How many suitcases does it take to carry $50 million to the bank?
Well, that depends on the size of the suitcases.
For Saudi investor and alleged intelligence official Abdul Raouf Khalil, it was difficult to remember how many suitcases and how much money he initially deposited in the now-defunct Bank of Credit and Commerce International.
You see, Khalil is a very wealthy man -- a point U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green made in a decision yesterday ordering Khalil to pay the liquidators of BCCI $1.2 billion for fraud and racketeering in a civil bank fraud case.
In trying to remember how much his initial deposit to the bank was, he recalled in a deposition that the bank's representative came to his house in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, three times and each time took about 50 million Saudi riyal (about $17 million) in suitcases from his strong room.
Asked how many suitcases, he replied: "I have three different [sizes of] suitcase. . . . If this is the big one, you know . . . maybe you can put 10 million [riyal]. . . maybe I can put 7 million. Maybe if it's smaller, I put 5 million in the suitcase." So, he said, it must have taken about 30 suitcases -- 10 each time. But, no worries, he was in no danger of running out of luggage. He had a total of about 200 suitcases full of cash in his home, he said. He got a deal on Samsonite.
BCCI is not normally thought of as a case of rip-roaring courtroom hilarity. It's serious, serious, serious. The largest international bank failure in history. Ruined reputations. Ruined depositors. A ruined Washington financial institution -- First American Bankshares.
Green has been hearing BCCI cases, criminal and civil, for eight years now, and has turned her opinions into what could be scripts for the stage, calling the principals "dramatis personae" and referring to one of the BCCI record keepers as "scrivener to the fraud." Another defendant in the case was a "rogue extraordinaire."
Khalil receives no such rubric. But she does note that Khalil was "one of the brightest students in his class" and early on did well in the Saudi real estate market -- turning a 14 million riyal investment into 400 million. He also had the wisdom to remove his $100 million plus interest from BCCI before it collapsed in 1991.
Passionate about antiquities, Khalil put together one of the world's largest collections of gold objets d'art -- about 60,000 pieces in a private museum he named for himself. He and his family have given the museum to the poor, according to the decision.
While Khalil, who has a three-story waterfall in his home in Jiddah, is clearly very rich, it isn't clear whether he'll pay the $1.2 billion judgment, which was reached by tripling the damages under the anti-racketeering law. His U.S. attorney, James Linn, was out of the office yesterday and did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The liquidators of BCCI, who represent the depositors who lost money, have paid more than $4 billion back to depositors, according to Eric Lewis, a Washington attorney and one of the liquidators. "We will do everything we can to collect," said Lewis. "We think the Saudi government will be reluctant to let one of their most prominent citizens flout a U.S. judgment."
As one of BCCI's biggest depositors and a straw shareholder who helped cover up the identity of the bank's real shareholders, Khalil was the recipient of what he called "VIP service."
For example, when Khalil bought homes in various countries, BCCI would pick up certain decorating costs, travel and living expenses -- altogether, more than $15 million. He mostly paid for the homes -- with names like Potato Patch in Vail, Colo., Seadunes in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., and Sunningdale in Berkshire, England -- himself.
At his home in London, a BCCI operative tended to the decorating. But Khalil, said Green, had an "affinity for things of exquisite beauty and expense" and was aghast at the modest furnishings. So he simply went to Harrods and other London stores and redecorated.
In cash and other services, he received about $30 million from BCCI for the use of his name as a sham shareholder, according to the decision. In addition, he "borrowed" more than $236 million to start a London brokerage firm called Capcom. He never repaid that loan. He received $47 million in payments from BCCI to various businesses he owned and BCCI lost $62 million in copper and silver trading involving accounts in Khalil's name.
But, all in all, Khalil was not that impressed with the Pakistani owners of BCCI. In his words, they were doing "monkey business," but, being from a poor country, they weren't quite sure how to do it.
"In our banks . . . you see . . . it's always like that, always."
"Always what?" asked a lawyer.
"Always they cheat."