Bank calls in SFO over 'bribes' claim: Inquiry into supervision of BCCI hears allegations of misconduct against Bank of England officials

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THE BANK of England has called in the Serious Fraud Office to investigate allegations that officials took bribes from senior executives at the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

The claims were contained in sworn evidence to the inquiry chaired by Lord Justice Bingham, who was asked by the Government to examine the Bank of England's supervision of BCCI, which was wound up in July last year.

Publication of the report is not expected, at the earliest, until Parliament resumes in mid-October. The document is understood to contain evidence that the Bank of England had sufficient knowledge of fraud at BCCI well before its collapse, and in particular was told by Price Waterhouse, BCCI's auditors, about fears of fraud in early 1990.

A section covering allegations from a witness referred to by Lord Justice Bingham as 'Mr X' has been passed to the Independent on Sunday.

Lord Justice Bingham said: 'Mr X was never employed by BCCI but I formed the opinion, having heard him, that he had been on familiar terms with a number of the leading figures in BCCI and had acquired more than a passing knowledge of its business. In particular, he had had access to good information on the conduct of banking transactions with Nigeria handled at 100 Leadenhall Street.'

Mr X is described in evidence to the inquiry as an accountant and former Pakistani military intelligence officer.

In September last year, he told Lord Justice Bingham how, at a BCCI party in 1980 at a flat near the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane, he saw Agha Hasan Abedi, the founder of BCCI, hand over a briefcase to a colleague. Abedi is currently resisting extradition proceedings by the US authorities from Pakistan.

The briefcase was then passed to two Bank of England officials at the party, who left straight away. Mr X said that earlier he had seen inside the briefcase, which he claimed was full of dollars 100 bills. Later, under questioning from Lord Justice Bingham, he named four Bank of England officials as having attended BCCI parties.

Brian Sedgemore, the Labour MP, called on the Director of Public Prosecutions to 'pursue such damaging allegations to the limit, including interviews with named BCCI executives, one of whom is known to be in jail in America'.

In early day motions published yesterday, Mr Sedgemore claimed that Mr X 'identified three occasions on which he had seen Bank of England officials accept briefcases from BCCI managers, including one which, when opened in his presence, was full of dollars 100 bills'.

Mr X is understood to have met two senior detectives from the SFO and identified the two Bank of England officials who received the briefcase from a 36-strong collection of photographs of Bank employees. He has also been interviewed by the New York District Attorney's office, which is also investigating BCCI's collapse.

Mr Sedgemore asked Robin Leigh-Pemberton, Governor of the Bank of England, 'to state whether any disciplinary action of any kind has been taken against any of its staff arising out of the BCCI affair' and if the Government will 'change its mind and publish a transcript of the evidence given to the Bingham Inquiry in addition to publishing the Report'.

As well as Mr X taking his evidence to the SFO, a Bank of England spokesman confirmed the office had been asked to investigate. 'I can confirm allegations were made,' he said. 'I'm not prepared to comment on the details.' He added: 'We undertook an exhaustive investigation. We satisfied ourselves there was no substance in them. However, we did ourselves refer them to the criminal authorities for them to investigate.'

(Photographs omitted)