Hope of bigger BCCI payout: Abu Dhabi looks at new options after Luxembourg court ruling deals blow to creditors

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS of creditors of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International stand to receive significantly more than the dollars 1.7bn compensation plan rejected by the Luxembourg courts last month as the bank's majority shareholders in Abu Dhabi prepare a new deal for depositors.

Roughly 30,000 British creditors saw hopes of an early payout dashed by the Luxembourg ruling. An avalanche of litigation between BCCI's liquidators, Touche Ross, and Abu Dhabi, delaying any payout for at least a decade, seemed inevitable.

But according to Gulf sources, Abu Dhabi, which owns 77.4 per cent of BCCI, is preparing to increase its offer of compensation to the bank's creditors.

The majority shareholders, members of the ruling Al-Nahyan family and state-owned organisations such as Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, have two options.

One is to make a deal with the liquidators and creditors in which compensation could by-pass the lawyers and solicitors involved in the case, who have already racked up fees of pounds 130m. Millions could be saved in costs. The alternative is simply for Abu Dhabi to increase its contribution from dollars 1.7bn.

The options are being considered by Abu Dhabi. The timing and amount of the offer depends very much on a civil case which the majority shareholders were planning to file on or before 25 December against 13 senior BCCI officials now on trial on criminal charges in the emirate.

Justice Shihab Abdurrahman, who presided over a court hearing on 13 November, adjourned the case until 25 December at the request of lawyers for 11 of the defendants so they could study new audit reports detailing the charges.

'They (the majority shareholders) paid the fees to file the civil claims,' said Adli Mahmmoud, who represented the attorney-general's office on 13 November.

Lawyers are planning to run the two cases, civil and criminal, at the same time, but officials admit that unless the defendants are found guilty it will be very difficult to continue with the civil case.

Sources in the emirate, which question whether the government will be able to recover any money from the defendants if they are found guilty, believe the civil case will be brought for its psychological effect.

Abu Dhabi is mindful of the need to rebuild its reputation following the bad publicity surrounding the collapse of BCCI amid charges of long-term massive corruption by the bank.

Liquidators have traced a dollars 10bn 'black hole'in the bank's accounts, built over years of fraud and incompetence.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al- Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates, is keen to portray the emirate as being as much of a victim of the fraud and embezzlement scandal as the BCCI creditors in Bradford and Cairo.

Emirate figures claim that it lost a total of dollars 7bn because of the scandal.

Pressure is on the emirate because one of the creditors whose appeal against the original compensation plan caused its downfall in the Luxembourg courts is now threatening legal action if an increased offer is not forthcoming.

Adil Elias, a Florida-based businessman, was one of three BCCI creditors who appealed successfully against the original plan.

He is now demanding a minimum payout of 50 per cent of all creditors' claims by July 1994. If Abu Dhabi does not produce the cash, he said, his group of creditors would sue Abu Dhabi, with or without the help of Touche Ross.

'We feel in a very strong position,' said Mr Elias. Any new deal should not be called a contribution agreement, like the original plan, but a settlement agreement, he added.

'We are not beggars,' he said. 'After the Luxembourg decision the liquidators do not have a free hand any more. A member of the creditors' committee must be present at any liquidators' meetings with Abu Dhabi.'

(Photograph omitted)