The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1990Chancellor (1989-1990)

Mr Major’s Parliamentary Answer on the Bank of Credit and Commerce International – 18 January 1990

Below is the text of Mr Major’s response on the Bank of Credit and Commerce International held on 18th January 1990 in the House of Commons.

Mr. Rathbone To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what discussions he or his officials have had with United States counterparts about the banking operations of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

Mr. Major There has been close liaison between United Kingdom and United States customs officials in connection with Operation C-Chase, a drugs money-laundering investigation directed at the Medellin cartel, involving bank accounts held with the BCC group.

Mr. Rathbone The Chancellor will be aware of newspaper reports of the handling of huge amounts of drug-trafficking money by the bank, which transferred £15 million from this country to Luxembourg last year and has held the major part of $60 million in deposits for Mr. Rodriguez Gacha and the Medellin drug cartel this year. Is he satisfied that there is sufficient national and international supervision of the bank’s operations? In the light of his investigations, what initiatives will he present for inclusion in the report by the international financial action task force, which is due in April?

Mr. Major I am aware of the reports to which my hon. Friend refers and I am satisfied with the supervision responsibilities and powers available to the Bank of England. As my hon. Friend will know, under the Banking Act 1987 the operations of BCCI in the United Kingdom are supervised by the Bank of England. Internationally, overall supervision of the group is carried out by a college of supervisors with representatives from a number of countries in which the bank has its operations. I have no doubt that those supervisors will give careful consideration to the outcome of the case, and it would be inappropriate of me to comment on that now.

Mr. Skinner If the Chancellor of the Exchequer really wanted to get hold of the money that has been salted away by the drug barons, he need only use the system that was adopted by the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer during the miners’ strike. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when the miners’ money was in banks in Switzerland and elsewhere on the continent, the British Government found ways and means of sequestrating that money that belonged to the National Union of Mineworkers? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if he adopted a similar system, he could get at the drug barons’ money? If he wanted to adopt an even stronger method, he could tell all the banks that the Government intend to stop the tax relief that they give them every year.

Mr. Major I am fascinated by those post hoc revelations. On money-laundering, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 strengthened considerably the powers of enforcement agencies and introduced a provision for financial institutions to report suspicious transactions to the police. The United Kingdom is participating fully in the financial action task force that has been established, with representatives from a number of countries, specifically to deal with this problem.

Mr. Dykes Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the Florida allegations are serious and must be pursued rigorously, it would be unfair – particularly as he has confirmed that supervision of the BCCI is correct so far as he can tell – to criticise on a worldwide basis this successful international bank, which apparently has helped millions of people in the Third world?

Mr. Major As my hon. Friend will know, senior representatives of that bank are facing trial in the United States. It would be unwise of me to comment.

Dr. Marek The Chancellor will accept that this is a most serious affair in that it could besmirch the good name of the City and the whole financial industry in this country. Will he assess the amount of man and woman power that should be available to Customs and other officers in the Bank of England to assure the public that there is no cause for alarm, that this is an isolated incident and that it will not recur in the City or anywhere else in this country?

Mr. Major I share the hon. Gentleman’s view that this is a serious matter, and I hope and believe that it is an isolated incident. The Bank of England has sufficient staff working on the proposition. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the successful year that Customs and Excise has had in combating and grabbing hold of illegal drug imports.