US bank sues the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi for dollars 1.5bn: First American Bankshares launches Washington action to claim damages over illegal acquisition by BCCI

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The Independent Online
FIRST AMERICAN Bankshares, a bank based on the East Coast of the US that was illegally and secretly acquired by Bank of Credit and Commerce International before the latter was closed down, is suing BCCI's biggest shareholder, the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi.

The dollars 1.5bn civil damages suit, which names the sheikh and 29 others involved in the BCCI saga, was launched in the Washington courts and asserts claims for damages arising out of the illegal acquisition and ownership of First American by BCCI. The complaint names Sheikh Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, members of his family, Clark Clifford, the leading American lawyer, and others.

First American has launched the action under the Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organisations Act (Rico) for injury arising from alleged illegal actions committed by the defendants. It also cited the defendants' fiduciary obligations to First American and the common law of fraud and negligence.

This follows an earlier conviction obtained by the Department of Justice and the New York County District Attorney on racketeering charges after a guilty plea had been entered on behalf of the international bank. First American said that its action 'seeks to go further and to impose civil liability on parties who have directly or indirectly participated with BCCI in injuring First American'.

A spokesman for the state of Abu Dhabi, which owns 77 per cent of BCCI's shares, said that the action had been instigated by First American's trustee, a court-appointed figure equivalent to a UK administrator who has been seeking to relaunch the bank following the BCCI scandal.

The Abu Dhabi spokesman said the action was in response to Abu Dhabi's own court action earlier this week, which sought to recover dollars 220m the emirate put into First American following the closure of BCCI and on the request of the trustee. These funds were aimed at helping First American to avoid bankruptcy and to be sold off as a going concern.

The spokesman stressed that First American's action was 'totally irrelevant to the UK and European creditors of BCCI'. He said the action brought forward no new information, and that the emirate would vigorously contest the action.

Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the BCCI parliamentary group, said: 'I welcome the decision of the First American Bank to take action against those they regard as having caused injustice to their customers.

'The victims of BCCI have always said that the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi has moral responsibility to make sure they have not suffered loss. I call on the sheikh in view of what has happened to pay the victims the compensation they deserve.'

Harry W Albright, the trustee of First American, said: 'By this action the corporation (First American) seeks to hold those described as defendants responsible for the damages to First American and to assert claims against them based on claims for damages under civil Rico legislation, breach of duty and fraud.

'The corporation's vigorous pursuit of this action provides the best chance that the true facts of the complex and mysterious takeover and control of First American (by BCCI) will come to light.'