Tinker, Tailor, Banker, Spy

By Corn, David | The Nation, February 4, 1991 | Go to article overview

Tinker, Tailor, Banker, Spy


Corn, David, The Nation


The case of banker Robert Maxwell is a sad one. His career in international finance was proceeding well until he signed on with the First National Bank of Maryland in 1983. One night after regular working hours, Maxwell's boss asked him to handle a special client, Associated Traders Corporation. The boss, Maxwell says, noted offhandedly that A.T.C. was actually a Central Intelligence Agency front company. (That bank official now claims he cannot recall the conversation.) Maxwell gladly took on the A.T.C. account and soon found it a bit unconventional. He was asked by A.T.C. to transfer millions of dollars through the Cayman Islands and Panama, and sometimes he was instructed to remove A.T.C:s name from the transactions. That seemed strange to Maxwell, but it wasn't, considering the goods A.T.C. was purchasing: weapons. Between 1981 and 1985 the firm bought almost $20 million in arms and equipment overseas, according to documents Maxwell copied. In one deal, A.T.C purchased from the Indian government 60,000 rifles, which probably ended up with the rebels in Afghanistan.

The secrecy and pressure got to Maxwell. He was especially disturbed when he discovered an A.T.C. account had been put under his name. He worried he might be engaged in skulduggery, and in 1985 asked his superiors for a memo authorizing the unusual transactions. Maxwell claims they resisted, took him off the A.T.C. account, issued veiled threats and harmed his career. Although he resigned and got another banking job, Maxwell was so shaken by the experience that he suffered a nervous breakdown. He later sued the bank, A. …

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