‘BCCI did not collapse, it was forcibly shut down’


KARACHI: BCCI stands for Bank of Crooks and Criminals International. Or Bank of Credit and Commerce International, depending on the algorithms of your online search engine.

The story of the meteoric rise and fall of the BCCI — one of the largest global banks in the 1980s with $22 billion in deposits and offices in 72 countries — is fascinating.

Although many books have been written on BCCI that propelled Agha Hasan Abedi, its larger-than-life founder, to the centre stage of international finance, few portray the bank and the banker in a favourable light.

With “Double Standards — BCCI: The Untold Story,” author MB Malik has tried to reverse the mainstream narrative about Abedi. “The impetus to write the book came in 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed,” Malik said while speaking at the official launch of his book at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) on May 14.

Son of a BCCI veteran, Malik has contested every ‘myth’ that exists about BCCI: that it was a Ponzi scheme, made fraudulent loans, committed money laundering and quickly became a dominant player in international banking by channelling funds to drug cartels and rogue, non-state actors.

“It didn’t collapse. It was forcibly shut down,” Malik said, insisting that the bank was solvent ‘at all times’. The closure of BCCI in 1991 marked the biggest liquidation in history by that time and took 21 years to complete. However, liquidators recovered 90% of the losses incurred by creditors. The Financial Times had reported the level of realisations in the case of BCCI’s liquidation to be “far greater” than in most wind-downs, as recoveries were typically 20%-25%. “It was a back-door attack. Money-laundering was never proven,” Malik said.

Speaking on the occasion, BCCI veteran and Habib Metro Bank CEO Sirajuddin Aziz congratulated the author for showing the ‘courage’ to challenge the mainstream narrative about BCCI and its founder.

Noting that the top-tier management at BCCI was “supremely honourable,” Aziz said the actions of some mid-level bankers cannot be construed as the wilful violation of laws at the institutional level.

“In my 14 years at BCCI, I did not see a single transaction that was outside the ambit of legality,” Aziz said emphatically.

According to Aziz, the ‘mother of all regulators’ — the US Federal Reserve -made calls worldwide to ensure the closure of BCCI, although the ruler of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had already provided the bank with ample liquidity to meet all its obligations.

“The Muslim world was in crisis after the first Gulf war. It was an opportune time to shut down the bank,” Aziz said while alluding to the so-called western conspiracy to take down BCCI for getting too big for its own shoes.

While most speakers asserted vehemently that BCCI and Abedi did everything by the book, long-time government adviser and consultant Dr Junaid Ahmad claimed Abedi played the principal role in financing Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

A PhD in finance and policy who led civil works at Kahuta Research Laboratories, Ahmad claimed he personally witnessed former president General Ziaul Haq and bureaucrat Ghulam Ishaq Khan asking Abedi for funds for the nuclear programme on four different occasions.

Ahmad said they phoned Abedi in his presence and requested $250 million, $100 million, $200 million and $150 million at four different times when the nuclear programme faced financial constraints. “Abedi sahab would wire the funds in just half an hour,” Ahmad claimed.

However, he did not state whether the cumulative figure of $700 million came out of Abedi’s own pocket or the bank’s coffers. In the latter case, BCCI appears to have breached the shareholders’ trust and failed to perform the fiduciary duty to its depositors.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2016.