85 percent would be held by ICIC for BCCI.(29)
Regulators were told that Pharaon would pay for Independence through a mixture of his own funds and from a loan from a major domestic bank. However, in fact, BCCI loaned or guaranteed the funds for the purchase, laundering the funds through other banks.
As BCCI Number Two Swaleh Naqvi admitted to BCCI's London attorneys in early 1991, BCCI in fact provided all the financing for the acquisition and later increases in capital. The financing was provided from accounts in Pharaon's name with BCCI holding all the shares as security, although BCCI's security interest was never registered with the company in order to evade detection by regulators.(30)
First, BCCI loaned $8.5 million to Pharaon and transferred the proceeds to Pharaon's account at Banque Arabe et Internationale d'Investissement, Paris (BAII), a bank which shared directors in common with BCCI, and which had also been used to shield BCCI's funding of the First American purchase four years earlier. BCCI instructed BAII to send a telegram to California banking authorities stating that Pharaon had deposits of that amount with BAII that were being held for the purchase of Independence, and thereby disguising the fact that the funds came from BCCI. The remainder of the funding for the transaction came from First National Bank of Boston -- with a letter of credit, guaranteeing First National Bank of Boston against loss coming from BAII, which in turn received a counter-guarantee from BCCI holding BAII harmless against any claim that might arise. Thus, BCCI in effect was responsible for the entire financing of the Pharaon purchase, and disguising this role through both of the banks involved.(31)
After acquiring Independence through Pharaon, BCCI undertook its typical follow-up. Abedi appointed a high-level BCCI official, Kemal Shoaib, to become chief operating officer of Independence, while abandoning its original plan of also placing Roy Carlson, president of National Bank of Georgia, on the bank's board of directors. Shoaib then continued to report to BCCI while heading Independence, and to receive benefits from BCCI such as a subsidized home mortgage loan and accrual of his BCCI pension benefits. Independence's budget, strategy and planning, its directors and senior employees, all were run by BCCI's number two, Swaleh Naqvi, for approval. As Independence required additional capital infusions, BCCI loaned the money to Pharaon.(32) Just as envisioned in BCCI planning memoranda, Independence Bank began to make direct investments in real estate, as permitted by California law, and incurring losses as a result of BCCI's management which ultimately would bring about Independence Bank's collapse.
By 1991, when federal regulators finally conducted a serious review of Independence Bank's condition, they found atrocious conditions at the bank, unusual in a U.S. financial institution, but typical of BCCI's practices:
Loans subject to adverse classification total $194 million, representing nearly 44% of total loans, a phenomenal ratio for a commercial bank. . . The bank has an especially unenviable record of selecting or attracting borrowers of questionable character and creditworthiness. Many files include derogatory credit information, such as delinquencies, tax liens, litigation, and judgments, which were often not addressed in internal memoranda or excused as normal in the real estate business . . . Financial statements were often not complete . . . lacking supporting specifics, sometimes not even signed by the borrower, often not of the legal entity borrowing the funds, and frequently not on the bank's forms, which included a number of pertinent questions which therefore went unanswered. Requesting tax returns was almost unheard of. Rarely were the existence of assets verified, and less frequently were values independently confirmed. In many cases even the most basic financial analysis was not attempted, and when it was, it was often badly flawed.(33)
In all, BCCI spent $90 million on Independence, whose collapse in 1992 later cost the bank insurance fund, and indirectly, the U.S. taxpayers, some $140 million.(34)
As the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency had suspected in early 1978, BCCI in fact owned 50 percent of National Bank of Georgia (NBG) from the moment of its ostensible sale to Ghaith Pharaon in May of that year, with Pharaon acting as BCCI's nominee for those shares to avoid the hostility regulators had already demonstrated towards any direct acquisition by BCCI. As the Federal Reserve ultimately found following BCCI's closure, when Pharaon acquired his shares of NBG from Lance, he borrowed at least part of the funds used for the acquisition from BCCI.
In November 1981, Pharaon established a holding company, GRP, Inc., of which he owned 100 percent, to hold his shares of NBG, and established a cost-sharing arrangement with BCCI concerning NBG under which BCCI and Pharaon would divide expenses equally and consider NBG to be equally owned by both. The following year, this holding company changed its name to NBG Financial Corporation. A year later, in August, 1983, Pharaon formed two more holding companies, Interedec (Georgia) N.V. or Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles, and a second Interedec (Georgia), incorporated in Nassau, Bahamas. Under this arrangement, shares in the National Bank of Georgia were held by NBG Financial, shares in NBG Financial were held by Interedec of the Netherlands Antilles, and shares in Interedec of the Netherlands Antilles were held by Interedec of Nassau Bahamas, which in turn were held by Pharaon. The obvious purpose and intent of this series of holding companies -- so similar to the holding companies and locations set up to hide BCCI's ownership of First American -- was to permit Pharaon and BCCI to sell or mortgage Pharaon's interest in NBG without regulators or creditors finding out.(35)
Soon after setting up these holding companies, Pharaon formed another company, Pharaon Holdings Limited of Nassau, which immediately acquired Pharaon's 50% interest in NBG, making Pharaon Holdings a bank holding company under U.S. law and requiring Pharaon under U.S. law to notify the Federal Reserve of the change in ownership, which Pharaon ignored.(36) The other 50% of the stock, held by Pharaon as a nominee for BCCI from the beginning, remained in NBG Financial.
