Wanted BCCI middle-man remains a fugitive

A Kt 'scrutiny' (Special Report)
Filed on June 13, 2006

DUBAI Ghaith Rashad Pharaon, wanted by the US for his role in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) scandal, escaped dragnet once again.

And, despite being a fugitive with an international arrest warrant hanging over his head, the 65 year-old multi-millionaire also maintains an active business life.

On Friday Sicilian paramilitary police, supported by FBI agents, raided the 60 foot Le Pharaon super yacht as she lay anchored a mile offshore the tiny Sicilian island of Pantelleria.

The FBI were hunting the cigar-puffing Pharaon who, since the collapse of BCCI, has been a fugitive from the US authorities on charges of fraud, money laundering and racketeering. Pharoan managed to escape the US shortly after charges were laid in the early 1990s and since then, has travelled the world aboard his luxury yacht, frustrating attempts to bring him before the courts to face charges related to his time as a senior figure in BCCI. Mysteriously, Pharaon was not on board when the internationally co-ordinated raid took place on June 9. In the past few years, Pharoan's super yacht which he named Le Pharaon after himself has repeatedly been seen moored alongside luxury yachts of the rich and famous.

In June last year Le Pharaon was recorded as moored alongside the Issham Al Baher, the personal yacht of the late King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud and now understood to be the yacht of his son King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, at the Greek port of Lavrion. They were the only two Saudi owned yachts in port at the time.

The Issham Al Baher, at 115 metres, is recorded as one of the world's largest super yachts. Le Pharaon, is distinctively decorated with a portrait of Egypt's King Tut on her stern and funnels.

Two years earlier, the Panamanian-registered Le Pharaon was photographed moored alongside the Lady Hayda, another Saudi royal family super yacht, at the Dbayeh Marina in Beirut.

After attending the American University in Beirut, the Colorado School of Mines, Standford University and Harvard Business School, Ghaith Pharaon launched an international braininess career. At one point he owned a significant stake in the Hyatt Hotels group.

But, it is his role as a major shareholder of BCCI that has made him the subject of US law enforcement investigations and international law suits. BCCI has been dubbed the world's greatest financial scandal.

The Pakistan-founded bank collapsed in 1991 under investigation for money laundering on behalf of drug cartels, bribery, terrorist support, arms trafficking, nuclear proliferation, tax evasion and smuggling.

Pharaon was identified by the US Federal reserve as a 'front man' for BCCI investments in various US financial institutions. Pharaon remains at large, charged with fraud and racketeering charges, and subject to indictments from courts in New York, Washington DC, Georgia and Florida as well as from the Federal Internal Revenue Service.

According to Khaleej Times research, after leaving the Greek Port of Lavrion in June 2005, the Pharaon was next seen in the Seychelles Islands, where the boat spent nearly three months between early December 2005 and late February 2006 sailing from a base at the Wharf Victoria under Captain Sigfred Grande.

Her whereabouts between March and June are unknown, but US authorities were by then apparently tracking the yacht and its fugitive owner. But by the time Sicilian Carabineiri police, aided by a helicopter, raided the yacht, Pharaon was gone.

Pharaon briefly put his head above the parapet in January this year when he spoke to Jordanian press about his latest investment, the Janna Spa and Resort in Maain, Jordan. Pharaon, co-owner of the newly renovated five-star resort, praised the Jordanian government for removing bureaucratic obstacles to the resort's redevelopment.

Pharaon told the press that the spa, which is 120 meters below sea level and features hot thermal springs, was 'unique'. 'We believe we have no competition,' he is reported as saying with reference to the world famous Dead Sea resorts, 'A spa like this does not exist elsewhere.'

Pharaon recently agreed to pay $175 million (Dh643 million) to the liquidators of BCCI. The civil settlement was conditional on no admission of liability by Pharaon and the dropping of all litigation by aggrieved investors against him. It did not, however, affect any outstanding criminal charges.

A French parliamentary report has indicated links between Pharaon and the financial networks of Al Qaida head Osama bin Laden.

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