Depositors Flood Court With Claims for $550 Million Forfeited by BCCI

From Associated Press

From a British schoolteacher who lost his life savings to a Beverly Hills millionaire who fears he may lose his home, claims are rolling in for the millions forfeited by the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

Gerald Bolton, a Briton living in Qatar, says he had about $100,000 in a savings account at BCCI's home branch in Luxembourg.

"This humble petitioner . . . pleads with the court to enable me to retrieve the money I have deposited," Bolton wrote. "This is my entire life savings from my work teaching English to Arab students here in the Middle East."

Bolton and other individuals, banks and private companies hope to persuade a federal judge to grant them a share of the BCCI money.

BCCI agreed to turn over $550 million in U.S. assets when it pleaded guilty in January to a federal racketeering charge. The bank's international operation was taken over last July by liquidators after an audit uncovered widespread fraud.

Under the plea agreement, about half of the money would be put in a contingency fund to shore up financially troubled U.S. banks that BCCI now admits it illegally controlled. The rest would go into a worldwide fund to compensate depositors and other investors caught up in BCCI's demise.

But first, federal law on forfeiture of racketeering proceeds allows people to claim a legal interest in the money.

U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green, who approved the plea agreement, must decide if these individuals and companies may recover their money now or whether they must get in line with all the other worldwide claimants--who are seeking nearly $30 billion against assets of $2 billion.

S.A. Reza Shekarchian of Beverly Hills, said BCCI holds a net $1.2 million of his money and a lien on his family residence and business property.

"The Shekarchians are one of the innocent victims whose economic security has been greatly distressed and afflicted by the fraud and mismanagement of BCCI," his court papers said.

Shekarchian said he deposited the money with BCCI in London to secure a line of credit at the Los Angeles branch for real estate and business investments.

One claim was a class-action suit filed in California on behalf of all BCCI individual depositors. Their lawyer, William Lerach, said that would be about 1 million people with claims "certainly in excess of $5 billion."

Some of those making claims said they were victims of mistakes or bad timing around the time of the July 5, 1991, international takeover of BCCI.

The World Bank said it sent $1.65 million to the government of Pakistan as a loan to modernize its telecommunications system. Unfortunately, the money was sent to a BCCI Overseas branch at Security Pacific International Bank in New York on July 15--10 days after the takeover. The money has been frozen ever since.

"Those racketeering crimes (admitted by BCCI) were completely unrelated to the Pakistan development loan" and the money should be released, the World Bank's claim said.

The Congregation of the Holy Ghost, a Roman Catholic missionary group based in Bethel, Pa., said it was sending $10,000 to the Middle East to buy auto parts for missionaries in Africa. But its bank transferred the money to a BCCI branch at the Bank of New York on July 17--and now it can't get it back, according to the claim.

"It was just incredible bad timing" that the money was sent through BCCI after the takeover, Father Donald McEachin, the group's treasurer, said in an interview. "I feel bad for our guys, who are out not only the money but the essential car parts."

"We're a very small operation. We don't know anything about international banking," McEachin said. "BCCI to us is just another bank."

The New York office of Britain's Barclays Bank said it accidentally made a duplicate payment of $470,441 to a BCCI branch at Security Pacific International Bank in New York on July 3, two days before the takeover.

Then, Barclays mistakenly sent another $14,448 to a BCCI account in New York in August, when the money was intended to go to another bank, its claim said.

Meanwhile, Security Pacific International--which was required to turn over the money it held in BCCI Overseas accounts--filed papers intended to preserve its rights if it is sued by the depositors to those accounts.

One such claim for $2.1 million already has been filed in Istanbul.

The situation is "unpleasant but unavoidable," said Security Pacific's attorney, Franklin Bloomer. "What we've been looking for is protection from multiple liability."

The Central Bank of Paraguay said it is worried it may lose $640,000 deposited in a BCCI Overseas-Paraguay account in Miami.

The BCCI-Paraguay branch was not involved in any criminal activity and should not have to turn over its money, said the Central Bank, which complained about the whole U.S. forfeiture procedure.

"The very countries whose regulations for years failed to police adequately the BCCI empire are now being allowed to preside over its remains," the Central Bank said. "Other countries around the world are also simply trying to protect their citizens."

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