During the years NBG was "owned" by Pharaon, it adopted a number of BCCI's practices and employed a number of former BCCI employees. NBG personnel regularly attended BCCI conferences, at BCCI's expense. NBG adopted BCCI's management style and hexagonal logo, and reoriented its orientation as a bank from focusing on local business at the retail level to international transactions.(37)
On January 1, 1985, Pharaon, who was experiencing significant financial difficulties, executed a secret "Memorandum of Deposit" with BCCI which provided that all of the outstanding shares of NBG Financial would be deposited with BCCI as collateral for loans to Pharaon and his companies, and giving BCCI "or its nominees" the right to vote the shares. As a result, as of that date, BCCI had effective control over the 50% of the shares of NBG which had been BCCI's from the beginning.(38)
By November 1985, with Pharaon's financial difficulties intensifying, BCCI's auditors, Price Waterhouse, began to express concern to BCCI about its exposure to Pharaon and calling on the bank to reduce this exposure. In fact, a portion of this exposure was related to Pharaon's holding of NBG on BCCI's behalf.
Accordingly, BCCI and Pharaon agreed to liquidate Pharaon's 50% interest in NBG, and sell his holdings of NBG stock held by Pharaon Holdings Limited back to NBG Financial, now controlled by BCCI. At this point, BCCI had direct and total secret control of all of the outstanding shares of National Bank of Georgia, and had demonstrated to Price Waterhouse its ability to force "loans" to major borrowers like Pharaon to be "repaid." But these financial manipulations did not solve the other serious problem created by Pharaon's deteriorating financial condition -- the possibility that creditors might seek to attach the shares of NBG Financial -- still officially "owned" by Pharaon. The result would not merely put BCCI's ownership of NBG at risk, but could set in motion the destruction of BCCI's entire empire in the United States and possibly globally.(39)
In London, Abedi looked at the NBG situation and determined that the simplest solution to the Pharaon problem was to merge National Bank of Georgia into First American, and thereby take Pharaon out of the picture. In the terms of the Federal Reserve charges, "in December 1986, BCCI caused CCAH to agree to purchase the shares of NBG [Financial] from Pharaon for $220 million."(40)
Significantly, while the transaction did not close until August 19, 1987, First American provided $80 million at the end of December, 1986 as an option on the purchase, securing those $80 million worth of shares and leaving Pharaon "holding" only a remainder of $140 million worth of the bank -- shares already held by BCCI as security for defaulted loans. Thus, any outsider who tried to attach Pharaon's shares in NBG would find that as creditors, they were now in back of First American and BCCI, making such an attachment of little legal value and thereby protecting the shares.
Within BCCI at the time, it was generally understood that the sale of NBG from "Pharaon" to "First American" was principally a consolidation of BCCI entities within the United States. As Abdur Sakhia testified, First American had been planning to expand its operations to Florida in the mid-1980's, and had never discussed a move into Georgia, until 1985. In late 1985, he became aware that Pharaon's financial situation had become shaky, and at Abedi's request arranged for a meeting to take place in Miami in November of 1985 involving Abedi, Naqvi, Clifford, Altman, and two officials from National Bank of Georgia -- Carlson and Jamil. No one else was permitted to attend the meeting. After it ended, Abedi came out and told Sakhia and other BCCI officials that National Bank of Georgia would be merged with First American.(41) Later, in preparation for BCCI's possible purchase of a bank in Florida, Sakhia was provided with a model file of the Independence Bank transaction, which had the details of the National Bank Transaction showing Pharaon's role as a nominee.(42)
After the Miami meeting, Sakhia wrote Abedi in London in February 1986 regarding BCCI's "Future Plans in the United States." In the memorandum, Sakhia referenced his discussions with Altman concerning the planned purchases by BCCI of banks in Florida. In a paragraph concerning the National Bank of Georgia, Sakhia suggested that in view of "the forthcoming restructuring of the bank in Georgia, it may be useful to merge their Miami operation with BCC Overseas, Miami, as this will offer additional dollar deposit and correspondent banking relationship to BCCI Overseas."(43)
In their written testimony before the Senate, Clifford and Altman denied that the acquisition of NBG by First American was directed by BCCI, stating instead that the acquisition "was as reflection of First American's consistent corporate strategy of expansion since 1982 . . . in December 1986, based solely on its judgment of First American's best interests, the CCAH Board approved the proposed acquisition of NBG. BCCI did not influence these deliberations, nor did it control the Company's decision to acquire NBG. First American, not BCCI, initiated the NBG transaction."(44)
Pharaon himself took a similar position, which he has maintained to this date, that he was never a BCCI nominee and acted independently in connection with his sale of NBG to First American, as in all other matters. As Pharaon told reporters in 1987, the transaction took place for sound reasons of banking business on both sides:
[NBG] really needed to be part of a larger organization. We let First American take a very deep look at the bank because we knew that we were not selling them anything they wouldn't be totally satisfied in purchasing. It was not a situation where I was simply telling them no look, no see, no touch, just pay. I'm dealing with people with whom I have other dealings and I can't afford to pass on to them something they wouldn't be totally happy with."(45)
As Altman said at the same time:
It was clearly an arms-length business deal, that is to suggest we didn't get any special consideration in terms of price. . . It's a logical move for us in terms of our market expansion.(46)
The statements made by Clifford and Altman to the Committee and to journalists, and by Pharaon to regulators and journalists, cannot be reconciled with the documentary and testimonial accounts of all the other parties involved, as well as the findings of the Federal Reserve concerning the NBG sale to First American, and fails to account for the manner in which BCCI and Pharaon handled the transaction.
