WASHINGTON -- The Bank of Credit and Commerce International, the private banking empire that was seized earlier this month by financial regulators in seven countries, maintained a clandestine division that functioned as "a global intelligence operation and a Mafia-like enforcement squad," Time magazine reported yesterday.
The division, called the "black network" by its own members, used sophisticated spy equipment and techniques, along with bribery, extortion, kidnapping and murder, according to the magazine.
The division's 1,500 employees operated primarily out of the bank's offices in Karachi, Pakistan.
The network, which is said to still be functioning even though the bank has been seized, operates a lucrative arms-trade business and transports drugs and gold, the article reported.
"Its primary purpose was to foster a global looting operation that bilked depositors of billions of dollars," according to the magazine. The article said investigators and participants in the black network spoke of the operation's ties to Western and Middle Eastern intelligence agencies, including accounts maintained by the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency for clandestine activities.
The bank's deposits were used by the network to pay bribes and conduct its weapons and currency deals, according to the article.
"BCCI bought virtual control of customs officials in ports and air terminals around the world," the magazine reported.
"In the U.S., millions of dollars flowed through BCCI's Washington office, allegedly destined to pay off U.S. officials," the article said.
The article added it obtained much of its information about the network from a person with ties to a ruling family in the Middle East.
"This operative -- call him Mustafa -- underwent a year of training that began with education in psychology and the principles of leadership and proceeded into spycraft, with lessons in electronic surveillance, breaking and entering and interrogation techniques," the magazine reported.
Jack Blum, a Washington lawyer who assisted a congressional investigation of the bank, said in a telephone interview that he had talked to Mustafa and believed in the existence of the network.