Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) was a highly respected financial titan. In 1987, when its subsidiary helped finance a deal involving Texas oilman George W. Bush,
It had high-powered allies in Washington
1988, when John Kerry, then a young senator from Massachusetts, decided to probe the finances of Latin American drug cartels.
Kerry fought against intense opposition
from senior members of his own party
from the Reagan and Bush administrations,
By the end,
exposed the infrastructure of BCCI
a model for international terrorist financing
Despite having helmed the initial probe which led to the Iran-Contra investigation, Kerry was left off the elite Iran-Contra committee in 1987.
the Democratic leadership in Congress made Kerry the chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations and told him to dig into the Contra-drug connection. Kerry turned to BCCI
Manuel Noriega was laundering drug profits through the bank on behalf of the Medellin cartel.
By March 1988, Kerry's subcommittee had obtained permission from the Foreign Relations Committee to seek subpoenas for both BCCI and individuals at the bank involved in handling Noriega's assets, as well as those handling the accounts of others in Panama and Colombia.
faced a roadblock
would interfere with an ongoing sting operation in Tampa, the Justice Department delayed the subpoenas until 1988, at which point the subcommittee's mandate was running out.
Prominent figures with ties to the bank included former president Jimmy Carter's budget director, Bert Lance, and a bevy of powerful Washington lobbyists with close ties to President George H.W. Bush,
In 1985 and 1986
Reagan administration launched no investigation even after the CIA had sent reports to the Treasury, Commerce, and State Departments bluntly describing the bank's role in drug-money laundering and other illegal activities.
1989, Kerry hit another obstacle.
Foreign Relations Committee chairman Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.),
under pressure from both parties, formally asked Kerry to end his probe.
Kerry quickly dispatched investigator Jack Blum to present the information his committee had found about BCCI's money-laundering operations to the Justice Department. But according to Blum, the Justice Department failed to follow up.
Kerry could play ball with the establishment and back away from BCCI,
Kerry opted in 1989 to take the same information that had been coldly received
to New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who agreed to begin a criminal investigation of BCCI,
In 1990, when the Bush administration gave the bank a minor slap on the wrist for its money laundering practices, Kerry went on national television
"We send drug people to jail for the rest of their life," he said, "and these guys who are bankers in the corporate world seem to just walk away, and it's business as usual…When banks engage knowingly in the laundering of money, they should be shut down. It's that simple, it really is."
In early 1991, the Justice Department concluded its Tampa probe with a plea deal allowing BCCI officials to stay out of court. At the same time, news reports indicated that Washington elder statesman Clark Clifford might be indicted for defrauding bank regulators and helping BCCI maintain a shell in the United States.
Kerry pounced, demanding (and winning) authorization from the Foreign Relations Committee to open a broad investigation into the bank in May 1991.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Democratic doyenne Pamela Harriman personally called Kerry to object, as did his fellow senators.
BCCI itself hired an army of lawyers, PR specialists, and lobbyists, including former members of Congress, to thwart the investigation.
Kerry refused to back off
began to expose the ways in which international terrorism was financed.
BCCI catered to many of the most notorious tyrants and thugs
Medellin cocaine cartel,
those who went on to lead al Qaeda.
BCCI went beyond merely offering financial assistance to dictators and terrorists:
the operation itself was an elaborate fraud, replete with a "global intelligence operation and a Mafia-like enforcement squad."
British and U.S. regulators finally responded
BCCI was shut down in seven countries,
put it out of business what Morgenthau called, "one of the biggest criminal enterprises in world history."
The current president's career as an oilman was always marked by the kind of insider cronyism
as a director of Texas-based Harken Energy, Bush himself did business with BCCI-connected institutions almost at the same time Kerry was fighting the bank.
there was a "mosaic of BCCI connections surrounding [Harken] since George W. Bush came on board." In 1987, Bush secured a critical $25 million-loan from a bank the Kerry Commission would later reveal to be a BCCI joint venture.
A decade after
CIA discovered Osama bin Laden was among those with accounts at the bank.
identified dozens of companies and individuals who were involved with BCCI and were found to be dealing with bin Laden
the financial network operated by bin Laden today "is similar to the network put in place in the 1980s by BCCI." As one senior U.S. investigator said in 2002, "BCCI was the mother and father of terrorist financing operations."
difficult investigation," Brown said. "Because many important members of his own party were involved in this scandal, it was a distasteful subject for other committee and subcommittee chairmen to investigate. They did not. John Kerry did."