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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 January, 2004, 06:44 GMT
BCCI's painful legacy for UK Asians

Mary Hennock
BBC News Online business reporter

For thousands of Asian business people in Britain, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) is a name they wish they could forget.

Bradford street scene
BCCI's collapse shattered many small Asian-owned businesses

"It's given them so much bad experience in life," says Manjit Lit, chairman of Southall Chamber of Commerce.

"I lost millions. I was a property developer, all my money was tied up in property and BCCI was the only bank that I was using day to day," says one man from Southall, one of London's biggest Asian communities.

The property developer, who did not wish to be named, strolled down to his BCCI branch on 5 July 1991 to deposit "a few thousand pounds".

Shock closure

Meanwhile, BCCI's London headquarters were being raided by police and fraud investigators. BCCI was shut down and its affairs turned over to liquidators.

We were getting the support which the other High Street banks were not giving us. BCCI was supporting us and we put everything with BCCI
R Singh

"I came back to my office, and straightaway I got a call from the bank to say the door is closed. I said, 'How? In 15 minutes?'"

"I was penniless straightaway," the property developer says. His bank account was frozen: "I couldn't use it, I couldn't touch it".

BCCI was not a big name on the High Street, but it had a good reputation among British Asians, who believed they had found a bank that liked to say 'Yes'.

A 'listening bank'

"That bank was a listening bank," the property developer says. A Delhi-trained architect, he got a start-up loan from BCCI in the late 1980s to buy his first commercial property.

"That bank, they say 'OK it's a feasible project', but other banks they don't want to know, it was easy to talk to the manager there," he says.

Some reckoned the fact that BCCI founder, Agha Hasan Abedi, was Pakistani, explained the bank's readiness to accept their business plans.

"We were getting the support which the other High Street banks were not giving us. BCCI was supporting us and we put everything with BCCI," says Mr Singh, another London businessman who wants to guard his identity.

Financial hardship

BCCI had 6,500 depositors in Britain, many of them immigrants from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Bank of Credit and Commerce International branch
BCCI was the UK's biggest bank failure with 10bn of debt

Many, like the property developer, had also taken out loans from BCCI.

When his account was frozen, he says he was close to selling his latest project, a warehouse bought with a 1.3m loan from the bank.

He had spent a further 1m of his own money to cut the building into six units and was hoping to get a total of 3m. "It was 100% ready to sell," he remembers.

"It affected all of my properties...whatever I was doing I couldn't do anything. Within five, six months I have to declare (myself) bankrupt," he says.

He lost his other properties, including a three-star hotel and his own home, and was no longer able to support his student daughters.

As a bankrupt, he was unable to claim compensation for his lost deposits, he explains.

He was also unable to open a bank account or borrow money to start a new business for six years under UK credit laws.

Painful memories

Many ex-BCCI clients were driven into bankruptcy, says Mr Lit, who counts himself relatively lucky to have lost just 6,000 from his personal account.

1972: Luxembourg-based BCCI opens branch in London
1985: Price Waterhouse investigates BCCI losses
1987 Luxembourg asks for help to regulate BCCI
1988: Tampa branch of BCCI closed after money-laundering charges
1990: Price Waterhouse says BCCI needs 1.8bn rescue
1991: BCCI closed down by international regulators
1992: Bingham report criticises Bank of England's role
1993: Liquidators issue writ against Bank of England
1997: Labour moves banking supervision to FSA
2004: Court case begins

That is why few of them welcome the spotlight the liquidator's decision to sue the Bank of England has thrown on their plight.

Having battled to climb out of bankruptcy, they still fear being tainted by it.

"They say 'We have restarted our business life and we don't want to go back,'" says Mr Lit.

"It was like a nightmare, hard to get a loan (again), running round different banks. They don't want those memories back," he adds.

"I don't want anything to come back to me," says the property developer, explaining why he does not want his name printed.

Even though many BCCI depositors eventually got compensation, it took years of distress.

Clients with less than 20,000 in their accounts received 75% of that in compensation under the Depositors Protection Scheme.

For others, Deloitte & Touche, BCCI's liquidators, say they have recovered 75% of the lost deposits through a series of legal actions.

Many of BCCI's victims had to stop sending money to relatives in India: "I couldn't do anything after that; I have to look after myself," says the property developer.

Today, he is working in his wife's dry cleaning firm and starting to buy property again, though his business is still on a smaller scale: "I have two or three flats".

The BBC's Angela Garvey
"This court case will stir up a lot of bad memories"

Bank of England sued in BCCI case
13 Jan 04  |  Business
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Bank faces 1bn law suit
23 Mar 01  |  Business
BCCI case goes to Lords
11 Dec 98  |  The Company File
BCCI claimants lose compensation appeal
06 Dec 98  |  The Company File

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