Con-man or Struggling Angel? Uganda’s Infamous Ex-pat, Van Brink
by Victoria S. Gates
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International U.S. fugitive ex-CEO of bank with assets reportedly at $120-billion (USD) interviewed about intelligence reports labeling him a threat to national security and a federal indictment charging him with 140 criminal counts in January 2004.
Con-man or struggling angel? Uganda’s infamous ex-pat, Van Brink
By, Victoria S. Gates
January 29, 2004
American ex-pat, Van A. Brink, has been living in Uganda since June 1999. Colorful, somewhat mysterious and controversial throughout most of the past decade, he now stands as indicted under Title 18 of the United States Codes on some 140 criminal counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and forfeiture.
He was the Chief Executive Officer for two offshore banks from 1996 – 1999: Fidelity International Bank (of Nauru, a small island nation of about 10,000 population in the Central Pacific Ocean) and First International Bank of Grenada (Grenada being a small island nation in the Caribbean Sea of approximately 100,000 population). Both Nauru and Grenada are British Commonwealth nations, as is Uganda, where he took up residence in 1999. It is for his alleged criminal activities at Fidelity Bank and First Bank that the U.S. Department of Justice conducted more than five years of federal grand jury hearings and FBI investigations.
According to the U.S. Justice Department’s indictment of Brink, Fidelity Bank’s depositors were absorbed by First Bank in 1998. Brink resigned from Fidelity Bank and First Bank in October 1999. First Bank was placed into court-ordered liquidation in 2001, a liquidation process that is still continuing, conducted by the Grenada court’s appointed Liquidator, PricewaterhouseCoopers/Marcus A. Wide. FIBG Liquidator Marcus Wide last year retained the prestigious Kampala law firm of Shonubi Musoke & Co. as its advocates in Uganda, and has been pursuing Brink in Uganda with various court initiatives.
As some published accounts have it, Brink fled Grenada with local authorities hot on his heels, making his escape from that island one night on a Cuban submarine bound for Havana, and then flew on from there to Uganda. As premeditation or fortunate coincidence would have it, Uganda has no extradition treaty with the United States.
Why did Van Brink go to Uganda? What is he doing there? Why does the U.S. government seem so determined to make certain that he is sentenced to life imprisonment? And what light can he shed on the charges made against him?
When the news of Mr. Brink’s indictment was released in early January 2004, Offshore Informant sought and obtained an in depth interview with this most enigmatic man so that our readers might be appraised not only of the basic news of his indictment, but also with something of “his side” of the story.
GATES: The natural first question would seem to be, “How does it feel to be indicted with something like 140 separate criminal charges in the United States?”
Brink: Reminds me something of a classic and darkly humorous hypothetical question based in American history. Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth President of the United States. This was back in the 1860s, during America’s civil war. Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation freeing the hundreds of thousands of black Africans who had been kidnapped in their native lands and taken to America in slave trading ships. In 1865, while seated beside his wife and in attendance at an evening theatrical performance at the Ford Theatre near the nation’ capitol, Lincoln was assassinated. An unemployed actor who was in attendance that night, a man named John Wilkes Booth, shot him in the head at close range.
The classic question I was referring to is phrased as if asked by a reporter at that scene: “Well, yes, there is that. But other than for all of that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”
GATES: Are you saying I asked you a heartless question?
Brink: No. It just reminded me of that question hypothetically posed to Mrs. Lincoln. No offence taken. To answer your question on how it feels-- it feels, well, unbelievable.
GATES: But you had to be expecting something like this. I mean with five years of FBI investigations and federal grand jury panel hearings, you had to know that there was some sort of intention to bring criminal charges against you.
Brink: Of course. And Mrs. Lincoln had to know that her husband wasn’t the most popular man in America. After all, half of the states succeeded from the Union and formed their own country, which brought about the American Civil War. Brother against brother. Hundreds of thousands of men on both sides of the conflict killed in battles spread over most of five years. Still, I dare say it seemed quite unbelievable to Mrs. Lincoln that her husband would be shot and killed that night at the Ford Theatre.
GATES: But Lincoln was President of the United States. You are a man charged with committing 140 criminal acts, contrary to the laws of the United States.
Brink: Correct. But as a matter of perspective, I left the United States in 1998, moving to Grenada, a separate country about 2,400 kilometers distant. I was founder, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of a licensed Grenada bank and under legal obligation to live and to operate by the Grenada Offshore Banking Act of 1994. To the best of my ability I did so, reading that statute cover to cover numerous times and doing all I could to make sure the bank was in full compliance with Grenada’s laws. Where are Grenada’s charges against me for non-compliance with the law to which I was liable as CEO [Chief Executive Officer] of that bank?
GATES: Presumably, your bank had many American depositors, thus the American government claiming jurisdiction.
Brink: The bank also had depositors from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Norway, Russia, Peoples Republic of China, Japan, South Korea, Cook Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Christopher’s and Nevis, Dominica, British Virgin Islands and so forth. The bank had depositors from over 100 different countries as of when I resigned. The question arises-- to the laws of which nation is a bank’s chief executive liable to operate in accordance to? To the laws of the nation or state granting the banking license? Or to the laws of every nation from which the bank’s depositors may come?
Does Japan claim jurisdiction over the Managing Director of Standard Chartered Bank in Kampala for acts he does while at the bank in Kampala? If so, Stan Chart’s MD would be well advised to read up on Japanese laws and on the laws of every nation from which his bank has depositors. I would assume that this would include Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC], Canada, the United Kingdom, and etcetera. Oh-- and don’t forget to read up also on the laws of the United States.
GATES: Do I detect a generous hint of sarcasm in your answer?
Brink: Well yeah, there’s that. You see, I know and those in real authority in the United States know that all of this is not really about what it is alleged to be about.
GATES: Elaborate, please.
Brink: It is not anything I can prove in court, but when all of the adversarial publicity started against me in December 1998 and January 1999, I made some discreet inquiries through some individuals I knew who had personal contacts in several high places in the US Justice Department, in the CIA [United States Central Intelligence Agency] and at the NSA [United States National Security Agency] to see what this was all about. I knew I was not a criminal. There had to be a rational explanation.
And it came back, not from one source, but from all three sources that were not in any way known to each other. I had been named – and the bank had been named with me – as a threat to the National Security Interests of the United States. Accordingly, I had been marked for absolute public humiliation and “take down.” The word given at that time was that the effort would be relentless until I was utterly destroyed.
GATES: You’re not serious. You can’t be serious.
Brink: I wish I weren’t.
GATES: Entertaining for the moment the notion that you are not a completely delusional and paranoid maniac on the loose who is in need of some serious medical and psychiatric care, can you take me back a few paces and possibly explain how this could be so? Why could you and an offshore bank in a tiny country like Grenada conceivably be considered a threat to the national security interests of the United States? I’ll assume you were not manufacturing and distributing Weapons of Mass Destruction or anything like that.
Brink: Speaking of sarcasm… No. Nothing like that. It is a long story. I’ll try to boil it down. Hmmm… It is really two stories that interweave a lot and spin off into a third and fourth story.
GATES: Start with the first story.
Brink: The banks. Fidelity International Bank and First International Bank of Grenada.
We started Fidelity in August 1996. Our total capitalization was US $100,000. The first couple months were organizational. We accepted the first deposit in October 1996, as memory serves me.
GATES: The indictment said Fidelity Bank was capitalized with US $100,000 and a ruby valued at US $20 million.
Brink: The indictment is incorrect about many things, including that. Fidelity was capitalized with US $100,000 and that was all.
Fidelity was intended to be a small operation serving a select, small handful of clients. I really didn’t want any more than ten or twenty depositors. Fidelity was my part-time hobby. I still worked full time doing something else. Fidelity was an outgrowth of the something else.
GATES: Would that something else be Wheatland Interests? The indictment mentions that you moved from Oregon to Hawaii in 1994 to operate Wheatland Interests, selling tax avoidance pure trust organizations.
Brink: Yes. Wheatland Interests. Wheatland had several clients who wanted me to manage their investments. I kept refusing for over a year. I couldn’t think of anything more boring than being involved in day-to-day cash management services.
But a few clients kept after me, saying that they just “knew” I was supposed to help them. I didn’t want to get involved with that sort of thing unless it was under a real banking license. After several months of researching various jurisdictions and the requirements for obtaining a banking license, since it had the least in capitalization requirements, Nauru was selected and one of Wheatland’s clients put up the required US $100,000 in capitalization. Fidelity was purchased for an additional $50,000. And then I didn’t have many more excuses, although I worked for another couple months at making sure administrative details were all in order-- an account into which the bank could accept deposits, a relationship with a bank management firm to which I could pass instructions on what to do with the cash, and so forth.
Fidelity didn’t advertise. Not one ad, not one promotional flyer, not one newsletter sent to Wheatland’s many clients. Nothing. Fidelity opened accounts for the three clients who had been pestering me the most. Then someone else heard of the bank. Then another and another. All by personal referrals of those who were pleased with the idea of private banking and earning favorable interest rates on savings deposits.
GATES: The indictment says that you offered rates of up to 300% annually.
Brink: Yes, for a few months First Bank did have a rate sheet offering annual rates of up to 300% simple interest. It was a graduated scale of interest rates; the rate offered being determined by the size of the deposit and the term for which the deposit was fixed. To my memory, no one ever qualified for the 300% rate. But, consider how even daring to have a rate sheet offering up to 300% interest might be considered a “threat” to National Security Interests, which I am sure we’ll discuss later.
And this wasn’t how Fidelity started. Fidelity started with a rate sheet offering interest on savings of from 6% annually to 15% annually-- all based on the term of for how many months or years a deposit was fixed.
