Biased Attitudes, Bold Attitudes |
Al Hayat - 15 August, 2012
Author: Jihad Al Khazen
Some events bring back memories of other similar ones: Over several days now, I have been following the American campaign against the British bank Standard Chartered. This reminded me of a similar campaign against the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) in 1991, which was subsequently closed. The bank had 417 branches in 73 countries.
Yet there are many obvious differences between the two banks. The British bank is now threatening to pursue legal action against the New York state’s Department of Financial Services, which regulates banks, and claim reputational damage. Furthermore, several British politicians expressed their support for the bank, and accused U.S. regulatory authorities of anti-British bias – which is logical if we recall that London is the only rival for New York as a global financial hub.
I am still waiting to hear the proofs that Benjamin Lawski, the U.S. banking regulator, has to bolster his allegations that Standard Chartered laundered money for drug cartels and had dealings with Iran despite international sanctions, smuggling money in and out of Tehran, as well as allegations about possible involvement by Hezbollah.
BCCI was no doubt culpable. So much so, that global auditing firm in charge of monitoring the bank’s activities had to pay a fine of USD 175 million for its failure to detect the wrongdoing.
What I remember from 1991 onwards, is that the District Attorney of Manhattan, Robert Morgenthau, began hunting down shareholders in the bank, who include many Arabs, and imposing enormous fines on them. Abu Dhabi paid the highest fine, as the emirate owned three quarters of the bank’s shares, while friend Sheikh Kamal Adham, Rest in Peace, once spoke to me about the U.S. investigations with him, and how he ended up paying a USD 175 million fine, if I recall correctly, although he was only a shareholder and had nothing to do with the bank’s management.
The scandal of BCCI would have perhaps never happened if the U.S. intelligence had not used it to smuggle money to the Afghan mujahideen fighting against the Soviets. In truth, the scandal did not officially end and the case was not closed until last May, i.e. 21 years after it first broke out. Then several weeks later, the scandal surrounding the British bank was exposed. However, it will not last two decades for sure, because Standard Chartered will no doubt find strong supporters, unlike a bank that was founded by a Pakistani, before Arabs took it over.
Meanwhile, there were other headlines that my Arab readers have perhaps missed while watching the Olympics, including the following headline in the electronic newspaper The Huffington Post: “We are not taking sides”, and underneath, “Hague announces extra £5 m for Syria rebels but warns fighters against war crime”.
The Foreign Secretary William Hague had also simultaneously sent a letter to The Times, in which he said that the British government was actively pursuing a life after Assad, but denied his government was taking sides. Thus Britain is somehow helping the rebels, but not taking any sides.
I have always felt that Secretary Hague espouses the same policies as the neoconservatives, so perhaps he believes today that the departure of Bashar al-Assad will be followed by a more flexible regime. I want the same thing, but I believe it likely that the Islamist groups will have a large role to play in any new regime in Syria, and their hostility to Israel is both bigger and deeper than the pro-resistance stance championed by the Syrian regime in name only.
Another news story that deserves a pause is the departure of the dear friend Faiza Abul Naga from the new Egyptian government led by Dr. Hesham Kandil. This patriotic lady declared prior to the formation of the cabinet that she has decided to retire, after nearly 11 years of ministerial service. Abul Naga was successful both in the Mubarak and post-Mubarak eras, and she opposed illegal American funding of civil rights groups in Egypt, which sparked a massive controversy at the time.
Human Rights Watch welcomed Faiza Abul Naga’s exit from the Ministry of International Cooperation, and described her as being controversial and behind the restriction and prosecution of civil society organizations.
But these people do not know Faiza well, and most probably, they have never spoken to her. To be sure, the prosecution was against U.S. funding that went against known Egyptian laws, and not against the freedom of opinion or expression, or any other rights.
I conclude with the American writer Gore Vidal, who passed away at the end of last month. Vidal came from a political family, and his grandfather was Senator Thomas Gore, and was related to the Kennedy family.
Vidal was my favorite American writer, first because of his enormous aptitude, and second, because he once criticized the American system and its symbols, boldly and sharply. Even as an easy target for the extremists, he was among the first people to come out as homosexual. He lived for some time in a villa on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. I visited the area each summer, and I always wished to meet the author of Myra Breckinridge and Washington DC, but had no one to make the introduction.
Today, I recall his literary spats with people like Normal Mailer and Truman Capote, and how he often triumphed with his strong argument and sharp tongue, so perhaps I will soon find the time to reread his autobiography, which he wrote.