The ‘Suisse Secrets’ data reveals that 15 intelligence figures from around the world, or their close family members, have held accounts at the Zurich-based global investment bank, Credit Suisse.
The accounts, many of which had very large balances, raise due diligence questions for the bank.
Those who held accounts include spy chiefs and their relatives from Jordan, Yemen, Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan. Some have been accused of financial crimes, torture or both, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) said in a report.
During the War on Terror, international strategy relied on intelligence officials from regimes accused of corruption and torture. Several of these spies and their families held large sums at Credit Suisse.
All four had roles in key US interventions in the Middle East and Afghanistan, from the CIA’s early attempts to back anti-Soviet mujahideen in the late 1970s, to the first Gulf War in 1990, to the so-called “forever wars” launched in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001.
Most of the 15 were top-tier spy chiefs in their country. The data also held a number of other spies that OCCRP has chosen not to name, because their identities could not be verified beyond absolute doubt.
Along with Jordanian spymaster Sa’ad Khair, three of these spy chiefs have common career threads that make them stand out: Egypt’s Omar Suleiman, Pakistan’s General Akhtar Abdur Rahman and Yemen’s Ghaleb Al-Qamish.
All four ran state intelligence agencies where they controlled large black budgets that were above parliamentary and executive scrutiny. These figures or their family members also held personal accounts at Credit Suisse worth large sums of money, without obvious sources of personal income that could explain the wealth.
Three of the figures, Qamish, Suleiman and Khair, were in charge of agencies that were well known for being involved in torture.
At least eight of their family members also had Credit Suisse accounts.
In the late 1970s, the US-backed seven different factions of Islamist fighters called the mujahideen who were battling Russia’s presence in Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia matched US funding to the jihadists dollar for dollar, often sending the money to the CIA’s Swiss bank account. The end recipient in the process was Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence group (ISI), led by Akhtar.
By the mid-1980s, Akhtar was adept at getting CIA cash into the hands of Afghan jihadis. It was around this time that Credit Suisse accounts were opened in the names of his three sons.
As Mohammad Yousaf, a colleague of Akhtar’s at the ISI who later penned a book about the time, wrote: “The combined (US and Saudi) funds, running into several hundred million dollars a year, were transferred by the CIA to special accounts in Pakistan under the control of ISI.”
Both Yousaf and Steve Coll author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 2005 book ‘Ghost Wars’ claim Akhtar was the man who decided where this cash went next. To train the mujahideen in sophisticated weaponry, the CIA trusted him with millions. By 1984, the CIA’s Afghanistan budget alone was some $200 million.
Oversight was chronically lax, and Akhtar’s role has long been questioned.
One South Asian intelligence source with knowledge of Afghanistan operations told OCCRP: “It was easy at that point in time to open Swiss banking accounts of any manner or type for transfer of overt funds.
“Akhtar was doing it to fill his own pockets… A lot of money was siphoned off from the Afghan war and into his bank accounts.”
Akhtar died in a 1988 plane crash that also killed his boss, Pakistani dictator Zia-ul-Haq.
(Sanjeev Sharma can be reached at Sanjeev.email@example.com)