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."

An insight 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 the Americas.

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.

As 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: DYLAN BENNETT

SOURCE: *IMAGE*, 925 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94103
DATE: 6/22/90
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.