!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Petra Bank
Petra Bank was a participant or observer in the following events:
Two years after its founding, Petra Bank, run by Ahmed Chalabi, is the second largest bank in Jordan. The bank’s success is attributed to the Chalabi family’s vast network of international connections which has enabled Petra to move money in and out of Jordan several steps ahead of the Jordon’s strict exchange controls. “They were far more efficient than the other banks,” a Jordanian businessman tells Salon. Chalabi’s bank lends money to several influential figures, including Prince Hasan, now a close acquaintance of Chalabi, to whom the bank lends $30 million. Chalabi’s friendship with Hassan enables Petra to open a chain of branches in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. [Guardian, 4/14/2003; Salon, 5/4/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004] During this period, Petra bank even does business with Saddam Hussein, helping the dictator finance Iraqi trade with Jordan. [Salon, 5/5/2004]
Mohammed Said Nabulsi, Jordan’s central bank governor, orders the country’s banks to deposit 30 percent of their foreign exchange holdings with the central bank. The measure is part of an effort to enforce regulations on liquidity ratios and reduce the outflow of foreign exchange from Jordan. Petra, run by Ahmed Chalabi, is the only bank among the 20 that is unable to comply with the order. At the urging of Nabulsi, King Hussein puts Petra under government supervision and orders an audit of the bank’s books. Petra’s board of directors are replaced and an investigation begins. Two weeks later, in August 1989, Chalabi flees the country—reportedly with $70 million. According to Hudson Institute’s Max Singer, Prince Hassan personally drives Chalabi to the Jordanian border, helping him escape. The investigation subsequently uncovers evidence of massive fraud. “The scale of fraud at Petra Bank was enormous,” Nabulsi will later recall. “It was like a tiny Enron.” Arthur Andersen determines that the bank’s assets are overstated by $200 million. The bank is found to have enormous bad debts (about $80 million); “unsupported foreign currency balances at counter-party banks” (about $20 million); and money purportedly owed to the bank which could not be found (about $60 million). Millions of dollars of depositors’ money had been routed to the Chalabi family empire in Switzerland, Lebanon, and London, in the form of loans that had not been repaid. The Chalabi family’s Swiss and Lebanese firms, Mebco and Socofi, are later put into liquidation. As a result of the fraud, the Jordanian government is forced to pay $200 million to depositors whose money had disappeared, and to avert a potential collapse of the country’s entire banking system. [American Prospect, 11/18/2002; Guardian, 4/14/2003; Salon, 5/4/2004; CounterPunch, 5/20/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004] Chalabi later provides a different account of what happened. According to Zaab Sethna, a spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, King Hussein of Jordan turned on Chalabi in coordination with Iraq because Chalabi was “using the bank to fund [Iraqi] opposition groups and learning a lot about illegal arms transfers to Saddam.” Petra Bank was also providing the CIA with information on the Jordanian-Iraqi trade. [American Prospect, 11/18/2002; New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
Jordanian investigators spend 45 days in the US looking for hidden assets belonging to a Washington, DC subsidiary of Petra Bank, a Chalabi-controlled enterprise that collapsed in 1989 (see August 2, 1989). Nearly all of the US assets listed in Petra Bank’s books turn out to be worthless, with the notable exception of an auxiliary office where valuable bank records are presumably kept. The “office” is a country estate with a swimming pool in upscale Middleburg, Virginia. It belongs to the Chalabi family, which had been charging the bank a monthly rent. “There was not one business record in the whole place,” an official will later recall. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
A 500-page report completed on behalf of the Jordanian military attorney-general charges that Ahmed Chalabi was directly responsible for the collapse of Petra Bank (see August 2, 1989). It accuses him of making “fictitious deposits and entries to make the income… appear larger; losses on shares and investments; [and] bad debts… to Abhara company and Al Rimal company.” The technical report contains 106 chapters, each of which addresses a different irregularity. Most of them are attributed to Chalabi. [Guardian, 4/14/2003]
Journalist Andrew Cockburn asks an investigator who spent several years looking into the collapse of Ahmed Chalabi’s Petra Bank if the US government has ever questioned him about the scandal. “No, not once,” he replies, adding that journalists have also avoided reporting about Chalabi’s involvement in Petra Bank. [CounterPunch, 5/20/2004]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.