BCCI: the opera – Bank of Credit and Commerce International
WELCOME TO THE WORLD PREMIERE OF LA FARCE DEL DESTINO, AN OPERA OF OUR TIMES AND FOR OUR TIMES. IN THE ALMOST-TRUE-TO-LIFE TRADITION OF THE OPERA NIXON GOES TO CHINA, LA FARCE BRINGS TO STAGE THE RISE AND FALL OF BCCI, THE BANK OF CREDIT AND COMMERCE INTERNATIONAL. IN THIS AMBITIOUS WORK, CHARACTERS APPEAR AND DISAPPEAR INTO A SHADOWY WORLD OF INTRIGUE THAT SPANS THE GLOBE FROM WASHINGTON, D.C., TO TINY GULF SHEIKDOMS, FROM PANAMA TO PAKISTAN, FROM LIMA TO LONDON.
ITS VILLAINS ARE MODERN-DAY ANTI-HEROES–DRUG DEALERS AND THE BANKERS WHO LAUNDER THEIR MONEY, DICTATORS, ARMS DEALERS, TERRORISTS, AND POLITICAL LEADERS AND INSIDERS WHO EMBRACE WEALTH AND POWER WITHOUT ASKING QUESTIONS. THE SETTING IS MODERN, BUT THE TRAGIC FALL OF THE ONCE-MIGHTY TRANSCENDS TIME AND PLACE.
ACT I. AN EMPIRE RISES.
After the haunting strains of a Middle Eastern overture, the opera opens with a burst of hope. Sheik Aghan Hassan Abedi sings with vision of a new bank, a Third World bank, where the resources of developing countries and their citizens will be free from control by Western financial elites.
Abedi and a chorus of bank officials celebrate the bank’s rise to prominence in the international financial world. In the driving “Banks Within Banks Within Banks,” deputy Swaleh Naqvi delights in BCCI’s impenetrable web of subsidiaries and related companies in exotic, secrecy-loving settings like Luxembourg and the Cayman Islands.
A discordant note slows the triumphant march when a U.S. banking regulator, raising a host of questions regarding the ability of any country to oversee BCCI, forbids it from purchasing an American bank.
The gloom is dispelled by the swaggering Ghaith Pharaon, who regales BCCI officers with the brisk and boastful “More Than One Way to Buy a Bank.” Like a hero returned from battle, Pharaon recounts his purchases — for BCCI — of banks in Georgia, California and Florida, and BCCI’s secret ownership of First American.
Then, in a sentimental vein, Pharaon admits he has relied on friends for his good fortune. “Friends in High Places” is his tribute to those the bank has befriended along the way, including Bert Lance, Jimmy Carter and Andrew Young, S&L kingpin David Paul, and most notably, elite Washington lawyers Clark Clifford and Robert Altman.
Clifford and Altman appear to sing “God Bless First American,” a celebration of the U.S. financial industry and their own success at leading a group of BCCI-connected investors in a takeover of a Washington bank company.
Clifford and Altman describe their banking acumen in the exuberant “A Borrower and Lender, Be,” which tells how BCCI loaned the two men money to buy stock, then loaned someone else money to buy the stock from them, generating a $10 million profit.
Pharaon joins Clifford and Altman in a brief reprise of “Banks Within Banks,” as First American (secretly owned by BCCI) buys National Bank of Georgia (also secretly controlled by BCCI).
The act closes with an omen of the danger that lies ahead. “We are the Underworld” reveals BCCI’s reliance on non-traditional business ventures: laundering money for the Medellin Cartel, bribing Peruvian officials to deposit government money in BCCI accounts, funneling money from Iranian arms sales to Oliver North’s foreign policy “enterprise” in Central America, and taking care of unusual banking needs for everyone from arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and terrorist Abu Nidal to the CIA.
ACT II. REVERSAL OF FORTUNE
The act opens with a defiant aria, as a BCCI official sought by U.S. officials on smuggling charges asks reporters visiting his villa in Jordan, “What Can They Do to Me?” But while he sings we hear another BCCI official offstage, spilling company secrets to U.S. government agents.
