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Banking with Bin Laden

by Lucy Komis­ar
(Side­bar from In These Times arti­cle “Explo­sive Rev­e­la­tion$” [1])

Fol­low­ing the Sep­tem­ber 11 attacks on the World Trade Cen­ter and the Pen­ta­gon, the Unit­ed States start­ed focus­ing its inves­ti­ga­tion on the finan­cial trail of Osama bin Laden and the al-Qae­da net­work.

Like any oth­er large, glob­al oper­a­tion, inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ists need to move large sums of mon­ey across bor­ders clan­des­tine­ly. In Novem­ber, U.S. author­i­ties named some banks that had bin Laden accounts, and it put them on a black­list.

One was Al Taqwa—“Fear of God”—registered in the Bahamas with offices in Lugano, Switzer­land. Al Taqwa had access to the Clearstream sys­tem through its cor­re­spon­dent account with the Ban­ca del Got­tar­do in Lugano, which has a pub­lished Clearstream account (No. 74381).

But bin Laden may have oth­er access to the unpub­lished sys­tem. In what he calls a “spec­tac­u­lar dis­cov­ery,” Ernest Back­es reports that in the weeks before CEO André Lus­si was forced to leave Clearstream last May, a series of 16 unpub­lished accounts were opened under the name of the Sau­di Invest­ment Com­pa­ny, or SICO, the Gene­va hold­ing of the Sau­di Bin­laden Group—which is run by Osama’s broth­er, Yeslam Bin­laden (some fam­i­ly mem­bers spell the name dif­fer­ent­ly).

Yeslam Bin­laden insists that he has noth­ing to do with his broth­er, but evi­dence sug­gests SICO is tied into Osama”s finan­cial net­work. SICO is asso­ci­at­ed with Dar Al-Maal-Al-Isla­mi (DMI), an Islam­ic finan­cial insti­tu­tion also based in Gene­va and presided over by Prince Muhammed Al Faisal Al Saoud, a cousin of Sau­di King Fahd, that directs mil­lions a year to fun­da­men­tal­ist move­ments. DMI holds a share of the Al Shamal Islam­ic Bank of Sudan, which was set up in 1991 and part­ly financed by $50 mil­lion from Osama bin Laden.

Fur­ther­more, one of SICO’s admin­is­tra­tors, Gene­va attor­ney Bau­doin Dunand, is a part­ner in a law firm, Magnin Dunand & Part­ners, that set up the Swiss finan­cial ser­vices com­pa­ny SBA—a sub­sidiary of the SBA Bank in Paris, which is con­trolled by Khaled bin Mah­fouz. Mahfouz’s younger sis­ter is mar­ried to Osama bin Laden.