At BCCI, the transaction was viewed to be a matter of utmost secrecy, because of the risk to the bank if the regulators should understand that BCCI was directing the National Bank of Georgia sale. Paris branch manager Nazir Chinoy, who had no direct involvement with the sale of NBG to First American, only happened to learn of BCCI's involvement in the deal -- and the secrecy involved concerning BCCI's real role in it -- when Abedi came to Paris and lost a briefcase containing key documents regarding the sale:
Either in December 86 or January 87 Naqvi and Abedi came to meet with Pharaon and through a communications error I was not there to receive them at the airport. They wound up having to take a taxi to BCCI's offices at the Champs Elysee. Abedi gave the taxi driver $30 for a $5 drive. When Abedi got into the bank he said, where's my briefcase. All of us looked surprised. It had been left in the luggage compartment of the taxi. I talked to the girl at the airport and offered a $100 (1000 franc) reward. The next morning at 9 am I got a call. The taxi driver came up and said, the briefcase is there. Naqvi said, you collect it and bring it to London. I said I am leaving for Ivory Coast. They said never mind then you go back and catch your flight. It was a trip I didn't want to make. It's tiring. I saw written National Bank of Georgia written on the briefcase. Naqvi told me to open it and see if the papers are right to the top. I did and they were. The following week they came again and Naqvi and Abedi arranged for it. Abedi told Naqvi in Urdu, thank god the National Bank of Georgia deal is done. Then Naqvi signalled to Abedi to keep quiet because I was in the front seat.(47)
Internal documents produced by British lawyers for BCCI in 1990 and 1991 describe admissions by Naqvi to the bank's lawyers about the true state of affairs between Pharaon and BCCI, at a time when Pharaon was threatening to "trade information for protection from prosecution" with the Manhattan District Attorney if BCCI did not cooperate with Pharaon.(48) According to Naqvi, BCCI and Pharaon had undertaken a complex series of financial maneuvers in 1985, months before Clifford and Altman supposedly initiated the transaction over NBG, to sell Pharaon's interests in NBG to BCCI in response to Pharaon's shortages of funds, even setting an expected price for NBG's sale:
The bank agreed to settle [Pharaon's] 50% interest in advanced based on expected proceeds of $205 million, giving him $102.5 million [as BCCI already secretly owned the other half of National Bank of Georgia]. This payment date was taken as 17 May 1986. In fact Pharaon received some funds before this in 1985 and the remainder through 1986 and 1987, with a small balance carried forward. The payments were structured [not as payment for the stock but] as loans to Pharaon. These payments also covered $95 million due to Pharaon on the sale of his own BCC shares. . . the bank and Pharaon entered a formal agreement signed by Pharaon dated 17 October 1986 for the bank to receive a 10% commission for finding a buyer for the NBG shares. The agreement warrants that Pharaon/Interdec [sic] own all the NBG shares.(49)
When First American purchased National Bank of Georgia a year after Pharaon started receiving his "loans," the funds -- which came from BCCI itself into First American and from First American to NBG -- were used to pay off the "loans." Ironically, since the "loans" were used by BCCI to wipe out Pharaon's shares of BCCI itself and Pharaon's interests as a nominee in other BCCI-related institutions such as Attock Oil, the entire transaction was largely a wash, with the consequence of eliminating Pharaon's nominee interests in National Bank of Georgia, BCCI itself, and BCCI-related entities and consolidating (50)
Throughout the 1980's, BCCI had wanted to establish a foot-hold in Florida through owning a bank in that state with the ability to take deposits from Americans, a power precluded BCCI's branch operation there under federal bank laws applying to foreign banks, which are outside the U.S. federal deposit insurance system. Internal memoranda at BCCI begin referring to a variety of possible acquisitions of banks in South Florida, and a number of different BCCI officials, including Abdur Sakhia, who testified before the Subcommittee, began investigating possible target banks in Florida for BCCI's acquisition. A memorandum from Sakhia to Abedi in early 1986, entitled, "Future Plans in the United States," describes BCCI's intentions:
With reference to our brief meeting in London, we are pursuing bank acquisition with Mr. Altman the two institutions I mentioned to you in London. As you are aware, the statewide banking in the state of Florida is achieved either through acquisition in different counties and subsequent merger or by incorporation of Denovo Banks in each county, and merging them subsequently . . . As I suggested to your good self, we may apply for state chartered agencies of BCC Overseas in Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando and Jacksonville counties. Because of our relationship with state authorities we can get approval ourselves within two to three months without involving any legal cost whatsoever. When we complete the acquisition of a bank we may then transfer existing agencies with the exception of the Miami Agency to the acquired bank with considerable savings of cost and time.(51)
In point of fact, BCCI had expanded its branch offices to three in Florida -- Miami, Tampa and Boca Raton -- but was unable to find a suitable target bank in Florida over the remainder of 1986. Moreover, BCCI had decided by early 1986 that whatever it did in Florida would have to be secret, because the Treasury losses discovered by BCCI's auditors in 1985 and announced publicly in December 1985 had made BCCI even more notorious in international banking circles, and would subject any proposed purpose of a U.S. bank by BCCI to even more scrutiny.(52) Sakhia, as well as others affiliated with BCCI, had already begun meeting with CenTrust chief David Paul beginning in early 1985 and continuing through 1986, socializing with Paul. According to Sakhia, nothing came of these meetings. (53)
By early 1987, however, Pharaon, who had developed a personal relationship with CenTrust Savings & Loan high-flyer David Paul, had advised BCCI that Paul was looking for financing for CenTrust, and might ultimately be willing to give up control of BCCI. Paul was at the time an active political fundraiser for the Democratic party, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which the Subcommittee chairman then chaired, a number of Democratic politicians, and some Republican politicians and entities as well.
