Clark Clifford charged over BCCI

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The Independent Online
THE SCANDAL surrounding the Bank of Credit and Commerce International claimed its highest- ranking victim to date yesterday when Clark Clifford, a confidant of every Democratic US president since Harry Truman, was charged with misleading American bank regulators and accepting as much as dollars 35m ( pounds 18.5m) in bribes.

Mr Clifford and his law partner Robert Altman, who acted as chairman and president of BCCI's main US subsidiary in the 1980s, were arraigned one year to the day after the first charges were brought against the bank, which was closed by regulators worldwide last July.

Mr Clifford and Mr Altman were simultaneously charged by the US Justice Department and the US Federal Reserve in Washington. Both said they would fight to establish their innocence.

'We totally and categorically deny all charges,' Mr Clifford and Mr Altman said, calling them 'the result of mean-spirited suspicion and unfounded speculation.'

Four other BCCI executives, including the founder, Agha Hasan Abedi, and his successor, Swaleh Naqvi, were also charged with fraud and bribery, as well as with operating a corrupt enterprise.

A 90-page court document filed by Robert Morgenthau, the Manhattan District Attorney, yesterday gave unprecedented details of BCCI's global reach, citing 21 cases of bribes paid to finance ministers, central bank regulators and regional development officials in 10 countries ranging from Pakistan to Argentina over the past 20 years.

'One year ago today, we said that BCCI was the biggest bank fraud in world history,' Mr Morgenthau said. BCCI 'was not just a criminal fraud scheme, but a sophisticated and corrupt enterprise, organised from the top down to . . . accumulate money and gain the power and prestige that the money provided,' he said.

Mr Morgenthau said his investigation was far from concluded, and refused to deny that his office was examining the role played by elected officials in the US and elsewhere. 'I'm not ruling out anybody,' he said.

The investigators can look forward to the co-operation of two key BCCI associates, Sheikh Kamal Adham and Sayed Jawhary, who pleaded guilty to a relatively minor violation of New York State banking laws on Monday in exchange for information and testimony against their colleagues. They also agreed to pay dollars 105m in settlement, which will go towards the cost of prosecution.

Mr Clifford and Mr Altman are charged with lying to US regulators about BCCI's control of three American banks, which Mr Morgenthau said were robbed of at least dollars 4.7m and used to launder drug money and other illegal payments. In exchange for their help, the pair are accused of accepting bribes in the form of sham loans, generous stock options, and dollars 17m worth of legal fees paid to their Washington law firm.

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