URGENT: Take action to discover what really happened at BCCI
The collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International in July 1991 was the culmination of one of the biggest banking frauds ever perpetrated, not to mention one of the biggest regulatory failures. But the full truth about what happened at BCCI has never emerged, despite valiant attempts by independent investigators like Professor Prem Sikka, who authored an excellent monograph on the subject.
BCCI operated in 73 countries, including Argentina, Bangladesh, Botswana, Brazil, Cameroon, China, Colombia, the Congo, Ghana, Guatemala, the Ivory Coast, India, Jamaica, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The case has a global dimension and millions of people lost some part of their savings and investment.
The Bank of England decision to close BCCI was based on a report codenamed the Sandstorm Report prepared for it by Price Waterhouse. On 6 March 2006, under the UK's freedom of information laws, Professor Sikka requested a copy of the Sandstorm Report. The British government refused even though parts (not all) of this report were sitting in the US Congress library (see here).
Prem retrieved those parts that were in the public domain, scanned them and made them publicly available via the AABA website (see here and here). We understand that even this extract enabled some injured parties to secure compensation.
The UK government has refused to publish the full Sandstorm Report though it has not challenged the online document. Prem appealed against the government refusal to publish and the Information Commissioner has ruled in favour of the UK government (see here) and considers the publication of the document to be against the public interest, asserting that the "disclosure of the information would prejudice the UK’s relations with another State or States".
Prem subsequently appealed against the Commissioner's decision and earlier this year a Tribunal allowed this appeal to go ahead even though it is out-of-time (see here). The Commissioner is contesting this decision i.e. they argue that the appeal should NOT be heard. For the time being the substantive case is being heard but if the Commissioner overturns the Tribunal judgement the process will have to start again.
The arguments in favour of disclosure are based on public interest, especially since BCCI was the biggest banking fraud of the twentieth-century. Claims that "disclosure of the information would prejudice the UK’s relations with another State or States" are unconvincing and certainly not an adequate basis for keeping the people in the dark. This raises enormous questions about the quality of democracy and government in the UK.
Whether it relates to BCCI, or libel laws, or permitting the aggressive tax avoidance strategies of powerful companies, Britain’s law courts have a dismal record of thwarting public interest in favour of shadowy special interests. The public has a right to know the full content of the Sandstorm report: and if it causes embarrassment to people who have, in all probability, long since retired with ill-gotten gains, so be it.
So what can you do to support Prem with this action?
He needs statements from NGOs, campaigning groups, journalists, reformers, from anyone who suffered from the BCCI scandal or has been involved in any aspect of it to provide witness statements stating that the Sandstorm Report should be published. Please use your contacts, mailing lists, blogs and anything else to mobilise support.
The British state only cooperates when forced to do so by public pressure: this is one of those rare moments when we just might be able to overcome their resistance. So take action now.
You can contact Prem at:
Professor of Accounting
Centre for Global Accountability
Essex Business School
University of Essex
Colchester, Essex CO4 3SQ, UK
Office Tel: +44(0)1206 873773
Office Fax: +44 (01206) 873429
AABA Website: http://www.aabaglobal.org
prems [at] essex.ac.uk