THE global banking scandal involving Bank of Credit & Commerce
International has landed atop an Argentine drug-money-laundering
scandal alleged to involve figures close to President Carlos Saul
Almost simultaneously with the BCCI news in early July came a
federal court decision to press drug-money laundering charges
against Amira Yoma, the president's former sister-in-law and former
appointments secretary. While there is no known link between BCCI
and charges against Ms. Yoma, many Argentines have begun to wonder
if "Yomagate" does not extend further.
Speculation has been rife, in part, because Yoma and the
president are both of Syrian ancestry, and both had contacts with
alleged BCCI front man Ghaith Pharaon, a Saudi Arabian financier.
Mr. Pharaon has in recent years become a highly visible investor in
Argentina, with investment projects receiving high-level support.
"People never related BCCI with Yomagate until the judge
(investigating Yomagate) went to BCCI to get some information," says
a representative of a US bank in Buenos Aires. "Now people in the
(financial) community start thinking there is some connection."
Argentine banking authorities closed down the local Banco de
Credito y Comercio, 99 percent owned by BCCI Holdings, in late July,
though a decision had earlier been made to close the bank by the end
of the year. When officials visited BCCI offices, they are reported
to have found written instructions for the bankers to destroy
documents on secret accounts and the institution's transactions.
Pharaon met with President Menem some time ago to discuss a Hyatt
Regency hotel he is building in downtown Buenos Aires. He also used
the consulting services of Javier Gonzalez Fraga, who later became
Argentina's Central Bank president. Both have denied anything more
than a superficial connection with Pharaon.
Desperately seeking citizenship
Pharaon was apparently interested in Argentine investments partly
because he hoped to obtain Argentine citizenship. Laws granting
Argentine citizens a right to trial at home before being extradited
for trial abroad would thwart US attempts to extradite Pharaon, says
Rogelio Garcia Lupo, the Buenos Aires correspondent for Tiempo de
Madrid, a Spanish magazine.
Mr. Lupo says in a phone interview that US investigators told him
this was the reason Pharaon sued him after a book he wrote led the
Argentine government to decline Pharaon citizenship. The book,
called "Stroessner's Paraguay," contains a chapter about BCCI in