My initial desire to handle only ten to twenty depositors was shattered in the first month. I think in the first three months of the bank’s operation we were working with over 50 depositors and it seemed to double each month after that.
By the spring of 1997 it became obvious to me that working through third party bank management companies was just too cumbersome. What we needed was a bank operation with its own physical facility and operating personnel. Back to researching jurisdictions. We came up with Grenada and First International Bank of Grenada was formed and licensed in October 1997.
Meanwhile, of course, we had been experiencing exponential growth in the number of depositors and the deposit volumes being handled. And early on we also discovered ways of earning and delivering higher interest rates on savings deposits. This, of course, had a compounding effect, numerically, both in the number of depositors opening accounts and the dollar volumes of deposits managed.
I think in the first month of Fidelity our total deposits were in the range of $500,000. Three months later we were probably at $5 million. By the end of 1998 we were pushing $50 million. On October 1, 1999, when I resigned, we were topping $100 million in deposits.
So this is the first story. The exponential growth factor in the bank’s depositor ranks and deposit volumes. To the banks that are losing deposits as their customers go to some other bank, it is called “disinter mediation.” Not a word bankers like to hear as relates to what is going on at their bank.
I was naïve enough not to keep this much of a secret. I let depositors know how the bank was growing in depositor numbers, in deposit volumes, in assets under management and in bank net worth. I wasn’t hiding anything. I gather that this information “leaked out” to some unhappy bankers and their governmental regulators in the United States. They could do the math. They could calculate the rate of attrition. A banking group that could grow from zero in total deposits to $100 million in deposits in just three years was something of a threat.
When you also look at what had become the bank’s typical offered interest rates on term deposits, which were from 40% simple per annum to 100% simple per annum, that really, really makes bankers nervous who are offering savings rates of from 2% per annum to 5% per annum. What if word of that continued to get out? How many depositors are going to sit still earning a maximum of 5% per annum when they could move at least part of their savings by bank wire to a bank offering (and consistently paying) up to 100% per year?
GATES: We will return to how your bank could offer such high interest rates. The indictment alleges that you perpetrated fraud upon depositors, a fraud that cost them all of their savings, an amount alleged to be something like $206 million. But for the moment, what about your second related story that somehow ties in to your being considered a threat to the national security interests of the United States?
Brink: Story two was a three-day meeting I attended and at which I acted foolishly.
GATES: I’d have to be honest and say that offering rates of 100% annually to depositors would seem to give you fairly good credentials as a foolish man, but what was this meeting and how is it you now admit to having acted foolishly that soon had you pegged as a national security interest to the United States?
Brink: The meeting was in Barbados [a tiny island nation in the Caribbean, population of approximately 250,000] in mid-November 1998. It was called “Global Forum – Offshore Financial Services.” I was too busy to go, but the bank’s attorney was going and insisted that I needed to get out more, meet my counterparts from around the world, mingle, network and probably get some new ideas. She was persuasive. I went, not having the faintest idea of what the agenda for this Global Forum happened to be.
So there I was at the Welcome Dinner the first night. The keynote speaker was the Prime Minister of Barbados. I was expecting him to brag on what a good job Barbados had done as an offshore jurisdiction in attracting more than $10 billion in foreign deposits in the space of just a few years. Yeah, yeah… I was expecting to yawn a lot.
Instead, what I heard made my blood boil. I heard that the Executive Council of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development had, in April of that year, issued a report titled “Harmful Tax Competition.”
The OECD’s report stridently attacked small developing countries that offered tax haven benefits to attract foreign investors and depositors, claiming it just wasn’t fair to those countries that needed to rely on income tax revenues.
I could barely sit still through the rest of his speech, a speech in which he said that Barbados, and offshore jurisdictions like it elsewhere, needed to come up with a way of placating the demands of the OECD and that this was the reason he had convened a Global Forum on Offshore Financial Services.
On the way out from dinner that night, I picked up a copy of the OECD’s report on Harmful Tax Competition. The more I read, the angrier I became. I couldn’t sleep. I hooked up my laptop computer and began writing an Open Letter to the Barbados Prime Minister.
I finished writing that letter of approximately 20 pages by about ten a.m. the next morning. I had the bank’s attorney read the letter. She quickly became agitated and asked me what I intended to do with it. I told her I was going to make 100 copies and hand them out to every panelist and delegate at the Forum.
Her agitation immediately turned to a look of horror. Terror, even. She pleaded with me not to act so foolishly, that if I did such a thing she was sure that I would be taken down and the bank would be taken down with me.
I was incredulous at such a suggestion. How could it be? Everyone had the right to free speech, even private bankers. I was just exercising my right to political free speech. She, a native of Trinidad and Tobago [an island nation just south of Grenada, population approximately two million], told me that I just didn’t “get it.”
She went on to tell me that I didn’t understand the double standard that was at work between the developed nations and the developing countries of the world. The developed nations would never allow me to get away with distributing such information among the leaders of developing countries. Never, ever never! I was putting my life, as I knew it and the bank and all the lives of its employees and the depositors and their fortunes in extreme peril.
I told her she was hysterical and to get hold of herself. I was simply pointing out facts that could be verified by anyone who cared to do even modest research. No state secrets were being compromised. I was simply setting forth the facts and insisting that developing countries didn’t have to go for such nonsense that was clearly so contrary to their national economic interests.
And so I went and made 100 photocopies and marched over to the convention center and handed them out to everyone I met, also placing copies on the tables at which the invited panel members sat in each sub-topic room where delegates could choose to attend various discussions on the various aspects of offshore financial services.
The invited panel members were high-ranking government regulators in banking, securities, insurance, legal affairs and so forth—from the United States, from Canada and from the United Kingdom.
I then stayed to sit, watch and listen to the first afternoon session of the panel discussion on offshore banking. I watched as the various panel members picked up the open letters in front of them and scanned through a few pages, whispered a few comments to each other, cleared their throats and drank from their water glasses. Finally, one of them spoke. Holding my written masterpiece in his hands, he said only this: “Talk about a David soon to meet Goliath…” and then he tossed the open letter document back down on the table with what looked to me to be distain.
I fully expected to be invited to get up and have a few minutes to explain the paper I presented, at least for five minutes or so. But no. Not another word of reference was made to it or to any of its very clearly stated points by any of the panelists. The steamroller rolled on. After an hour or so I shrugged, got up and left. I’d had enough of listening to supposedly respectable men and women attempting to explain how the completely hypocritical and ludicrously punitive agenda of developed nations against developing countries was only reasonable. Horse feathers.
GATES: Excuse me, but you’ve gone on at some length about this meeting and your writing and delivering an open letter to everyone there. But you haven’t indicated what the letter had to say or why you think that is somehow relevant to you being viewed as a threat to the national security interests of the United States.
Brink: The letter was something of an overview of modern economic evolution, particularly as relates to income taxation and the treatment of foreign investors and depositors in countries such as the United States.
For instance, isn’t everyone aware that the industrial revolution and development of the manufacturing base in the United States occurred in an era in which there were no income taxes at all? No income taxes on personal incomes. No income taxes on corporate incomes. As U.S. President George W. Bush’s father once said, “Read my lips!” NO INCOME TAXES! Today, the United States is one of the most highly developed nations in the world.
The imposition of federal income taxes in the United States occurred in 1913. When the concept of an income tax was introduced, the rate proposed was 1% of annual income. That proposal was hotly debated in the U.S. Congress prior to its passage. Much of the debate was over whether to impose an absolutely irrevocable 3% ceiling.
Some Congressmen were concerned that without such a limit the income tax rate might just climb and climb, choking the economic life out of the American people. Other Congressmen argued against placing a 3% limit on the income tax rate. Their concern was that with a 3% limit, the tax rate would soon be increased to that limit, a limit three times greater than the rate they were being asked to agree upon. No way were they voting for that!
The Income Tax Act of 1913 was passed. The rate was 1% of income. No ceiling was imposed. And here we are today, where combined state and federal income tax rates in several states in America now exceeds 50% of income. And that’s cheap, compared with Canada and many European nations.
But remember, there were no income taxes during the industrial revolution that transformed America in the 1800s and early 1900s. Now we have the spectacle of the “have” and the “have not” nations. The “have” nations insist that the “have not” nations must pretend that they live in the same economic world as exists in the “have” nations, even though the “have not” nations are in conditions of dire national poverty.
During the 1800s, the disparity in national incomes between colonial master nations and the colonial nations was on the order of 5:1. In other words the average person in a colonial master nation was five-times better off than the average person in a colonial nation.
In this age of enlightenment, in this age of reason, in this age of global recognition of supposedly equal sovereignty of independent nations, in this age of developed nations often being called “donor” nations to developing countries, in this age where various grants given poor nations are cause for publicity photos in newspapers and heart-warming stories about the care that a developed nation is showing to an undeveloped nation, in this age when no one wants to refer to what is going on as “neo-colonialism,” what is the typical disparity in national incomes between the “have” nations and the “have not” nations? Is it now less than the 5:1 it was in the dark ages when Africans were routinely kidnapped and exported to be slaves in the “have” nations? Or has the gap actually widened? It is a fairly easy matter to calculate. Just compare Uganda to the United States.
What is the per capita annual income of Ugandans? I read a year or two ago a World Bank report touting Uganda as their best success story among developing countries and bragging that Ugandans were, on average, now earning more than $300 a year (still less than $1 per day).
Compare that with a per capita income in the United States pushing $30,000 a year for the average American. What is the difference?
Just a factor of the average American being 100 times more able to survive and compete in the global marketplace than is the average Ugandan.
And knowing all of this, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD] insist that if Uganda and other developing countries are to have acceptable systems of government, they must tax incomes just like the big boys do. Never mind that all of the big boys achieved their foundational economic development in an environment that was income tax free.
