Banking with Bin Laden

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But bin Laden may have other access to the unpublished system.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Ernest Backes reports that in the weeks before CEO André Lussi was forced to leave Clearstream last May, a series of 16 unpublished accounts were opened under the name of the Saudi Investment Company, or SICO, the Geneva holding of the Saudi Binladen Group—which is run by Osama’s brother,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.