Gokal sentenced to 14 years for BCCI fraud

ABBAS Gokal, chairman of the Gulf Group shipping and trading empire, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for what is believed…

ABBAS Gokal, chairman of the Gulf Group shipping and trading empire, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for what is believed to be the world's biggest ever banking fraud, involving the collapsed Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).

Gokal (61) was sentenced for masterminding a corrupt web of loans which totalled $1.2 billion (£794 million).

He was the biggest single borrower from BCCI and used the money to fund a lavish lifestyle, jetting around the globe in private aircraft and enjoying occasional spins in his two Rolls Royce cars - one parked in Geneva, the other in London.

Gokal was also ordered to pay almost $5 million from his personal fortune.

His sentence is the longest ever handed down after a successful prosecution by Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

Justice Buxton lambasted Gokal, an "intelligent, sophisticated and unscrupulous" man, who had "created a serious threat to the integrity of the whole international banking system".

The judge said that Gokal had sought to conceal the instability of BCCI so that investors continued to deposit money at the bank.

He told Gokal: "You have been convicted on two separate counts of dishonesty of the most serious and far-reaching kind."

Gokal was convicted in April for conspiracy to account falsely and conspiracy to defraud after a marathon six-month trial.

The Old Bailey ruled that Gokal had masterminded the fraud along with senior BCCI officials, whereby Gulf Group received millions of dollars in unsecured loans even though the shipping company was "hopelessly insolvent".

Numerous councils around Britain lost millions of pounds when BCCI collapsed in July 1991, along with thousands of small businesses and individual savers.

Private investors who lost their life savings after the bank's collapse "plainly would not have parted with their money had the truth not been concealed from them", the judge said.

"Other depositors were public bodies, including local authorities who, although not totally ruined by the collapse of BCCI have found their activities seriously restricted, and thus the interests of the inhabitants of their area seriously damaged, by losing their deposits," he added.

During their investigations, police discovered a "document factory" at the London head quarters of BCCI, which supplied documents to "feed" the fraud.

Gokal and his co-conspirators, who included senior BCCI management, falsified documents on a vast scale to secure millions of dollars' worth of loans that were circulating daily between BCCI and the Gulf Group.

The illicit cash was laundered through two New York banks - Security Pacific and French American.

"Gokal's actions have brought despair to hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who put their savings into BCCI. They are proof, if proof is needed, that human misery is the real cost of fraud," a lawyer for the SFO said.

The tycoon was arrested by German police on a stop-over between Karachi and the United States and was swiftly extradited to Britain.

The 122-day trial, which is believed to have cost £10 million sterling was financed entirely at the expense of the British tax-payer. Gokal denied the fraud charges.