And then we move into the realm of how the big boys treat foreign investors and foreign depositors. The OECD’s report ranted about the unfair tax competition of developing countries offering tax haven benefits to attract foreign investment. The OECD insists that developing countries must not offer income tax incentives to attract foreign capital.
Yet what do the big boys, the developed countries such as the United States, do?
There is no income tax assessed upon or collected from any investor who is not an American citizen or a Green Card carrying/immigrant visa holding resident alien within the United States. None. Any Ugandan can open a bank account in the United States, earn interest and never pay any income taxes to the US on those interest earnings. The same is true for those who invest in the American stock, bond or commodities markets. No income taxes on foreign investors or depositors. None. Never has been. Never will be. The consequent result, of course, is that the capital marketplaces of the United States are filled with enough available funds to keep the average interest rates charged borrowers for home purchases, business working or expansion capital, industrial and agricultural development all consistently in the single-digit rates of annual interest.
If, occasionally, rates increase to the double-digit category, there is social and political unrest and America’s politicians risk being booted from office in the next general election. This is what happened to Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. Interest rates to commercial borrowers had climbed for a few brief months to the 20% range. It had forced lay-offs in business and industry. Unemployment rates had soared above 5%. It was totally unacceptable to Americans. Those politicians deemed responsible for the sorry state of affairs, no matter how nice they otherwise seemed to be, had to go.
Yet if a developing country dares to offer the same scenario to attract foreign investment capital to empower in its capital marketplace and economic development, that upstart developing nation is regarded and treated as the scum of the earth. Such developing countries will be put on financial sector “black lists” by an adjunct arm of the OECD. Economic sanctions will be imposed on such uncooperative nations for their having dared to think for themselves and exercised even the most basic principles of good national economics. That is what the OECD Report announced in 1998. And that is what occurred in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003. As a result, nearly all of the nations that were blacklisted have caved in to the demand to do away with their “offshore” tax haven sectors.
Grenada was blacklisted. One of the demands placed on Grenada by the IMF [International Monetary Fund] was that it close down and liquidate First International Bank of Grenada. That was while I was still CEO of the bank. At first, Grenada refused to do so. First Bank was a model economic citizen of Grenada. We were serving Grenada’s economic interests. Depositors had no complaints. Everything was working perfectly. Why should they close First Bank down?
The IMF made it clear in the way the IMF is quite experienced in doing. Grenada wanted to re-do its international airport. Grenada didn’t have the money to do so. The IMF said, “Close down First Bank and we will give you the money.”
Word of this leaked to me through a third party. The person who was the original source of the leak fled the country to put certain documents into a place of safekeeping as an “insurance policy” on his very life.
But this is getting ahead of things in the second story.
GATES: You started by saying that you acted foolishly at the meeting in Barbados.
Brink: Do you have any idea how much it pains a man to ever admit that a hysterical woman was right and that he was wrong?
First Bank attorney Marion Suite was right. Big time. First Bank Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer Van Brink was wrong. Big time.
It took about three weeks from the moment I walked out of the Barbados Forum in disgust for the onslaught to start in the media. Daily. Weekly. Monthly. Month in and month out. Unrelenting. Van “David” Brink soon met his Goliath. And in case you are wondering, the world’s Goliath is bigger than I am.
I didn’t recognize what was happening at first. Even when I had my three sources check it out and they came back with the answer, I still didn’t “get it.” Some people think I’m a fairly bright guy. Maybe I am. But I can also tell you for a fact that for a bright guy, I can be a real slow learner sometimes.
GATES: I take it you feel you have been unfairly vilified in the press.
Brink: You could say that.
For instance, four years ago it was commonly reported in the press internationally that I brokered humanitarian aid treaties and cash for purchasing arms to various rebel factions fighting in the DRC in exchange for gold and diamonds. I did no such thing. The humanitarian aid agreements were just that: humanitarian aid agreements. Not one-tenth of one gram of gold and not one-tenth of one carat in diamonds was ever asked for or accepted by me, by the Union Reserve System [URS] or by First Bank in exchange for the humanitarian aid packages I attempted to put together.
To top that story off, do you know what a Canadian newspaper reported in early 2001? It reported that Van Brink, the “illegal financier” who was in league with Congolese rebels, financed the assassination of the late Democratic Republic of Congo’s President, Laurent Kabila.
Regionally, it was reported that I bilked various banks of up to $50 million in humanitarian aid that I refused to deliver the aid as promised, but chose instead to live a palatial lifestyle on stolen money. Internationally, it was reported that I was providing the money to buy the arms to keep the warring factions killing each other in DRC. Internationally, it was also reported that I was a close personal associate of Idi Amin and am living in one of his Ugandan palaces.
GATES: I’ve read one report of your indictment that also references the fact that you live in a palace here in Uganda. I’ve not actually seen an Idi Amin palace in Uganda. Where, exactly, is yours?
Brink: Well, I guess you could drive by State House or something, if you come to Uganda [“State House” is Uganda’s equivalent of the White House in the United States]. That ought to keep the rumor mills churning for another couple years. It is fairly close to the Sheraton Kampala. I did stay at the Sheraton for my first three months in Uganda. Close enough, I suppose.
GATES: I know you have one or two other stories related to all of this, but I’d like to return to the topic of the interest rates offered by one or both of your banks. You said that after you had been operating for a while the typical rates on term deposits ranged from 40% annually to 100% annually.
GATES: How is that possible? I mean the indictment is clear in the allegation that you defrauded investors. It seems to me that offering such unbelievable rates of return on savings deposits probably does constitute fraud.
Brink: Actually, it constituted my effort at honesty.
GATES: You can’t be serious. Let’s say that a bank charges 20% annually on a loan to a borrower. How can it pay 100% annually to a savings depositor? Wouldn’t you have to charge, say, 120% annually on your loans to figure out how to break even and turn a profit?
Brink: Neither Fidelity Bank nor First Bank were lending banks, other than as an occasional courtesy to a depositor who wanted to borrow against his or her savings account.
GATES: So how is it you could offer such high rates of interest? If I deposited with you $1,000 today, is there some way you could manage that deposit for me and return to me $1,000 in interest each year?
Brink: No, I couldn’t. For two reasons. First, Uganda’s central bank would have me thrown into a Uganda prison for banking without a license. I have no desire to go to prison.
GATES: Touché. But you understand my meaning. How could you offer such high rates of interest?
Brink: How could I not do so, is the question.
After I caved into the notion to go ahead and accept to manage other people’s money and we started taking on depositors at Fidelity Bank, offering relatively modest interest rates, something quite unexpected occurred. Not only did depositor ranks grow and gross deposit volumes take off into numbers that made my head spin, so too did investment opportunities start coming to us from every corner.
For a time we worked with someone who specialized in stock option trading. His monthly rates of return ranged from about 9% to 18%. One month it spiked up to 22%. During this era we changed our rate sheet so that it offered a top-end rate of 5% per month for a five-year term fixed deposit. I’m trying to remember. I think our bottom end rate for that depositor option was in the 2% per month range.
GATES: But with a rate sheet featuring rates that ranged up to 300% per year, with 100% per annum as typical?
Brink: It does kind of mess with your mind, doesn’t it? It took me more than a day to get there, mentally.
GATES: So how did you ever get to the place where you thought you could offer such astronomical rates of return?
Brink: Not only was the bank offered more and more in deposits, not only did depositor ranks grow and grow, not only did more and more investment opportunities present themselves, but something else happened too.
We started being offered huge assets. First, as “assets under management.” I can tell you that I think I had a difficult time keeping my mouth from dropping open and my chin from bouncing off the floor on the day when a man I’d never met before but who had heard about me from a friend came to me with a big file folder full of title deeds, government letters and certified real estate valuation reports and told me he had been praying about it and was convinced that he was supposed to place that package with my bank to manage. The package had a value of something like US $65 billion. Might have been a couple digits higher or lower. Hmmm. Can’t remember right now. But that was the start of the “something else” that occurred.
From that moment on it was virtually non-stop. Asset packages started coming to us all the time. $200 million here, $8.7 billion there, $3.8 billion, $300 million, $50 million, $25 million $47 billion, $4.2 billion. Three at $20 billion each. It just went on and on and on. Heady times. We soon got to the point where we were no longer interested in accepting assets under management. Too much work for too little pay.
We switched to a joint venture basis. The party bringing the asset would enter into a joint venture agreement with us agreeing to deed the asset outright to the bank so that the bank owned it free and clear and then we would share with that party 50% of whatever we could produce by way of income from that asset.
Once your head quits spinning with those numbers, your mind then chases you off in the direction of possibilities. Let’s say you were able to place $10 billion in assets and achieve a yield of just 4% per annum. How much is that? It is $400 million. Remember, though, you have to split the income 50/50 with the party who deeded the asset to you. That leaves $200 million.
Now if you have a bank with $40 million in deposits earning a maximum of 100% per year, how much do you still have that’s left over after paying your depositors all their promised yields? Let’s see. $200 million minus $40 million equals $160 million, since you still have the original $40 million to manage for the next year.
So can you afford to pay a depositor yield of 100% annually? Yes you can. And not all deposits were at that rate. Some were 2.5% per year. Some were 6% per year. Some were 30% per year, and so forth. If a few were at 200% per year, so what?
GATES: But why would you want to pay out such aggressive yields? Why not just pay normal yields and keep the additional yields as bank profits?
Brink: As I said, the rates offered were my attempts at keeping in the realm of honesty with the bank’s depositors. If it were not for our depositors, the other opportunities would not have opened up for us. I was convinced of that. How could I not see to it that the bank’s depositors were treated generously?
