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Lawyer Says U.S. Ignored BCCI Allegations

October 18, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. prosecutors ignored repeated warnings about illegal activities in this country by the scandal-plagued Bank of Credit and Commerce International and its customers, a Miami attorney told Congress Friday.

James F. Dougherty II, who represents an insurance group that has sued the bank, said he appealed directly to then-Attorney General Richard Thornburgh last December when he found evidence the bank was likely to destroy or move records of its activities.

″We received no response to that,″ Dougherty testified to the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on narcotics.

Justice Department spokesman Douglas Tillett said later that the department knew of a letter Dougherty had written to the U.S. attorney in Miami with a copy to Thornburgh, but ″that’s hardly a direct appeal to Thornburgh.″

Dougherty said he had sent letters before and since to regional Customs officials and to federal prosecutors in Miami, Tampa and Washington. The only indication of interest from U.S. officials came from Internal Revenue Service criminal investigators, who subpoenaed some of his records, Dougherty said.

U.S. officials had been criticized on grounds they had dragged their feet in probing BCCI. Public attention has been focused on allegations that BCCI illegally gained control of First American Bankshares, the largest bank in Washington.

The subcommittee, headed by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., is conducting its own investigation of BCCI, which has been implicated in a worldwide network of illegal arms sales, drug trafficking and money laundering.

Dougherty and his associate, Richard Alan Lehrman, outlined evidence they have uncovered against BCCI and one of his customers, Munther Bilbeisi, a Jordanian who until recently lived in Hollywood, Fla.

Bilbeisi has been indicted in Miami on charges of evading federal taxes on money earned from smuggling coffee into the United States. He is being sought in Guatemala for allegedly bribing officials there to facilitate the sale of arms.

Dougherty said the coffee and arms deals were financed by BCCI. The bank has denied financing such activities.

The subcommittee agreed to ask the State Department to investigate allegations that Jordan violated an agreement with the United States by selling U.S.-made helicopters to Guatemala. As a condition of selling arms to foreign governments, the United States insists that the purchaser seek U.S. approval before transferring the weapons to any other country.

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