At the time, BCCI was not sufficiently satisfied it knew the full extent of CenTrust's problems to be willing to simply purchase the bank. But BCCI and CenTrust's top officials saw a second opportunity. BCCI did not have to make a final decision regarding its ownership of CenTrust. It was sufficient that it could help CenTrust strengthen its eroding capital base through a scheme that would help both CenTrust and BCCI. Working in collusion, Pharaon, BCCI and CenTrust could create a profitable market in CenTrust subordinated debentures by artificially propping up the price through BCCI buying debentures from CenTrust, demonstrating their marketability, and then CenTrust i turn agreeing to repurchase the debentures under a buy-back agreement.
As the Justice Department described the scheme in its late 1991 indictment of BCCI, Abedi, Naqvi, and Pharaon, Pharaon would seek to sell CenTrust subordinated debentures to investors; arrange for a branch of BCCI to purchase $25 million of the debentures to deceive other investors as to their market value; and CenTrust would in turn agree to repurchase any of the debentures that had been purchased by BCCI.(54) As a result, CenTrust -- whose ultimate collapse is likely to cause the taxpayers $1 billion to $2 billion -- was kept afloat and its true condition withheld from regulators. As the Justice Department has charged:
Paul and Pharaon on or about May 16, 1988 would and did cause Pharaon to use his position and relationship with BCCI to arrange BCCI's assistance in purchasing approximately $25,000,000 (par value) of the $150,000,000 offering, with the condition that the debentures would be purchased within a short period of time at full par value. Under this arrangement, the apparent purchaser of the debentures would hold the bonds briefly, creating the appearance that the $150 million offering had been fully sold, and then return the bonds and receive a full refund of the purchase price, assuming no risk of a drop in the market price while earning interest on the bonds for the period they were held.(55)
At first, Pharaon himself was intending to purchase the CenTrust debentures, but as was typical of Pharaon's ventures with BCCI, there was a great deal of flexibility between Pharaon and BCCI as to who between them would actually undertake a particular transaction.
Paris branch manager Nazir Chinoy, who testified before the Subcommittee, developed detailed knowledge of the arrangements involving Pharaon and BCCI as a result of his having had a surplus of dollar funds available for investment out of BCCI's Paris office. Chinoy had in 1988 advised Naqvi that Paris would be happy to loan funds for BCCI investments elsewhere, on a "parked loan" basis, under which the Paris office would not take the credit risk, which would be taken on by BCCI's Central Office in London, but would earn interest and commissions. Soon after, Chinoy received a call from BCCI London that Ghaith Pharaon wish to borrow $25 million to purchase the bonds of a U.S. bank. According to Chinoy:
They asked me, would I be interested in lending it? My initial response was, why is Mr. Naqvi giving this to Paris and not to New York or Miami region? Why not to the States? The answer I got back was that Dr. Pharaon -- I don't know why he was referred to as Dr. Pharoan -- that he had dealings with Paris and his staff knew our people in Paris and he was happy with the service in Paris and he would like it there. The rates were 1 percent front end fee and that was juicy -- $250,000 straight -- and 1 and a half over LIBOR. The loan would be for a period of six months. Collateral American bank bonds. Mr. Naqvi felt they were good bonds and there would be no problem in getting credit committee approval. He may have said the name but it didn't mean anything to me.(56)
Chinoy was told that Pharoan expected the price of the debentures to improve and would ultimately sell the bonds, and that he should make payment for the bonds to Drexel, Lambert, which was handling the transaction for the U.S. bank, CenTrust. According to Chinoy, in making the decision to go ahead with the financing, he was relying not on financial information for CenTrust or for Pharaon, but on the reputation of Drexel, Lambert as an investment banker which created markets, and on Naqvi in London.
