Agha Hasan Abedi, who founded the Bank of Commerce and Credit International and watched it collapse in one of the world's largest bank frauds, died Saturday in a Karachi hospital. He was 74.
Doctors at the Aga Khan Hospital said Abedi's wife was at his side when he died of heart failure, five days after he was admitted for chest pains. Abedi's health had been failing since he received a heart transplant in 1988.
A court in the United Arab Emirates convicted Abedi last year of fraud and sentenced him to eight years in prison. But Pakistan refused extradition requests from the emirates and from the United States.
Abedi founded BCCI in 1972 with $2.5 million--and the dream of creating a Third World financial empire. For nearly a decade, the institution was the world's fastest growing bank.
At its peak, BCCI had 1.3 million depositors and operations in more than 70 countries--from Pakistan to Nigeria to London to Washington to Panama to Los Angeles to Hong Kong.
It reportedly handled money from Colombian cocaine cartels, Arab terrorist Abu Nidal and the CIA.
Abedi relinquished control of BCCI in 1988 after having two heart attacks. He also suffered a stroke, which resulted in brain damage and the partial loss of his voice.
Three years later, on July 5, 1991, international regulators shut down BCCI's worldwide operations, linking the bank to massive fraud and theft and connecting it to clandestine arms deals, the financing of terrorists and laundered drug money.
Depositors lost millions of dollars as regulators seized BCCI's assets.
Abedi steadfastly denied any illegal activities.
He lived his final years in virtual seclusion at his sprawling home in Karachi's posh Clifton neighborhood, not far from Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's family home.
"Mr. Abedi's only crime was that he stood up and fought the disciples of the evils in the developed world," Jam Saddiq Ali, a Pakistani politician, said at the time of the U.S. extradition request.
In Pakistan, Abedi was seen as a modern Robin Hood, taking from the West and giving to the Third World. His bank built hospitals and schools in Pakistan, and the BCCI foundation gave millions of dollars in scholarships and research grants.
Abedi's success was attributed to his fiercely loyal staff and his ability to use friendships to his business advantage.
"He was not only a visionary, but he was a man of detail. He knew the people who worked for him--their names, their families. They were his family," said Naeem Pasha, a Pakistani architect and businessman.
"And if a wealthy customer stepped into the bank, he told his vice president to meet his every need, whether it was the simplest, the richest or the lewdest pleasure."