Two other factors also entered in to that decision. We wanted to become a bank that would change the world, including through humanitarian aid programs. But there is an expression that most of us are taught as children. “Charity begins at home.” How could I think to expand the bank into offering humanitarian aid, if I was not first of all committed to treating all depositors (those at home) with extreme generosity as well?
Then there is a basic fact of banking life. Depositors tend to choose their banking relationships based on convenience and accessibility, financial incentives (yield rates offered to them) and safety.
Located on a tiny island in either the Pacific Ocean or the Caribbean Sea didn’t exactly make either Fidelity Bank nor First Bank convenient and accessible. We had to focus on the other two factors—providing ample financial incentive for being a depositor and also that the asset structure of the bank was significant enough to allow for peace of mind concerning the safety of depositing in the bank.
GATES: And now you are under indictment for 140 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy, money laundering and forfeiture.
Brink: So I’ve been told.
GATES: If you don’t mind, let’s talk for a while about the charges themselves. What can you do to enlighten me on the circumstances surrounding the matters cited, the specifics of what did occur, and why you seem convinced that you are not someone who should be locked away for the next one hundred years or more and what you’re going to do about it?
GATES: I read the Internet published court docket. It says that you have been served the entire indictment and all attachments that the U.S. Attorney’s office served this upon you through your personal attorney.
Brink: Yeah, I read that much too. But I have a something of a problem with that. You see, I have no idea who the government thinks is my attorney. I don’t have a personal attorney. Not here in Uganda. Not in the UK. Not in the United States. Not in any other country, either. I have no idea how many attorneys there are in the world, but it has to be ten million or more. Which one am I supposed to call?
GATES: I suppose that you could call the U.S. Attorney’s office and ask how you might obtain personal service on the delivery of the indictment that has been made against you.
Brink: No, there is a supposedly operating legal concept called “Due Process.” One of the requirements of Due Process is that a prosecutor makes a reasonable attempt to effect service upon an accused party and provides that accused party with full disclosure of the allegations standing against him and the evidence the prosecutor has in support of those allegations. I am not that difficult to locate. I have had not one hint of anyone attempting to locate me. Yet the internet-published court docket declares that the U.S. Justice Department was able to locate me for official service through my personal attorney. They didn’t and they haven’t.
GATES: Perhaps they had the court appoint an attorney for you so that they could serve that attorney and, therefore, comply with the requirements of due process?
Brink: That’s my guess. Reminds me something of what we watched on the full day of live television coverage on the capture of Saddam Hussein. We were shown over and over again a video clip of the man alleged to be Saddam Hussein being subjected to a personal examination of his body by nameless medical personnel who carefully looked into his mouth and strand-by-hair-strand through his hair. Were they still searching for the mysteriously missing weapons of mass destruction or something?
GATES: Who can forget?
Brink: Interspersed with this continual re-running of the video clip were live interviews with various American-appointed Iraqi officials insisting that Saddam Hussein would be given a fair trial, of course. And then he would be executed.
Now I’m no great fan of Saddam Hussein. What we’ve all been told through years of American and British media reports is that he was a ruthless and brutal dictator who is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens and also of the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent Iranian citizens during the ten-year war between Iraq and Iran (for which America provided massive financial and arms support to Iraq, by the way—so in what way is it that the United States has the clean hands and pure heart to be casting the first stone at Saddam Hussein for his “crimes against humanity?”).
GATES: But that’s not the point, is it?
Brink: No, it’s not. The point is that in the Anglo-American judicial system an accused party is to be accorded the presumption of innocence until he is proven guilty of whatever alleged crime or crimes by a fair trial in a court of law and before a jury of his peers who consider only the facts, not the years and years of government-sourced, spin-doctored reports related to an individual. Tell me how that is even remotely possible with respect to Saddam Hussein, when American-appointed Iraqi officials are insisting that just prior to his execution, Hussein will be accorded a fair trial. With the verdict already concluded and the sentencing publicly announced before any of the evidence is examined, how can the trial be fair?
GATES: And how do you see this as relating to you and the indictment against you?
Brink: For the past five full years I have been officially denounced and effectively pronounced guilty of all manner of evil crimes against depositors. I have been paraded through the American and international media as the most notorious dirty rotten white-collar scoundrel of this generation. Front page news stories denouncing me in America’s leading financial daily newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, and also in the Los Angeles Times, the Miami Herald, the Toronto Globe, the Portland Oregonian, Canada’s National Post, the Vancouver Sun and on and on. And now the U.S. Justice Department is making sure I receive a fair trial in Portland, Oregon, by providing service of the charges against me to my unknown-to-me personal attorney?
I received a forward of an e-mail between two depositors who were discussing the fact that one of them had been contacted by the FBI to see if he wouldn’t be willing to be interviewed by a journalist working for a prominent Portland-area newspaper who was doing a “human interest story” on the criminal indictment story and how the bank’s failure impacted the lives of depositors. It is called “tainting the prospective jury pool.” It is highly unethical, if not outright criminal to do so. But that is what the U.S. Justice Department has been systematically doing for the past five years—attempting to make certain that when they do bring the matter to trail, the jurors have been already fully programmed to rendered the “Justice” Department’s desired verdict.
But back to my point: What does this unknown-to-me personal defense attorney know about anything? Only what he has read in the newspapers for five years and what the U. S. Attorney now insists are the facts. So now we have the scenario of a tainted jury being asked to render a verdict based on what the prosecution has presented and defended by one who knows nothing of the facts but what he has read over the years and whatever else the Justice Department may have shared with him. Is this the setting for a fair trial?
GATES: So let’s get into these presumed facts and what you know about them.
Brink: We can start at the bottom and work our way back up to the top. From what I’ve read, the last category of charges relates to Forfeiture. That is, those known items of property that were purchased with the proceeds of crime should be forfeited by each of the defendants.
In this category of what I understand is the case against me, the U.S. Government is demanding the Forfeiture by me of the alleged “palace” purchased by me here in Uganda.
A couple technical problems exist with this proposition. First, I didn’t purchase any Ugandan properties, palatial or otherwise. First Bank did purchase two executive homes in Mbuya, not palaces. The bank bought those two properties on the recommendation of someone in the Uganda Government. Further, First Bank later sold those properties under terms and conditions that it deemed acceptable to the bank. I was not an officer or a director of the bank at the time the bank decided to sell the properties. Neither was I the purchaser of the properties from the bank. Nor am I the present owner of the properties. Furthermore, I have no personal control over the properties in any way. How is it, then, that I can be made to forfeit the properties by an American court’s order? One can’t forfeit what one doesn’t have nor ever did have.
You can’t get to the Forfeiture provisions of American law without passing through the supposed criminal acts committed along the way. A property isn’t subject to Forfeiture unless it was obtained with the proceeds of crime.
From what I’ve read it appears that the Government concludes that the properties were purchased through moving the “proceeds-of-crime” purchase-funds through a money laundering system. It names certain banks that are described as “innocent conduits.” It alleges that the funds used to purchase the Mbuya “palace” were the proceeds of crime and money laundered through innocent conduit banks, rather than purchased directly with funds wired from the bank itself. And that, says the government, is the crime of money laundering.
GATES: I’ve read several allegations over the past few years that you were involved in money laundering. Before you press on, would you care to comment just on that topic?
Brink: No problem. Consider that only “dirty” money needs to be laundered. And this is how we normally think the term is applied in law. We think of drug lords and illegal arms traffickers with suitcases full of cash and needing to work out an arrangement with a corruptible banker to launder the money for them, that is, to pass the illegitimate funds through some sort of legitimate looking bank accounts so that they come out and are delivered to a final desired destination looking completely legitimate.
Early in the days of Fidelity Bank I saw that this could be a future problem, if we weren’t careful. Scores, hundreds and eventually thousands of people were transmitting funds to us. Neither Fidelity Bank nor First Bank had the manpower and resources to individually investigate each of the bank’s depositors. So I added this requirement upon depositors. In order to send funds to Fidelity Bank and to First Bank, the depositor had to get his or her home bank to add this text to the funds transmission: “The remitter is known to us and we are satisfied as to the source of funds.” Again, that was depositor’s own home bank that supplied the statement or we would not accept the deposit.
The transmissions that the banks received from depositors were of “clean money,” not “dirty money.” Under full banking responsibility the commercial banks that were transmitting funds to Fidelity Bank or to First Bank declared right on the transmission that the funds were “clean money,” that they knew the party sending the funds and were satisfied that the party’s source of funds was legitimate.
As non-American offshore banks, neither Fidelity Bank nor First Bank could receive US dollars by direct transmissions from depositors. We had to establish account relationships with commercial banks or trust companies to receive funds on our behalf. Then when we wanted to move those funds to pay yields to depositors, to make investments or to pay operating expenses, we instructed those commercial banks and trust companies to wire the funds out to the specified destinations. It is not unlawful for an offshore bank to operate in this manner. It is the ONLY manner in which an offshore bank may transact any funds in any currency whatsoever. The thing I was concerned with in respect to money laundering was simply that the funds we received were known to be and were certified by the commercial bank making the transfer to us as “clean money.”
GATES: So how is it, then, that the American government now insists that the funds used to purchase the Mbuya “palace” were the proceeds of crime and via money laundering?
Brink: That is a mystery to me as well. In recent years the laws in America have become so convoluted that no one really can make much sense of them. For instance, if a person owes income taxes in the United States and chooses to pay his landlord and other creditors instead this month or to advance additional working capital to his business, I think it possible for him to be prosecuted for both money laundering and income tax evasion, possible for anything he purchases to be made subject to forfeiture and possible for his company or his creditors to be demanded to return “the proceeds of crime” that they received from the money launderer/tax evader.