If Mr. Naqvi as president of the bank says the collateral is good, he knows better than you. I said fine, and set in progress the loan formalities. The paper work was set into operation and we got instructions to pay Drexel in NY. Payment was made through traditional BCCI bankers in New York Security Pacific. The bonds were held by Drexel in NY to order of BCCI-Paris. Almost $25 million were disbursed. Later negotiations with Imran Iman indicated that Pharoan was not willing to let BCCI buy the bonds after all, instead he wanted to buy them and have BCCI loan him the funds. In April or May of 1988, we had booked a front-end fee of $200,000. $25 million was one of the biggest loans of Paris to an individual. If you did any loan over $5 million you prepared a credit report based on the Bank of Americas loan reporting procedure adopted years ago -- profitability, shareholders profitability etc. 15 pages. In this case, we did not prepare this. We did a CYA letter instead to cover ourselves -- shot off a memo, signed by me, to London.(57)
As branch manager of BCCI Paris, Chinoy was told by BCCI London that he had to go ahead with the transaction however it was structured, and regardless of how the terms changed over the course of the transaction. Ultimately, the debentures arrived at BCCI-Paris as security, and Pharaon later sold the bonds and BCCI Paris was repaid, earning almost $700,000, with another $300,000 being provided to Pharaon as commission or interest. The funds for the repayment of BCCI-Paris in turn came from BCCI London.(58)
Later, Chinoy saw a fabricated document, ostensibly from the Paris branch of BCCI, addressed to BCCI's credit committee and requesting the loans for the CenTrust transaction, which he believed was created by Naqvi after the fact to cover the unusual transaction and to make it appear to auditors that authority for it had been requested and granted by the committee. According to Chinoy, Pharaon's "profits" on CenTrust were transferred to BCCI's offices in Bahrain as a means of reducing Pharaon's defaults to BCCI there, and demonstrating to auditors that Pharaon's loans from BCCI were being serviced.(59)
In the meantime, BCCI also agreed to finance Pharaon's purchase of an interest in CenTrust, with the possibility of assuming actual control of the bank.
On August 12, 1987, Pharaon filed disclosure statements with the SEC stating that he had purchased 16.9 percent of CenTrust common stock and 24.4 percent of its Series One participating stock, a preferred stock, from two insurance companies which had purchased the shares the preceding year. Reminiscent of the FGB takeover purchases of just under the 5 percent holdings required for reporting in 1977, this represented just under the 25 percent ownership that would constitute the legal definition of "control" of CenTrust by Pharaon. The next day, Paul advised inquiring journalists that Pharaon was "one of my very close personal friends. He is probably one of the three of four closest personal friends Mrs. Paul and I have." By January 7, 1988, Pharaon acquired 748,901 shares of voting common stock of CenTrust, and on April 14, 1989, he purchased an additional 812-681 shares of Centrust, bringing his total holdings of CenTrust voting shares to 1,561,582 shares. At no time did Pharaon or BCCI disclose the fact that all of these purchases had been financed by BCCI, and that the CenTrust shares purchased by Pharaon would be held by BCCI as security for those borrowings, placing BCCI in the position of being able to control CenTrust. As a Memorandum of Deposit signed by Pharaon and BCCI stated, "BCC or its nominees may exercise . . . in respect of the [CenTrust] Securities or any of them any voting rights as if BCC or its nominees were a sole beneficial owner thereof." At the very time that BCCI was under indictment in Tampa, Florida for money laundering, it had secretly acquired and controlled the largest S&L in Florida, CenTrust.(60)
Ironically, consistent with its pattern of expanding into areas of operation that BCCI had been interested in exploiting, First American also purchased a bank in Florida, the Bank of Escambia, at almost the same time as BCCI acquired its interest in CenTrust. The purchase of the bank, renamed First American Florida, caused federal regulators to ask for further information concerning First American's dealings with BCCI. On receiving assurances that First American's shareholders still were not nominees for BCCI, and that BCCI was not in back of the transaction, the Federal Reserve permitted the purchase to go forward.(61)
BCCI's secret purchase of U.S. banks had been extraordinarily expensive for BCCI. Because it had used nominee arrangements to pay for the banks, its ownership of the banks was carried on its books as loans which were not being serviced. As a result, each year, BCCI was forced to add the interest to the amount secured by its shares of First American to its books. Additionally, First American's series of acquisitions, including operations in Tennessee and Florida, had stripped BCCI of further capital. By 1989, Price Waterhouse, as BCCI's auditors, were becoming increasingly unhappy and vocal about the size of BCCI's exposure on First American, and demanding that BCCI contact the shareholders and have them at least been servicing the loans they supposedly had. Since both the shareholders and BCCI knew the loans were bogus, BCCI was left in the position of having to consider the forced sale of First American.
Indeed, that strategy was first considered, and attempted, by BCCI, in 1986 in connection with the purchases of BCCI and CCAH stock by the Khalid bin Mahfouz, head of the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia and the most powerful banker in the Middle East. Bin Mahfouz had purchased shares of both BCCI and CCAH under a complex agreement that would permit him to purchase both banks, or to hold his interests temporarily with BCCI guaranteeing to buy them back at no risk to bin Mahfouz. After auditors for National Commercial Bank raised questions about bin Mahfouz's actions regarding BCCI, the transactions were fully unwound by 1989, leaving the First American problem for BCCI unsolved.
