$1.2bn BCCI fraudster faces 17 years

The biggest fraud trial in history ended in victory for the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) yesterday when Abbas Gokal, a Pakistani shipping magnate, was convicted of fraud involving $1.2bn in loans from the corrupt Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

Gokal was a close friend of Hassan Abedi, the late founder of the BCCI, and he was its biggest single borrower before banking authorities shut BCCI down in 1992 after the discovery of $20bn-worth of frauds.

Gokal faces up to 17 years in jail, longer than the previous longest sentence for fraud in the UK, 10 years for Peter Clowes, the Cheshire- based gilts fraudster.

Sentencing will wait until the beginning of next month, when the SFO will ask the trial judge, Mr Justice Buxton, to make a confiscation order against Gokal. Gokal's family has over pounds 100m in assets abroad which the SFO wants to use to refund victims of BCCI's crash, including thousands of individuals in the UK.

Chris Dickson, senior assistant director of the SFO and case controller of BCCI, was jubilant at the victory. In terms of BCCI, Gokal was not "first division stuff, he was top of the Premier League stuff".

With Mr Abedi dead and BCCI's other main mastermind, Swaleh Naqvi, languishing in a Pennsylvania jail, Gokal was "the biggest fish we could catch", Mr Dickson added.

BCCI operated in 62 countries and left over 100,000 customers world-wide nursing hefty losses when it was closed. Gokal conspired with senior BCCI officials in a $1.2bn fraud. The SFO found documents signed by Gokal in a London safe deposit box which showed that he and his two brothers owned and controlled the companies involved in the scam.

The Gokals owned the Gulf Group of companies, a shipping and trading empire based in Geneva with offices in over 40 countries.

The Gokals and BCCI knew that Gulf Group was hopelessly insolvent, but continued to lend it a total of $1.2bn during the 1980s in unsecured loans.

When Price Waterhouse were appointed sole auditors of BCCI in 1987 Gokal embarked on a huge forgery campaign to fool them that the loans were to independent companies unconnected to Gulf Group.

This created a "merry-go-round" of money between Gulf Group and BCCI, laundered through special conduit accounts at two New York banks, Security Pacific and French American. In this way over $500m was stolen by BCCI senior management from the account of Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi - who ironically was the majority shareholder in BCCI.

When the Bank of England and other supervisors overseas shut BCCI in 1992 Gokal fled from Switzerland to Pakistan - as did Mr Abedi. He was later arrested in Frankfurt and extradited to Britain.

There are many repercussions from Gokal's conviction: more money for BCCI customers, more bad publicity for Price Waterhouse, BCCI's auditors, and a considerable boost for the SFO. This week it won another high-profile fraud trial, sending Brighton hotelier Robert Feld to jail for eight years.

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