I received an e-mail from one American pen pal last week who was reading in a local newspaper that under the provisions of new Homeland Security Act, someone who was caught manufacturing illegal drugs had just been arrested under the charge of terrorism against the American people. And, of course, those arrested for suspected terrorism really have not much by way of legal rights at all. It is really getting pretty crazy over there. Many Ugandans I’ve met dream of somehow managing to obtain a visa to travel to the United States. It is ironic, since more and more Americans I know are beginning to dream about leaving that country and finding some place where they can live in peace and freedom, not under continual threat of terrorism against them perpetrated by their own government.
GATES: But that would be another topic.
Brink: Yes. Still, consider that in 1999 a bank in the British Commonwealth country called Grenada decided to purchase executive homes in another British Commonwealth country called Uganda, then sold those residences in the year 2000. In the year 2004 the United States government decides that the Grenada bank’s former Chief Executive Officer, who resigned from that bank in eight months prior to those sale transactions, should be charged under United States law with criminal money laundering because of the fact that the British Commonwealth Grenada bank operated through other commercial banks and trust companies in the only lawful and legal manner it was allowed to operate within the financial system. Like I said, it is getting crazy over there. Glad I’m here.
GATES: That brings up an interesting side topic of discussion. I’ve read that your coming to Uganda in the first place was because you were fleeing from Grenada and that you had chosen Uganda because it has no extradition treaty with the United States. How do you respond to that?
Brink: Yeah, I’ve read that too. It really is funny. I had no desire to go to anywhere in Africa, least of all Uganda. A white South African was constantly coming to Grenada to see me in efforts to persuade me to put bank finances behind this proposition of his or that proposition of his. One day in May 1999 he flew in and told me he urgently needed me to fly to Uganda to figure out a way to save a bank that served hundreds of thousands of rural peasants and was about to be closed down, leaving the peasants with no real access to financial services.
I told him that I was not about to fly out to Idi Amin’s country and risk being butchered as an unwelcome outsider attempting to meddle in the country’s affairs. No way!
He was indignant at my lack of current knowledge about Africa and told me that Idi Amin hadn’t been in Uganda since the late 1970s and was living in exile in Saudi Arabia, that a new day had come to Uganda and it just wasn’t like that anymore. He then told me that the reason he had made this special trip to see me was because everyone he knew who also knew me kept going on and on about how I was committed to helping “the little people.” Here was a golden opportunity to help hundreds of thousands of Africa’s struggling little people and I was closed minded to it because of remembered news stories that were more than 20 years old.
Well, he had me on that one. But I didn’t give in easily and still insisted that there was no way I was going to Uganda without an official invitation of some sort. He said he would arrange that. Within a few days I received a fax from a Major General Caleb K. Akandwanaho in Uganda whose name I couldn’t pronounce then and still have a terrible time trying to pronounce it, even when I look at it in writing. American minds and tongues simply have difficulty trying to wrap themselves around many Ugandan names.
The same day as I received the fax, my South African acquaintance called to make sure I had received it. I confirmed that I had, indeed. Still, a Major General is an army officer, not a government official. Army officers, even Generals, can come and go at the whim of superiors. What guarantee of my safety was an invitation from a Ugandan Major General?
He laughed and said that this particular Major General also happened to be the brother of Uganda’s President.
I still wasn’t ready to give in and told him that African presidents have a history of being deposed from power rather unceremoniously.
He laughed and said this Ugandan president had been the nation’s president for over fifteen years, that Uganda was politically stable, that the Major General would guarantee my safety and that he was the President’s own brother.
Well, he had me on all counts, starting with was I or wasn’t I really interested in helping little people? I agreed to go and did go, touching down in Entebbe in mid-June 1999 and being taken to the Sheraton Kampala where a room was waiting for me.
I met the Major General. He has since then been promoted to Lieutenant General. He is mostly referred to as Salim Saleh. Anyway, we met that same afternoon.
Talk about a meeting that was not at all anything like what I had been expecting. We met at an outdoor, downtown restaurant. It was my first real confrontation with Africa and the picture of the setting of that pleasantly sunny afternoon and of the people I met, how they looked and how it was all in such complete contrast with what I had imagined, will always be in my brain.
The General was wearing a dark blue shirt open at the collar and a light blue sports suit; there was no gold braid and chest full of medals or armed escorts snapping salutes. He asked what I would like for a late-lunch and if I objected to local food. Within a few minutes I was having my first-ever plate of matoke and peanut sauce, some steamed, spinach-like green leafy vegetables that wasn’t spinach, a drumstick and thigh of chicken. Not fried monkey brains or stewed elephant tongue. Welcome to Uganda.
Just as shocking to me was that after officials of Co-Operative Bank had given me their presentation on what that bank needed to meet the capitalization requirements of the Bank of Uganda, I turned to the General in private and asked what his interest in this whole arrangement was. What did he expect to get out of it?
He stole my heart with his answers.
What he wanted out of the deal was to see Co-Operative Bank made healthy again so that it could continue serving rural Ugandans where no other bank in Uganda cared to go. Without access to financial services through the presence of financial institutions such as Co-Operative Bank, he felt the potential for eradicating poverty in rural Uganda would be set back at least a decade. He didn’t want to see that happen and if there was anything he could do to help, he was committed to doing so.
I said something astute, like, “So, then, you are a major shareholder in Co-Operative Bank.”
His reply came with the look of a wounded man. No, he wasn’t a major shareholder in the bank. He was a man who loved his country, had fought and bled for Uganda and its people, people who were now desperately turning to him for help. He was embarrassed that he didn’t have the present personal financial capacity to provide the help requested and had been calling those he thought might know of someone who could help, which is how he heard of me and had sent me the invitation to come. He wanted nothing out of the deal other than the rescue of the bank so that it could continue serving rural Ugandans.
GATES: I did some research. According to a New Vision article, your offer to purchase an interest in Co-Operative Bank was declined because Uganda’s central bank determined you were not a fit and proper person. Is that not correct?
Brink: That’s the way the late-Governor of Bank of Uganda explained it at hearings before Parliament. I also read that.
GATES: But there’s more to the story than that?
Brink: Yes. Do you want me to get into it? It is all water under the bridge at this point. The Co-Operative Bank that then was is gone and can’t be resurrected.
GATES: I would like to hear your side of the story, if you don’t mind getting into it. We’ll get back to the questions you started to answer in a few minutes.
Brink: I intended to stay in Uganda for three days. Not having been to Africa before, I had no idea that it would take longer than three days to assess the situation, present a financial proposal and receive an initial reply from which the remainder of negotiations could be conducted with me back in Grenada. Three days turned into a week. A week turned into a month, then two months and so forth.
Basically, what we put together as a proposal, we did so in the first two days. It was moving the proposal forward to presentation to Bank of Uganda that took some time to come about.
After a few long weeks of waiting to present the proposal to Uganda’s central bank, I expressed frustration to an acquaintance I had made from Congo who was in Kampala at the time. He arranged for me to meet with the State Minister of Finance for Economic Planning. It was a late afternoon meeting. That former minister reviewed what we had, encouraged us and hand-wrote a covering note to the Governor of Bank of Uganda, then placed the covering note with our proposal in a large envelop and addressed it to the Governor, sealed the envelope, handed it to us, and called the Governor’s office to set an appointment for us.
The Governor had already left BOU for the day, but his secretary was kind enough to book us as the Governor’s 9 a.m. appointment the next morning. We left the State Minister’s office quite excited that we were finally underway.
Still operating on non-African time, I arrived at the Governor’s office at 8:30 a.m. the next morning. The Governor didn’t arrive in his office until 9:30, apologized for being late, explained that he was struggling with his health and it was taking him longer to get going in the mornings than it should.
I handed him the sealed envelope from the State Minister. He opened it, read the brief hand-written note, then told us that it really didn’t matter what our proposal offered, he and the Cabinet Minister of Finance had just the day before concluded to sell of the bank and its assets and had, accordingly, opened the sealed bids submitted by other commercial banks in Uganda for Co-Operative Bank’s assets. There was no re-sealing of the bids possible; the decision was irrevocable.
I’m sure our mouths were ajar on that. Finally, I asked him if he wouldn’t at least look at our proposal, assuring him that Co-Operative Bank could be made strong and continue in its mission of serving Ugandans. He was a polite gentleman and did take the time to read the Executive Summary of the proposal, glance through some of the financial exhibits presented and ask reasonable questions related to what he had read. Then he said that he wished he would have had the proposal in hand a week or two earlier, but there was nothing he could do at this point. Regrettably, his hands were tied.
GATES: Are you saying that the late-Governor lied to Parliament when he was questioned on why the Co-Operative Bank bailout offer was rejected?
Brink: No, I’m not saying that. He resigned shortly after our meeting that day. He was a man in rapidly declining health and died not long after those hearings. The Parliamentary hearings were not for months and months, maybe almost a year, after that meeting in the Governor’s office, months and months during which the international and local press took turns reporting on what a notoriously bad character I was.
It could be that during that time and especially in the days leading up to the Parliamentary hearings that BOU staff did assemble a file on Van Brink to give him assurance that such an answer really was putting “the best face” on the whole affair. I don’t begrudge him that. Nor do I call the late-Governor a liar. May his soul continue its rest in peace, his loved ones always cherish his memory and his years of service to his country be remembered with pride.
GATES: But in fact, Van Brink wasn’t the proposed new shareholder in Co-Operative Bank. First Bank was. Is that not correct?
Brink: That is correct.
GATES: And what was the offer you presented on behalf of First Bank?
Brink: First Bank accepted the numbers that BOU had written to Co-Operative Bank on what it needed by way of additional capital to resume operations. First Bank’s offer was for more than double that amount.