In 1989, after meetings with auditors, BCCI concluded that it should place First American on the market, and asked Clifford to retain an investment banker to seek purchasers for First American. As an internal task force headed by BCCI chief financial officer Massihur Rahman noted in April, 1990:
Since 1989 the bank has advised the major borrowers to dispose of their shares in CCAH to repay their loans in BCCI . . . the legal representatives of the shareholders of CCAH have retained the services of a major U.S. investment bank to advise, evaluate and assist either in the outright sale or in the merger of the CCAH group of First American banks with a larger banking entity.(62)
Goldman Sachs was retained by Clifford, on behalf of "CCAH" in July 1989. On October 10, 1989, Clifford wrote First American's shareholders to inform them that they had been approached by Barnett Banks "to discuss their interest in a possible merger or acquisition arrangement with First American," and had retained Goldman Sachs to evaluate the "express interest of Barnett Banks as well as other possible candidates."(63)
By April, 1990, Price Waterhouse concluded that BCCI's financial situation was perilous, and demanded that action be taken immediately. BCCI's $702 million exposure had not been reduced, as bank officials had promised, but had gone up, with interest, to a staggering amount -- $870 million. Price Waterhouse concluded that based on its estimate, if a buyer were found, BCCI would still lose $200 million or more on a sale of First American at 2.1 times net tangible assets.(64) Price Waterhouse also warned that if a buyer were not found, the auditors might well classify a portion of this debt, wiping out BCCI capital in the process and drawing public attention to the loans in BCCI's annual report. Given the ignorance of U.S. regulators about the nature of BCCI's lending for First American, this would be a catastrophe.
The only way out of this problem was a sale of First American, and the initial interest from Barnett Banks had disappeared. However, at Clifford's recommendation, Goldman Sachs had also contacted NCNB, now known as Nation's Bank, to determine whether NCNB might be interested in purchasing First American. NCNB was indeed interested, and prepared to offer $1 billion for First American based on the financial information provided to them by Goldman Sachs. The offer, which represented 1.5 book value, was subject to a number of conditions, including "satisfactory completion of normal business and legal due diligence by both you and us."(65) Oddly enough, NCNB and BCCI never moved ahead with the due diligence. Little further paperwork was done, and within two months, BCCI executives were told that negotiations had stopped entirely.(66)
By the end of July, BCCI's board of directors had become involved in seeking other ways to dispose of BCCI's holdings in First American. In a letter from BCCI director J.D. Van Oenen to BCCI's then senior executive, Swaleh Naqvi, Van Oenen noted that there were "many problems of which we were not fully aware" in selling the franchise, because of limits on interstate banking, foreign ownership, and because of unspecified problems with the New York operation of First American. Van Oenen noted that if BCCI could not sell First American, it would lose another $60 to $70 million by the end of 1990 on holding the bank. Further, Price Waterhouse had developed an "attitude" regarding the First American shares that might well result in the auditors classifying a portion of the loans, which could damage BCCI's balance sheets further. An attachment to the Van Oenen letter showed annual losses for BCCI connected with First American as amounting to $106 million, and that BCCI would have to sell First American at three times book value to break even, at a time when it had been unable to move ahead with an offer for half that amount.(67)
According to the memorandum the preferred option BCCI was considering was the "internal solution" -- a sale of First American to Abu Dhabi. Unfortunately, the questions that regulators would raise appeared to make this approach impossible. Alternatively, Abu Dhabi might be convinced to lend funds to BCCI and "call the loans, at a time of their choosing, take possession of the security and thus gain two years breathing space to dispose of it." Under this scheme, Abu Dhabi would in effect replace BCCI as the lender to the nominees, and then remove them at its convenience, at which time it could hold or sell First American as it pleased. Van Oenen acknowledged that there was a fundamental flaw with this plan -- if Abu Dhabi called all of its loans simultaneously, regulators would again ask questions, and might charge that Abu Dhabi had secretly gained control of the bank without due notification.(68)
A third approach recommended in the BCCI/Van Oenen memorandum would involve BCCI "garaging" loans with other institutions to "slim down" its balance sheets, either on a "re-purchase basis," or "as an outright sale." The former approach amounted to juggling BCCI's books to take its loans for First American off the balance sheets. The approach had already been effectively used by BCCI in connection with purchases and sales of CCAH stock by Khalid bin Mahfouz and the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia in 1986. But it would do nothing to resolve the underlying losses other than buy time, and it would face severe criticism from regulators, if they found out, and from BCCI's own auditors. Outright sale of First American stock was simpler, but faced an equally daunting objection -- no institution would buy the stock without some form of guarantee from BCCI's shareholders, and favorable terms, costing BCCI further funds it could not afford.(69)
The BCCI directors also wished further to explore selling First American to a domestic U.S. bank, but recognized that the only bank that expressed interest, NCNB, had for unknown reasons done nothing further to move ahead with negotiations. Finally, they considered the possibility of the sale of First American to a foreign bank, noting that the only identifiable institution that might be interested would be the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, a very small institution, with assets of $150 million, that could "theoretically qualify for a 'reverse' procedure by merging into CCAH." Van Oenen acknowledged that "the chances [for approval of such a transaction] do not rate very high."(70)
In fact, by the summer of 1990, the Morgenthau investigation of BCCI's activities in the United States had already moved into high gear, and BCCI's lawyers in the United States, including Clifford and Altman, were in the position of resisting the attempts of the New York District Attorney to obtain documents concerning the relationship between First American and BCCI. Subcommittee staff were also questioning the relationship, and had scheduled hearings for July or August, 1990 on the topic of BCCI's possible ownership of First American. In such an environment, any orderly sale of First American to any potential buyer would be fraught with difficulty, and there is no documentation following the Van Oenen letter indicating that an actual sale of First American was anticipated by anyone.
