The relationship between Bert Lance and the Middle East financiers whose oil money flows through the Bank of Credit and Commerce International here has been strained to the breaking point by the controversy over Financial General Bankshares Inc.
The link between Lance and BCCI, which some observers thought would blossom into a new role for the former budget director, who is at least an informal figurehead for BCCI in the U.S., may not survive, say sources close to the bank.
Lance, BCCI and BCCI President Agha Hasan Abedi are among eight defendants accused by Financial General of trying to take over the $2.2 billion Washington bank holding company.
Last Saturday the eight agreed - without admitting any wrongdoing - to settle a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint accusing them of securites law violations in connection with purchases of Financial General stock.
In interviews, two BCCI executives, Allaudin Shaik and Dildar H. Rizvi, sought to minimize the bank's involvement with Lance and to deny any breach of U.S. banking or securities regulations by BCCI.
Rizvi said Lance was an informal adviser who "pointed out investment opportunities in the U.S." for BCCI.
"Lance was not employed by the bank," Rizvi said. "He was paid nothing by the bank, and we were not obliged to accept his advive."
Shaik insisted Lance had "received absolutely no loans from BCCI or loans arranged by BCCI."
The statements by the BCCI executives conflicted with reports made by Lance to the SEC as part of the settlement of the securities law charges.
"Mr. Lance has borrowed substantial amounts either from or arranged by BCCI," said the SEC report filed last Saturday, the same day the BCCI officials were interviewed.
The report said Lance "has received substantial compensation from International Credit and Investment Co.," a Grand Cayman Island concern identified as "a principal stockholder" in BCCI.
Lance told the SEC his loans and payments are part of his "overall consulting relationship to ICIC, BCCI and Mr. Abedi."
Publicly, the BCCI executives say they would still be prepared to receive unsolicited suggestion from Lance on American investment opportunities, which is what they say has been happening over the past few months.
But it is clear BCCI severely under-estimated the controversy surrounding Lance in the U.S. Given the discreet nature of Mideast banking operations, it is not a mistake they will want to make again.
"We thought the controversy over Lance was an internal American thing that did not affect us," Rizvi said, during an interview in the board room of the plush, seven-story BCCI building in The City. London's financial district.
"There is no story here. We thought it (Financial General) was a good investment. It is like any other business transaction. Clients come to us for advice. In this case, we advised four individuals from different countries, absolutely unknown to each other," Rizvi said. "We were within the law within the spirit of the law."
BCCI was founded in 1972 by Abedi, a Pakistani banker with more than 30 years' banking experience in India, Pakistan and the Middle East. In six years, the bank has developed so rapidly that it now has 106 branches in 32 countries.
In its 1977 financial statement, Abedi reports "a year of balanced growth and consolidation." The statement shows that the bank's total resources rose to $2.2 billion from $1.6 billion, and after-tax profits increased to 17 million from $13 million. The capital base was mor than doubled last year to $113 million from $50 million. This might answer critics who have said the bank was under capitalized.
An American banker in London, with extensive experience in the Middle East, said his bank would not lend BCCI money 'because I don't feel comfortable dealing with then!'
The banker, who did not want his name used, said the feeling in banking circles was that it was not known in any detail what BCCT's motives were, who owned the bank or how they did business. And bankers, he said, di not like uncertainly or mystery. The banker conceded that this might be partly because BCCI officers were not 'members of the club.'
The official of the American bank offered two possible explanations for the feeling that BCCI's lloan rates are higher than BCCI attracts high-risk business from people who cannot get funds elsewhere, he said, or they are attracting the new oil money of the Middle East, funding reputable businessmen and men of integrity whose methoids or doing business and documenting transactions are not what orthodox Western bankers are used to.
Rizvi and Shaik will not say who owns BCCI. It would be unfair to use the names of leading figures in the Middle East to advertise the bank, they said. 'There are a good few Middle East shareholders of the bank. Among these are members of different ruling families,' Rizvi said.
One BCCI shareholder who has been publicly indentified is the sheik of Abu Dhabi, whose sons, Sheik Sultan, the crown prince, and Mohammed, a youth represented by the family financial adviser Abdullah Darwaish, are amoing the buyers of Financial General shares.
The other buyers are identified in SEC report as Sheikh Kamal ADman 'an adviser to the government of Saudi Arabia,' who is said to be head of Saudi Intelligence, and Faisal Saud al Fulaij, a business from Kuwait. Al Fulaij told the SEC he is chairman of Kuwait International Finance Co., and affiliate of BCCI. He saidhe borrowed $3.555 million on an unsecured personal loan from KIFC to purchase his stock. The other buyers said they utilized personal funds for te purchasers.
BCCI currently is prevented from operating as a bank in the United States because Bank of America owns 24 percent of its stock.
Later this year, BCCI plans to open a representative office in New York.