GATES: Why was First Bank’s offer delayed in presentation to Bank of Uganda (BOU)? By your earlier answer, it seems you did arrive in Uganda in plenty of time to make the offer. But days turned into weeks and weeks turned into a month or more or something like that.
Brink: Here is what I feel is the unfortunate part of the whole matter. I believe the delay was due to the fact that Co-Operative Bank’s officials disputed the capital deficiency calculation by BOU and spent crucial weeks attempting to argue BOU’s banking supervisor into what the Co-Operative officials believed to be the accurate calculation of capital deficiency.
During the on-going argument, I was sidelined and kept away from those meetings. I think Co-Operative Bank officials didn’t wish to see the interests of existing shareholders diluted at all, if possible. And if it was necessary, their view was to minimize the dilution of then-existing equitable interests in the bank.
The problem was that I hate arguing over money, something that is difficult for most businessmen to understand.
GATES: So why did you end up staying in Uganda? The Governor handed back to you the proposal on Co-Operative Bank, saying that his hands were tied. Yet you remained. Why?
Brink: I left the Governor’s office to return to the hotel to pack my bags and see if I could re-arrange my ticket to depart that evening, if possible. I called the two high ranking members of Parliament that had been interested in seeing the Co-Operative Bank bailout proposition successful to tell them the substance of the meeting with the Governor and that I was leaving. Both of them came to the hotel to plead with me to stay, assuring me that this decision to cannibalize Co-Operative Bank by the other local banks would not be allowed to stand. Parliament wouldn’t have it and they would see to that.
If I physically left Uganda at that point, they reasoned, I would be seen as a “not serious” muzungu [white person] who was here today and gone tomorrow with no true care for nor commitment to Uganda, and, therefore, their efforts at Parliament on behalf of Co-Operative Bank and its depositors would be in vain.
I agreed to stay.
I was then encouraged that for First Bank to be taken seriously at Parliament, the bank needed to demonstrate long-term commitments in the country by making other investments while we waited for the Co-Operative Bank situation to be turned around.
And so it was that over the space of a few months First Bank purchased the executive homes in Mbuya-- now seemingly known as “the palace”-- and the Cape Villa estate at Lake Victoria, also invested in a Lake Victoria hotel/resort operation and began to purchase negotiations at Nsimbe for a large tract of land there, upon which First Bank was intending to finance the development of low-income, moderate-income and high-income housing, a community center, school and medical clinic and commercial center as well. The bank also contributed to the building of a children’s hospital in another part of Uganda and to a project devoted to taking Kampala’s street kids off the streets, situate them in homes where they would be loved, fed, clothed and put in schools. Then there was a Kampala warehouse facility in which First Bank also invested to have renovated with a view in mind of using it as additional safekeeping facilities for First Bank.
GATES: What was your capacity with First Bank at the time since you had already resigned?
Brink: Well, from arriving in Uganda in June and up until October 1, 1999, I was still Chairman of the Board and CEO of First Bank. In July or August 1999, however, I became Chairman of the Union Reserve System. So from that time to my resignation at First Bank, I was acting as liaison between First Bank and the members of Parliament that wanted to see Co-Operative Bank saved, as one coordinating investments in Uganda for First Bank and as Chairman of the URS.
GATES: And in your spare time?
Brink: Ah, I see I’m not the only one capable of sounding a tad bit sarcastic.
What I worked on in my spare time became to me the most exciting project of all. I developed the concept and outline for the creation of the Union Reserve System with initial focus upon bringing humanitarian and economic development aid to war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.
GATES: We’ll get back to that. For now, let’s return to some earlier questions that weren’t completely answered. First, it has been widely reported that you came to Uganda because you were fleeing from Grenada and because Uganda has no extradition treaty with the United States.
Brink: Yes, that has been reported. There’s not an ounce of truth in that report however, other than for the correct spelling of Grenada, Uganda, Van Brink and no extradition treaty between the Uganda and the United States.
As I think I made clear, I had no intention of coming to anywhere in Africa, but was manipulated into coming to Uganda for what I thought would be a three-day visit. I was not fleeing Grenada. I was anxious to return to Grenada as soon as possible—and I did fly back and forth to Grenada several times.
On the fact that there is no extradition treaty existing between Uganda and the United States, I had no knowledge of that when I decided in 1999 to completely relocate personally to Uganda. I didn’t learn of that lack of extradition treaty status until late 2000.
I learned about it on the Internet when one of my constant critics suddenly started accusing me of re-locating to Uganda because of that reason. I was incredulous at that and had a friend look up a list of countries that did or did not have extradition treaties with the United States. Sure enough, none exists between Uganda and the United States.
That same Internet critic of mine, by the way, also insists that I escaped from Grenada by the skin of my teeth with local law enforcement officials hot on my heels and that I made my escape at night on a Cuban submarine that took me to Havana, where I boarded a plane for Europe and from there to Uganda. That’s why I didn’t take his statement about extradition treaties too seriously.
GATES: So you’ve never been to Havana?
Brink: Yes, I’ve been to Havana. One of the advantages of having a Grenada passport. No restrictions on going to Cuba. So I have been from Uganda to Havana and back to Uganda again. All by commercial airlines flights, not by submarine passage. And not related to leaving Grenada, either. The Havana trip was in 2000 and related to the G-77 Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Developing Countries and their Steering Committee meeting held there in late-March, just prior to the G-77 Heads of State Summit meeting held in Havana in early-April.
I went to the G-77 CCI Steering Committee meeting at the request of Mr. Boney Katatumba, who was then President of the Uganda Chamber of Commerce and was also Chairman of the G-77 Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Developing Countries. He had asked me to review two feasibility studies the G-77 CCI had completed over the past decade related to the creation of a trade and development bank serving members of the G-77 CCI and to make a report at the Steering Committee concerning those feasibility studies and the way forward.
So I did attend that meeting. And I made a report. I told them that their expensive feasibility studies accomplished nothing and that they could commission additional studies and take another ten years discussing them and still remain in the same place they were that very day. Chairman Katatumba challenged me to write an action plan and to present it to the G-77 CCI Monitoring Committee meeting that would be held in Kampala in May of that year. He had pledged in his election acceptance speech as international Chairman that the trade and development project would be put underway during his tenure as Chairman.
GATES: The Steering Committee, the Monitoring Committee…
Brink: That’s right. In the expensive feasibility study conducted, it had been recommended that a Monitoring Committee be established to watch over the development and implementation of the G-77 CCI bank project. I think it was the only recommendation made in the study that also instructed on how to accomplish that much. The study had given no recommendations on how to actually fire up a working trade and development bank. Yet there was a monitoring committee regularly meeting to monitor what they didn’t have any comprehension of how or what to do, nor any written plan of any kind to follow in the doing.
GATES: And what became of that?
Brink: When I returned to Uganda I thought on and worked on an action plan for the establishment of such a bank and then presented it to the May committee meeting, as scheduled. That committee voted unanimously for me to spearhead the establishment of the G-77 World Trade and Development Bank. I agreed to do so under the condition that I would not stay as CEO once the bank opened. I would only work in its preliminary organizational and capitalization phase of establishment and find a suitably experienced chief executive to take over from there.
GATES: Again, what happened to that initiative?
Brink: I made preliminary arrangements to line up several billion US dollars worth of initial capitalization through one financially capable group.
GATES: Would that be First Bank?
Brink: No, not First Bank. Through a group of investors with an office in Malaysia.
GATES: And where is this G-77 World Trade and Development Bank today?
Brink: It doesn’t exist. The project was abandoned. Officials of the World Bank took Chairman Katatumba aside and told him that the G-77 CCI’s bank would never be allowed to get off the ground, not with my involvement in it. Immediately on the heels of that there arose contention among ambassadors to the United Nations over which country would be the host nation for the bank-- an issue that had been concluded years previously and had been designated Kenya. The World Bank moves in mysterious ways its wonders to perform for developing countries. Or something like that.
GATES: So the “World Bank” of the G-7 nations and primarily of the United States would not allow the world’s developing countries via the G-77 nations’ Chambers of Commerce and Industry to form their own trade and development bank? This is really making less and less sense.
Brink: Actually, it makes perfect sense on either one of two possible counts, if…
GATES: If what?
Brink: It makes perfect sense if the agreed agenda is to utterly discredit and ruin Van Brink because of a perceived threat he constitutes to the presumed national security interests of the United States. Or if, in general, the developed countries and their World Bank aren’t really that much interested in developing countries actually emerging into “have” nation status, rather than “have not” status. In this case, I think it was a matter of “killing two birds with one stone.”
GATES: Which do you think was the more important to the World Bank— seeing to it that you were kept out of the way by continued discrediting of your name? Or seeing to it that the developing countries were kept reliant on the World Bank?
Brink: There is no question about that in my mind. Any global power organization will seek to defend and to perpetuate itself at all costs, eliminating competitors and perceived threats to its continued domination.
It is not so much about me, per se. It is about the concepts I was advancing. In terms of the “Action Way Forward” that I presented to the G-77 CCI Monitoring Committee for the establishment of its own World Trade and Development Bank, I outlined how developing countries could go about wholly eradicating any need for continued reliance on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
I suggested that the “Action Way Forward” document be kept completely confidential. I didn’t want to be in a position of the World Bank and IMF instantly moving to abort the baby before its birth, when it would have a chance to grow and develop on its own, as it should. Possibly the mere fact that I typed a bold-face “CONFIDENTIAL” on the document assured that it would be secretly passed to the very ones determined to keep developing countries in perpetual beggar status. I don’t know. Some things are difficult to know in advance.
GATES: Earlier we were talking about the allegations of the indictment brought against you by the U.S. Department of Justice. Let’s get back to that.