Up and until the indictment of BCCI in October, 1988 in Tampa on money-laundering charges, BCCI continued its expansion and consolidation in the United States, with First American expanding operations in Tennessee and Florida, and considering the development of operations in Utah and elsewhere. While the metropolitan branches of First American were kept largely free of BCCI's direct involvement, its New York and Georgia operations were never completely free of BCCI's influence, and even in the metropolitan branches of First American, BCCI had provided a variety of services up to the Tampa indictment. As Abdur Sakhia concluded:
You have enumerated the whole list of interlocking relationship, joint business, joint marketing, joint . . . staff transfers, hiring of staff, merger of First American and National Bank of Georgia, renting of space, appointment of chief executives . . . how the raising of capital and purchase prices were circulated. It is nothing but one institution.(71)
In the face of Clifford and Altman's position that First American bank was never controlled by BCCI, and that the two operations were separate, officials at First American New York took pains to reiterate to BCCI officials at far-away locations elsewhere that the two banks were operating jointly. One such letter, to a BCCI official in Nairobi, Kenya, written on First American stationery, and signed by two First American officials specifically sought to rebut assertions to the contrary:
Recently an article appears in the Financial Times of February 13, 1990 ascribing certain comments to an unnamed senior First American officer. We have taken exception to the report where it states that, in the future, our two institutions shall not be dealing together.
To set the record straight, we wish to reiterate that First American values the relationship between our two institutions, and we are continually desirous of enhancing it. As you are aware, we are maintaining about forty accounts of the BCC Group's various locations. Additionally, sizable credit facilities are also available in all categories.(72)
Unfortunately, a number of BCCI's purchases in the U.S. were proving unprofitable. Independence Bank grew ever weaker as the value of its real estate plummeted. First American New York's operations never justified the costs of the space in Manhattan which BCCI insisted that it lease, and which was still costing First American substantial sums as of May, 1992. And National Bank of Georgia remained a weak institution, with very significant problems, including, as bank regulators late found, "inadequate supervision by board and management, an eroding capital base, an ineffective corporate liquidity function, and deteriorating asset quality and earnings performance."(73)
Even First American's core banks had become severely stressed by the end of the 1980's, in part due to the softening real estate and office building markets on the East Coast generally and in metropolitan Washington in particular. Thus, by the time BCCI was closed internationally on July 5, 1991, federal regulators had sought and received an additional $200 million in new financing and capitalization for First American to keep the bank from being at risk of failure even before the avalanche of negative publicity hit the bank during the second and third quarters of 1991.
By the time BCCI closed, federal bank organizations would find that overall, the First American banks owned by BCCI were "run in a very disorganized manner [with] very little direction being given to the banks" by central management, and Georgia and New York operating "virtually autonomously" from the central management associated with the metropolitan banks of First American.(74)
Similarly, First American's current management, including president George L. Davis, told the Subcommittee in May that despite the opportunities for First American to have used its unique multi-state status to provide enhanced banking services, in actual fact they found the various franchises of First American to have never been centrally coordinated or managed. Instead, each entity had maintained a largely separate existence from others, with the result that there were few benefits to First American from extending its geographic reach. Accordingly, Clifford and Altman's successors at First American were choosing to sell off the various branches of First American other than the metropolitan banks, because they could find no adequate business purpose to keep them.(75)
By the time of the October 1988 indictment of BCCI in Tampa as a result of a Customs money-laundering sting operation, BCCI had secretly acquired a coast-to-coast network of United States banks operating in New York, Maryland, Virginia, the District of Colombia, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and California without U.S. or state regulators ever catching on to BCCI's ownership and control of the institutions. Accomplishing this goal had been expensive for BCCI, which had consistently paid more for each bank than the market would dictate for any normal banking institution. Moreover, in some cases, such as the lease for First American New York, BCCI made poor business judgments which cost First American money. In other cases, such as the purchase of National Bank of Georgia, BCCI financed First American's costs, so that First American itself was not stripped of its resources by the purchase, but found itself buying a bank that it did not need, failed to make use of, and which had severe ongoing operational problems that were clearly not taken into account in its pricing.
Thus, even apart from the events that took place as a consequence of the Tampa money-laundering sting and the concurrent Subcommittee investigation of BCCI in 1988, and the resulting investigation conducted by New York District Attorney Morgenthau in 1989, BCCI's U.S. empire was in serious difficulties by the end of the 1980's. Maintaining that empire was already proving increasingly costly to BCCI, which was already being pressured to liquidate its loans to First American shareholders by its auditors and the Bank of England. Yet through financial manipulations which had become routine at BCCI, these banks were kept afloat regardless, because the consequences for BCCI of not maintaining them would have been catastrophic.
1. See e.g. Clifford statement to First American Board re First American growth, October 4, 1984.
2. Senate BCCI document 391-393, produced by BCCI liquidators July, 1991.
3. Sakhia, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt 2. p. 505.
4. Findings, U.S. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, In the Matter of BCCI, 91-043, July 29, 1991, Paragraphs 165-167.
5. Sakhia, staff interviews, October 7, 1991.
6. Abdur Sakhia, staff interviews, October, 1991.
7. U.S. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, In the Matter of BCCI Holdings, 91-043, Paragraph 61, July 29, 1991.
