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Context of 'July 5, 1991: Criminal BCCI Bank Is Shut Down'

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July 5, 1991: Criminal BCCI Bank Is Shut Down

A Time magazine cover story on BCCI.A Time magazine cover story on BCCI. [Source: Time Magazine]The Bank of England shuts down Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), the largest Islamic bank in the world. Based in Pakistan, this bank financed numerous militant organizations and laundered money generated by illicit drug trafficking and other illegal activities, including arms trafficking. Bin Laden and many other militants had accounts there (see July 1991). [Detroit News, 9/30/2001] One money-laundering expert later claims, “BCCI did dirty work for every major terrorist service in the world.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/20/2002] Regulators shut down BCCI offices in dozens of countries and seize about $2 billion of the bank’s $20 billion in assets. BCCI is the seventh largest bank in the world. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), owns 77% of the bank at the time of its closing. He and the UAE government will end up losing about $8 billion. About 1.4 million people had deposits in the bank and will end up losing most of their money. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 98-99] American and British governments were aware of its activities yet allowed the bank to operate for years. The Pakistani ISI had major connections to the bank. [Detroit News, 9/30/2001] The Bank of England is forced to close BCCI largely because of outside pressure. Beginning in February 1991, the mainstream media began reporting on BCCI’s criminal activities as more and more whistleblowers came forward. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 95] However, as later State Department reports indicate, Pakistan remains a major drug trafficking and money-laundering center despite the bank’s closing. [Detroit News, 9/30/2001] Most of the bank’s top officials will escape prosecution, and remnants of the bank will continue operating in some countries under new names (see August 1991). A French intelligence report in 2001 will suggest the that Osama bin Laden will later build his financial network on the ruins of the BCCI network, oftentimes using former BCCI officials (see October 10, 2001). [Washington Post, 2/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Bank of Credit and Commerce International, Bank of England, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ghaith Pharaon.Ghaith Pharaon. [Source: Mike Stephens / Getty Images]In the wake of the July 1991 shutdown of the criminal BCCI bank (see July 5, 1991), the Pakistani government indicates that it is willing to shelter BCCI figures wanted in other countries. For instance, an international arrest warrant is issued for BCCI front man Ghaith Pharaon, and Pakistan has signed an extradition treaty with the US and other countries. But in August 1991, Pakistani Interior Minister Shujaat Hussain, who has authority to block extraditions, states flatly that Pharaon is his friend and he will give him citizenship, protection from extradition, and even immunity from local prosecution. Furthermore, the Los Angeles Times reports that some other senior and mid-level BCCI managers being investigated in the US have already fled to Pakistan. Technically, BCCI is not a Pakistani bank, but 10,000 out of BCCI’s estimated 12,000 employees are Pakistani. The Times reports that Hussain has made clear that “BCCI’s blameless and blamed alike can find shelter from investigations into the bank’s conduct in any of the more than 70 countries where it operated.” Asked if Pakistan would extradite BCCI founder Agha Hasan Abedi, Hussein flatly states, “We will not allow it.” Furthermore, BCCI’s offices remain open in Pakistan and the government has stated that it will not investigate the bank. [Los Angeles Times, 8/12/1991] A majority of the bank is owned by Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan, President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the UAE similarly indicates that it will not extradite any of the 18 top BCCI managers living there. The UAE is also sitting on most of BCCI’s financial records. [Time, 8/3/1992] BCCI branches in the UAE are not shut down either, but are simply renamed to become the National Union Bank. [BBC, 8/5/1991] Many years later, Pakistan will still be protecting BCCI figures such as Pharaon (see June 8-August 10, 2006 and June 8-August 10, 2006).

Entity Tags: Bank of Credit and Commerce International, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Shujaat Hussain, Agha Hasan Abedi, Ghaith Pharaon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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