As BCCI’s dealings attract investigators’ attention, bank buyer Pharaon is caught up in the collapse of the U.S. savings & loan industry. He sings with remorse of his ties to David Paul, who oversaw the ruination of Miami’s CenTrust and was a link to Washington’s power people. Singing “Twice Unlucky,” the once-proud Pharaon goes into hiding.
In an aria heavy with pathos, Paul mourns his loss of high station as he watches CenTrust’s art collection being removed from his home. In the background, a chorus of Senate Democrats chants its appreciation for his political fundraising assistance.
Cranston: “You are tremendous.” Biden: “You have been great.” Breaux: “You are a great American.”
The scene reaches its emotional high point as Paul and his wife Sandra sing tenderly to each other the tribute from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s finance director: “You are two of the best God has put on earth and I am sure after you, God declared victory and retired.”
Watching from the wings has been Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. Sensing Democratic blood is to be spilled, Hatch sings loudly of the close ties between Paul and Washington insiders, especially Sen. John Kerry, who is leading the congressional investigation of BCCI.
But fate is fickle, and Hatch is humbled by the revelation that he asked a BCCI official to lend a friend money. The past haunts him; he hears himself singing the praises of BCCI management on the Senate floor a year ago.
The curtain drops as Hatch whirls to deflect blame, saying he was but mouthing words written by BCCI-connected attorney Robert Altman, whom he calls a friend.
ACT III. THE EMPIRE FALLS.
The act opens as Altman and Clifford are brought before congressional inquisitors to answer the question now consuming the audience: How could they be so intimately involved with First American and BCCI for 10 years without knowing that BCCI in fact owned First American?
They answer with the post-modern “Dance of the Veils.” In this version, the dancers put on veils to hide the truth. The dance grows larger as Clifford and Altman, chanting, “We were misled,” are joined by former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and a chorus of government lawyers chanting, “We have been zealous.”
The officials continue to veil themselves as the inquisitors hurl questions. Why did the Justice Department ignore pleas from Lloyd’s of London to investigate BCCI? Why were CIA memos about BCCI’s illicit activities ignored?
The tension builds as Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau joins the questioners. Did Justice Department attorneys deceive other agencies about having tape recordings incriminating BCCI? Did the Federal Reserve try to keep audit reports out of Morgenthau’s hands?
Reporters join the clamorous questioning. What happened to the documents linking BCCI to Manuel Noriega that disappeared while being brought to Washington by the Drug Enforcement Agency? Did reporter Danny Casolaro commit suicide or was he killed for getting too close to painful truths?
Out of cacophony emerges a despairing unison cry, “What is the Truth?” In the silence that follows, Price Waterhouse auditors ask, “What is Truth, Anyway?” Defending the “fair and true” certification their accountants gave to BCCI financial reports despite evidence of massive fraud, they try to shift attention to another Price Waterhouse audit, ordered by the Bank of England, that led to worldwide seizures of BCCI assets by regulators.
As Manhattan DA Morgenthau and the Justice Department announce indictments, regulators and liquidators negotiate BCCI’s denouement to the mournful accompaniment of “The Victims’ Lament.”
Clifford and Altman begin the lament, bemoaning the loss of their once-lofty reputations.
Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi and primary owner of BCCI, cries that unscrupulous bank officers looted as much as $2 billion from his personal account.
Richard Thornburgh wails that being tarred with Justice’s sluggish action on BCCI cost him a Senate seat.
Former White House aide Edward Rogers moans that publicity forced him to cancel a $600,000 lobbying contract he had signed with an accused BCCI front man shortly after leaving the White House.
A chorus of international bankers complain about the publicity given to their complicity in illegal activities.
All their bleatings are overwhelmed by the “Chorus of Depositors,” representing more than a million unfortunate people around the world, most in countries without the government deposit protection afforded Americans.
As the victims are herded into the purgatory of the world’s courtrooms, an anonymous banker takes the stage to point out that not all the lessons of BCCI are bad ones. To those who watched BCCI closely, there is instruction for the building of future empires. “Switzerland will always be,” he sings confidently, “for those who need secrecy.”
COPYRIGHT 1992 Common Cause Magazine
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group