8. Altman testimony, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 3 pp. 234-235.
9. Board of Governors Federal Reserve System Exhibit AD 134, Afridi to Naqvi, July 25, 1983.
11. Sakhia testimony, S Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 2 p. 513.
12. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 3 p. 332.
13. Charges, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, In the Matter of BCCI Holdings, 91-043, July 29, 1991, Paragraphs 176-178.
14. Travel reimbursement records of Tariq Jamil, 1981-1987, First American Georgia.
15. Minutes of U.S. Marketing Meeting, April 24, 1985, S. Hrg. 102-350, Pt. 3 p. 336.
16. Minutes of U.S. Marketing Meeting, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt 3 p. 342.
17. Testimony of Sakhia, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 2 p. 547.
18. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
20. Sakhia testimony, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 2 pp. 598-599.
21. BCCI Discussion Paper, dated "London, 1985," retrieved from documents at BCCI offices at 350 Park Avenue, New York, March, 1992.
22. Sani Ahmed, BCCI internal memo, July 5, 1985.
23. BCCI Washington Rep Office Marketing Report, September 30, 1985.
24. BCCI Business Call Memorandum, April 18, 1986.
25. First American Bank/BCCI joint presentation, United Press International, July 1986, retrieved from BCCI files, BCCI-New York.
26. See Office Call Report Form, S.P. Schmidt, November 20, 1986.
27. First American documents, Barry Blank to Mario Vasquez Rana, UPI, May 27, 1986; Susan Schmidt to Miguel A. Bursat, General Manager, UPI, July 23, 1986; BCCI memoranda, Akbar Bilgrami, to S.M. Shafi, August 8, 1986; letter, Susan [Schmidt] to Amjad [Awan], BCCI, regarding UPI account, September 26, 1986.
28. Memo, First American New York, "Correspondent Banking Relationship Between First American Bank of New York and BCCI," February 7, 1991.
29. Charges, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, In the Matter of Ghaith R. Pharaon, 91-037, September 17, 1991, Paragraphs 10-15.
30. Strictly Privileged & Confidential Produced For Legal Advice Memorandum, Pharaon, Background Paper, For Discussion with Messrs Blair and Siddiqui, Considerations Before Pharaon Meeting 5/6 March 1991.
31. Id, paragraphs 20-23.
32. Id, paragraph 28.
33. FDIC, Report of Examination, November 25, 1991.
34. Prepared testimony of Comptroller of the Currency, May 14, 1992.
35. Charges, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, In the Matter of BCCI, 91-043, July 29, 1991, Paragraphs 179-195.
37. See summary of charges, Federal Reserve, In re Clifford, id., Paragraph 129.
38. Id. Paragraph 184.
39. Id,. Paragraphs 184-187.
40. Charges, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, In the Matter of BCCI, 91-043, July 29, 1991, Paragraph 188.
41. Sakhia testimony, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 2 p. 604.
42. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 2, p. 606.
43. Sakhia letter to Abedi, Future Plans in the United States, February 10, 1986, S. Hrg. 102-350, Pt. 2 p. 595.
44. Written statement, Clifford and Altman, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 3 p. 78.
45. Atlanta Business Journal, April 27, 1987, "Pharaonic reflections: Thoughts on an empire."
47. Staff interview, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
48. Privileged and Confidential Pharaon Background Paper, unattributed, "For Discussion With Messrs. Blair and Siddiqi, Considerations Before Pharaon Meeting 5/6 March 1991.
50. See February 25, 1990 draft "Strictly Privileged & Confidential, Produced for Legal Advice, re: Dr. GR Pharaon," BCCI Attorneys, London.
51. Sakhia letter to Abedi, Future Plans in the United States, February 10, 1986, S. Hrg. 102-350, Pt. 2 p. 595.
52. Sakhia, S. Hrg. 102-350, Pt. 2 p. 606.
53. S. Hrg. 102-350, Pt. 2 pp. 643-650.
54. Indictment, U.S. v. BCCI, US District Court for DC, Grand Jury January 16, 1991.
55. U.S. v. Paul, Indictment, US District Court for the Southern District of Florida, February 23, 1992.
56. Staff interviews, Chinoy, March 9, 1992.
57. Chinoy id.
58. Chinoy, id.
59. Chinoy, id.
60. Charges, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, In the Matter of BCCI, July 29, 1991, Paragraphs 201-206.
61. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 3 p. 83.
62. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 408.
63. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 3 p. 453.
64. Price Waterhouse letter to shareholder, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 1 p. 483.
65. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 3 pp. 457-458.
66. BCCI Memo from J.D. van Oenen to S. Naqvi, July 30, 1990, S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 3 pp. 463-479.
69. See e.g. Charges, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, In the matter of Khalid bin Mahfouz, 92-074, July 2, 1992.
71. S. Hrg. 102-350 Pt. 2 p. 640.
72. Letter from Maurice Acoca and Mansoor Shafi to S. S. Dinamani, February 21, 1990, First American New York to BCCI Kenya.
73. OCC letter to the Board of Directors, First American Bank Georgia, as of August 30, 1990.
74. OCC, FAB Exam Status Report, June 13, 1991.
75. Staff interview, George Davis, May, 1992.
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