13. THE BIG BANKS' ROLE IN LAUNDERING DRUG MONEY
An estimated $300 billion in cocaine money moves around the
world each year, much of it in otherwise respectable banks. The Bush administration's
drug war on the casual user fails to focus on this important aspect of the international
drug scene. Similarly the mainstream media neglect to expose the critical role
bankers play in laundering billions of dollars in drug money. William von Raab,
former head of U.S. Customs, acknowledged the hidden relationship when he said
"As sophisticated as the cocaine cartels are, they cannot operate without
the cooperation of international banks who want their money."
into this "cooperation" was provided last year when the Bank of Credit
and Commerce International (BCCI) pled guilty in a Tampa court to money laundering
and agreed to a $14 million forfeiture. BCCI is one of the world's wealthiest
private banks, with its headquarters in Luxembourg and its nerve-center in London.
This was by far the heftiest such bank forfeiture ever and the first
time an international bank of its size has acknowledged its knowing
participation in laundering drug profits.
The BCCI connection was exposed by undercover U.S. Customs agent Robert
Mazur. He had posed as a high-rolling businessman named Robert Musella
and stalked the trail of the international money laundering industry
for nearly two years. The operation resulted in the arrest of 84 people
worldwide and, most significantly, nine officers of BCCI in Europe and
BCCI was founded in 1972 by a Pakistani banker named Agha Hasan Abedi,
founder of the Bank of Pakistan. Today, BCCI is the world's seventh
largest privately-held bank, worth about $21 billion, with over 400
branches in 73 countries.
Badly in need of credibility
in the international financial world at the time of BCCI's founding, Abedi lined
up a major investment from the Bank of America, which was itself seeking a toehold
in the Middle East. Bank of America, apparently disturbed by Abedi's methods for
promoting rapid growth, pulled out of BCCI starting in 1980, reportedly with a
700 percent profit on its investment.
BCCI also looked to Washington, D.C.,
for respectability. Prominent among the friends of BCCI were the "eminence
grise" of Washington power brokers - Clark Clifford, who is still BCCI's
lawyer, and former President Jimmy Carter, who has often used BCCI's corporate
jet for trips abroad. Carter and Abedi have become close friends, and the BCCI
president emeritus has contributed large amounts to the Carter Presidential Center
as well as to Global 2000, a Carter charity of which Abedi is cochair.
noted by the former head of U.S. Customs, international bankers are critical to
the continuing successful operation of the international cocaine cartels. Yet
the administration and the news media continue to focus their attention on the
Colombian Medellin wars, drug busts in the ghettos, and helicopter raids in the
northwest. They ignore some of the major players - the narcobankers who are shuffling
$300 billion of drug money around the world each year.
SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER:
SOURCE: *IMAGE*, 925 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94103
TITLE: "Narcobankers: Inside the Secret World of International
Drug Money Laundering"
AUTHOR: MIKE WEISS
COMMENTS: Author Mike Weiss reported that the subject of the
trial of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, and of its officers,
in Tampa, Florida, received almost no coverage in the mass media last
year. "There were a few cursory stories in the N.Y. Times, but
that's pretty much all I saw. It received more attention in England,
in Pakistan and elsewhere than it did in the U.S. Notable exception:
The Wall Street Journal did an excellent front page piece." Weiss
also suggested that it would be good for the public to know that every
once in a while the government does prosecute successful banks for illegal
acts; "I think such a prosecution increases confidence in the government's
seriousness about the War on Drugs. ... I think the assistant U.S. attorneys
who saw the very difficult and arduous case through to its conclusion,
as well as the undercover agent who gave up so much of himself and placed
himself in considerable danger, deserve some recognition." While
Weiss felt that the limited coverage given the story benefited the bank,
he didn't believe the bank had any influence in suppressing the coverage.
"It was just one of those stories that seemed to fall through the
cracks." Later last year, another bank, this one partly owned by
U.S.-installed President Guillermo Endara, of Panama, was being investigated
for laundering drug money. Banco Interoceanico, or Interbanco, was under
investigation for its alleged involvement in a multimillion-dollar Colombian
drug money laundering operation.