You were working us backward through the indictment. Forfeiture of the alleged Mbuya palace is predicated on the funds used to purchase that property being the proceeds of the crime and then money laundering that to affect the purchase. You explained that away by asking how is it that one ever needs to launder “clean” money, which you stated the bank’s funds were clean, based on the fact that the commercial banks that transmitted funds to your bank on behalf of your depositors were made to certify that they knew those remitters and were satisfied with the source of funds.
GATES: So keep working us backward through the indictment, if you will.
Brink: Okay. The end results the prosecution wishes to achieve is to have the court order that the personal properties of the indicted parties be forfeited. Accordingly, the Justice Department alleges that I purchased the Mbuya “palace” with the proceeds of crime.
A really nice Mercedes was seized from another of my fellow associates. It was purchased with her personal savings, which the Justice Department concludes is also proceeds of crime. A nice home that was purchased by another one of the indictees is also named as subject to forfeiture, as are the personal savings accounts at a European bank that are owned by another indictee also is said to be the proceeds of crime and subject to forfeiture.
If it were not all taken so seriously and believed to be the Gospel truth by so many, I’d just yawn and go take my afternoon nap. It was not with the proceeds of crime that the bank purchased the Mbuya property. It is not, repeat, is not money laundering when a bank purchases assets according to the policy directives of its Board of Directors.
Receiving personal compensation for services rendered is not receiving the proceeds of crime. And it is not money laundering when an officer or director of a bank takes money earned as compensation for working at the bank and uses it as a down payment on a really nice house or as purchase funds for a really, really nice car. Sorry. It just isn’t.
It is a principle of both canon law and common law that “the workman is worthy of his hire.” How is it, then, that the U.S. Justice Department can think to say that it is a criminal act for someone to use his wages to buy a house or someone else to use her wages to buy a car? Or how is it a crime for yet another person to not buy anything at all, but to simply bank his wages in a savings account to provide for his own retirement?
GATES: I see your point. I guess we need to backtrack even further in the indictment, then.
Brink: And so we shall.
Each of the five indictees is charged with a single count of conspiracy. Conspiracy to do what? From what I’ve read, conspiracy to commit fraud and/or conspiracy to money launder the proceeds of crime and buy palaces, nice homes and really, really nice cars-- or to just create a retirement savings account or two.
Yet if the funds were certified clean in the beginning, how is it that they need a criminal conspiracy on how to money launder those funds effectively?
They don’t. Not unless the clean funds were illegally gotten in the first place.
GATES: Which means we must look back even further in the indictment.
Brink: You are following me. Thanks for letting me know. I tend to go on and on at times and some people are too polite to interrupt me and say that they are not tracking with me. If I lose you, please do interrupt.
GATES: You may count on that.
Brink: The other charges I remember reading in the news report were that of mail fraud and wire fraud -- two kinds of the ugly “f” word.
So assuming that the Justice Department can prove that Fidelity Bank and First Bank ever mailed anything at all or ever faxed anything at all, they have proven half of each charge. But mailing or faxing something is not an act of fraud unless the contents of the mailed and/or faxed item are grossly misleading and intended to defraud the recipient out of the recipient’s money or other property. In this case, it seems to be charges of attempting to defraud the recipients out of their clean money.
That was my first thinking when I read the news report. As I mentioned, a friend in the United States managed to get his hands on the complete indictment and send me a photocopy. Assuming it is an accurate photocopy of the actual indictment, I paged through it.
The numerous mail fraud charges are based on the fact that when the bank received a deposit in the form of a check from an American depositor, the bank had to send the check back for clearing in the United States. Now I don’t care if you are Barclays Bank, HSBC, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi or Union Bank of Switzerland. If you receive a check drawn on an American bank, the only way you truly have of crediting the amount of that check as a deposit is to send the check back for clearing in the United States. Yes, Fidelity Bank had to do that. Yes, First Bank had to do that too.
The U.S. Justice Department takes the position that such constitutes mail fraud-- and one count of mail fraud for each time they care to list that you as a non-American banker sent a check back to the United States for clearing.
The wire fraud charges stem from the fact that, yes, the Fidelity Bank and First Bank both did cause funds to be transmitted by bank wire. Each count of wire fraud that I scanned over was related to this very thing. I think the U.S. Justice Department’s clerical staff was simply lazy and got bored with typing out the specifics of each and every wire that the bank ever transmitted to anyone, anywhere. Had they not been so darned lazy, I could stand charged with, I don’t know, maybe up to one million counts of wire fraud and by U.S. Justice Department standards, they are letting me off easy with me only being asked to face up to about 700 years in prison. If they were really angry, they could push the sentence up to five million years, maybe more. Maybe they understand something of how idiotic they truly are as it is.
Yes, I was CEO of banks that caused funds to be transmitted by bank wire. Fidelity Bank and First Bank were duly licensed banks, for gosh sakes. Banks cause funds to be transmitted by bank wire. Sorry, it just works out that way. Worldwide.
So, as I mentioned, it is quite easy for the prosecution to prove that both the mails (or other commercial carrier services) were used by the bank in processing deposit receipts and also wires happened to be transmitted by the bank for various purposes. That proves the “mail” and “wire” portions of the mail fraud and wire fraud charges. But that doesn’t prove any actual fraud occurred.
GATES: So the essential proof of all of the indictment’s allegations is for the Justice Department to prove that the indicted persons engaged in attempted fraud and did succeed in defrauding investors, hence anything ever purchased by them with their ill-gotten gains was also criminal acts that subject those accused ones to forfeiture.
Brink: That’s how I see it too.
GATES: So what do you suspect that the Justice Department might be basing its assertions of defrauding depositors upon?
Brink: This is a foregone conclusion. The prosecution’s case rests, principally, upon the allegations of its expert witness.
GATES: Who is…
Brink: My guess: Mr. Marcus A. Wide of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Grenada court-appointed Liquidator given charge over liquidating First International Bank of Grenada Limited.
GATES: Why is Mr. Wide your guess as the prosecution’s expert witness against you and the others who were indicted?
Brink: Because of the statements he made in both his First and his Second reports as FIBG Liquidator. Reports that were publicly published on the PWC Global web site in 2001 and remain up there for all to see to this very day. And because of how eagerly he has worked with the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation throughout this liquidation process. Even to the point of convincing the Grenada court to wholly abrogate Grenada’s own laws, assuming powers that it did not have, simply to give the U.S. Justice Department everything it asked for-- which was some 151 stacking boxes of file folders filled with every paper record of First Bank, aside from the bank’s printed stationery and brochures. By the way: this was in direct contravention of Grenada’s Offshore Banking Act and its promised banking privacy protections to foreign depositors who chose to bank at any of Grenada’s offshore banks.
GATES: Are you saying that the Grenada court acted without proper authority in the matter of the First Bank liquidation?
Brink: I am not an attorney, but my understanding is that Parliament enacts laws. The courts of a country are sworn to uphold and enforce the laws enacted by that nation’s Parliament. The United States equivalent to Grenada’s Parliament is Congress.
The relevant Grenada laws did specify that the Government could demand to see the deposit records of specific individual depositors, provided that there was a court order based on probable cause that such specifically-named depositors were involved in illegal activities, such as illegal drug trafficking, illegal arms trafficking and so forth.
But apart from that, depositor records were not to be turned over to third parties, including outside government agencies, without the specific, written-in-advance consent of the individual depositors involved.
I read the Grenada Offshore Banking act cover to cover many times while I was First Bank’s Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. In that one Order, the Grenada court removed Grenada from the status of being a nation governed by laws, rather than by men. What foreign investor can ever again rely on Grenada to even uphold its own laws? Grenada’s law was crystal clear on that topic. That’s my opinion, anyway.
GATES: I dare say that your opinion probably doesn’t go far in Grenada these days.
Brink: So it would seem. But no matter what, I still wish for Grenada and its people nothing but well. The pressures that were brought to bear on the Grenada government and court were, I’m sure, enormous. Put on an international “black list” with economic sanctions for not instantly bowing down and saying, “Yes, Massa. Yes, Massa…”
In the days of slavery in America, the slaves were not allowed to look their slave masters in the eyes when speaking. Nor were they allowed to refuse any order. It was demanded that they say “Yes, Master” to anything asked. The response was sort of blurred into a “Yes, Massa…”
Being demanded things by the IMF and other external political authorities is not an easy situation for a small developing country to be in. Grenada’s Prime Minister is an educated man holding a doctorate degree. A college professor by academic training. Not a revolutionary leader determined to go the distance on what he views is morally right, no matter what. My heart still goes out to Grenada’s Prime Minister.
GATES: Getting back to the question of why you think Mr. Wide will be the main expert witness of the U.S. Government against you and those others who were indicted, you said it was because of statements he had made in his first and second reports as Liquidator. What sort of statements?
Brink: Statements to the effect that in his opinion the bank was a fraud from the beginning, purposely engineered to defraud investors out of their money and for the personal enrichment of the bank’s primary operatives.
Statements like the bank’s self-insurance program administered by International Deposit Insurance Corporation was a complete sham, based as it was on assertions that the bank maintained asset backing of 3:1 on deposits during the days of Fidelity and 10:1 during the days of First Bank.
And statements to the effect that the bank’s large assets were completely bogus and that therefore, the bank was a fraud, the IDIC program was a sham, and the promoters of the bank are crooks and worthy candidates for criminal prosecution.
What makes these statements seem completely credible is that in every thing he has done, even to the writing of his Liquidator reports, Mr. Wide references his long-standing relationship as a CPA [Certified Public Accountant] attached to and working with the world’s largest accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, as well as his years of experience as a professional liquidator.
GATES: I take it you disagree with his statements.
Brink: All but completely. He does spell my name and the bank’s name correctly. I’m guessing he probably spells his own name correctly, too. Beyond that…
GATES: So how do you ever counter the allegations that have been made in the indictment against you?
Brink: Three good people have already been arrested. Each will retain quality defense counsel. I have already filled the e-mail inboxes of those working with two of the three defendants with the ABCs of how the defense attorneys may demolish the government’s case.
The case of 140-plus counts all rises and falls on a preliminary point. Disprove the government’s preliminary point and the entire case must be dismissed against one and all.
GATES: If it doesn’t compromise your case, would you mind telling me how you would go about “demolishing,” as you say, the government’s case against you and the others?
Brink: It is quite simple, really.
The government’s case relies on its expert witness and his assertions that the bank was a fraud, IDIC was a sham, and that there were no major assets that were genuine.
Boil it down even more. If the bank did have major assets that were genuine, then IDIC was not a sham.
GATES: Nor could the bank, then, be considered a fraud.
Brink: You win the cigar!
The key, then, is to demonstrate the credibility of one or more of the bank’s large assets. Do that and you more than create “reasonable doubt”; you demonstrate with certainty that the published reports of Mr. Wide were erroneous.
At that point, the only question would seem be on whether Mr. Wide’s sweeping proclamations were due to his utter professional incompetence or because of an “agenda” which he was dispatched to accomplish or simply because of his own arrogance, greed and consequent maliciousness.
Which answer is least embarrassing to the U.S. Justice Department? That their supposed expert is easily proven to be utterly incompetent? That their alleged expert was actually someone engaged in a conspiracy of massive criminal fraud-- and engaged in that conspiracy with the U.S. Justice Department itself? Or that, yes, a heinous crime was committed, but after more than five years of intensive investigations, the U.S. Justice Department indicted the wrong parties?
GATES: This gets back, then, to your remarks about the reason for the years of published allegations against both you and the bank possibly having been a deliberate smear and destroy campaign.
Brink: It does more than that. Conspicuously not indicted by the U.S. Justice Department is former bank director Richard Downes, who later also served as Chairman of the Board of Directors; and Mark Kennedy, who succeeded me as Chairman of the Board of Directors and as Chief Executive Officer of the bank.
The bank also compensated both. Both were compensated at the same times as were Van Brink, Rita Regale, Robert Skirving, Larry Barnabe and Douglas Ferguson. It begs the question that if the compensation paid Regale, Skirving and Barnabe constituted the proceeds of crime for which criminal charges were filed by the U.S. Justice Department, why then was not the compensation paid to Downes and Kennedy not also so declared?
GATES: I am assuming you have a good answer to that question.
Brink: Yes, I do.
GATES: Let’s hear it, then, if you don’t mind.
Brink: Your belief in the American justice system may not survive the answer. Ditto your belief that I am a stark, raving lunatic on the loose with paranoid delusions about having been designated a threat to the National Security Interests of the United States to be brought to humiliation and ruin at all costs.
GATES: I will do my best to survive such bitter disappointments.
Brink: Careful, now. Your sense of sarcastic humor is showing again.
GATES: I have been indicted on that charge before. How about telling me your answer?
Brink: Okay, the question is this: If Regale, Skirving and Barnabe were indicted for spending or saving their personal earnings, as they pleased, why were not Downes and Kennedy similarly indicted?
And the answer is that it seems there were three federal grand jury panels that deliberated on this case. Both Downes and Kennedy were called to appear before the first and/or second grand jury panels. And before that first and/or grand jury panel both Downes and Kennedy separately provided key evidence.
GATES: Evidence of what?
Brink: Evidence that the bank’s asset structure was quite real.
Upon receiving that evidence before the first and second federal grand jury panels, the Assistant United States Attorney thanked them both for appearing and then sent them home.
GATES: Politeness always seems so difficult for your Americans to abide.
Brink: I am sure I speak for all Americans in thanking you for sharing that observation.
GATES: You were saying that former bank directors Downes and Kennedy presented evidence that the bank’s assets were real. Are you suggesting that this is why they were not also indicted?
Brink: You are forgetting the third federal grand jury panel.
GATES: So I did.
Brink: After the first and second panels heard the evidence as to the reality of the bank’s asset structure, those grand jury panels were dissolved and a new federal grand jury panel was constituted. Neither Richard [Downes] nor Mark [Kennedy] was called to appear before the third federal grand jury panel. And by this third grand jury panel the now-revealed indictment against the five of us was issued. It appears that neither Richard nor Mark was even mentioned to this third grand jury panel.
GATES: You are suggesting, then, that it was by careless, reckless, even malicious disregard for the facts that you and the other four have been indicted?
Brink: There is no doubt of that in my mind.
Of course it could be that Marcus Wide genuinely believes in his erroneous conclusions and is of pure heart and clean hands in this matter. I don’t rush to judge and condemn the man. It is possible for honest men to make mistakes and errors in judgment in the press of day-to-day matters. I quite concede that as a possibility. He has not published an additional report in over two years and we’ve not seen his final report as Liquidator. Who knows what he thinks at this point? Possibly during all of this intervening time he has been able to more carefully research matters and see that some of his earlier statements were in error and ill-advised.
Moreover, it could be that Assistant United States Attorney Claire Fay and the FBI might be able to honestly say that they were just following orders or that they actually do believe in the reasonableness and righteous correctness of their positions and of the positions taken in the Indictment, even though it took them five years and three grand jury panels to get the indictment that is now revealed. And, certainly, I have no criticism for a Grand Jury panel that wasn’t presented with all of the facts.
GATES: But if what you have told me is true, it certainly begs questions of all of them and what their motives truly are.
Brink: Yes, it does. What I have told you is true.
GATES: For how sure of yourself and your facts, as it seems, why aren’t you on the next jet to the United States to set the records straight?
Brink: Because a crime was committed against the bank’s depositors. My volunteering for incarceration until such time as the wheels of American justice can sort this matter out leaves the depositors hanging.
GATES: How does your remaining free in Uganda change any of that?
Brink: The ‘how’ is what I have been working on since January 12, 2001 and is now almost completed.
GATES: Which is?
Brink: Rounding up new assets large enough to produce income streams capable of providing gifts to former depositors in amounts greater than what they had invested that was lost through no fault of theirs. I have also been organizing a team of individuals situated globally to handle the business placements of these assets to produce income and also to accomplish all gift processing and distributions.
GATES: My, you are an American cowboy, aren’t you? You’ve been out on a “round up” looking for large assets.
Brink: I guess that is humorous. I did actually participate in a real, horse-riding, open range cattle round up in Eastern Washington state one year for a couple weeks in my early teens. I wasn’t aware that I tend to talk in cowboy terms.
GATES: Not a problem. But do you have any sort of evidence of these new large assets and can you show me any proof of these large assets you say you’ve been “rounding up?”
Brink: Of course I have evidence of the assets. But, no, I won’t show you any proof. For obvious security reasons I have none of those documentary items here in Uganda. I have entrusted custody of those items to others on the team who are positioned globally.
We are keenly aware that we have enemies to this project that do not wish to see Van Brink in any way succeed. These same adversaries who consider me a threat to America’s National Security Interests seem to believe that they are best served if not only do I fail, but that it can be demonstrated in court that I’ve left a wake of over $200 million worth of financial wreckage and shattered lives along the way. It would take the wind out of their sails if everyone received back more than they ever deposited.
The truly uncomfortable thing is that even with the allegation of me having defrauded investors of over $200 million, it presents security risks to me. People tend to think that I’m sitting on millions and millions, when I am not. Puts me at risk, personally, and my wife at personal risk too. Risk of kidnapping and extortion. Risk of home burglaries or highway robberies. Those sorts of things. I’d have to be an idiot to have these newly developed title deeds, share certificates, bonds and so forth with me or even to have bank accounts in my name. I’m not an idiot. And I don’t have such items in my possession. Period.
GATES: Okay, I see your point on that. Still, all of this does stretch credibility beyond the limits. You say have been working since 2001 to figure out how to provide restitution that you say you don’t owe to thousands of former depositors. The US government states that amount to be more than $206 million, charging you defrauded investors of that amount. You deny the charge, but seek to accomplish restitution on the full amount anyway? Why would any rational man attempt to do such a thing? I’ve never heard of it in my entire life.
Brink: If the answer isn’t obvious, I really don’t know what to say. Hmmm…
What was lost was the life’s savings of my family and friends, of their families and friends and of the families and friends of friends of friends and so forth out into an ever-widening circle of depositors that spanned the globe. These are good people who were wiped out. That’s the reason I’m working on this. If I don’t, who will?
And the reason why I don’t jump at the chance to fly to America to sort all of this out is also obvious. Me taking up to a year or more out to go sit in a prison cell waiting for the chance of my defense attorney setting the record straight leaves my family and friends waiting just that much longer. They have waited long enough. I’m not stopping. I will finish this. All depositors will be more than fully restored. Period.
GATES: Meanwhile, three of your former associates have already been arrested and are waiting in those prison cells.
Brink: Would it seriously make any difference to them and their families for me to be occupying a nearby cell? I can do more for them and their families while finishing up what I call the Restoration Project by my remaining in Uganda than I can by joining them where they are in America.
I don’t know if you’ve ever spent much time reading the Bible. In the Old Testament there is a book named Nehemiah, starring Nehemiah, of course. According to that Old Testament book, God sent Nehemiah to rebuild the demolished wall around the City of Jerusalem. He had his adversaries and critics. He had enemies who wanted to just do him in. They didn’t want to see the wall around Jerusalem re-built at all. And so they would send messengers asking Nehemiah to come join them for a meeting to work things out. Or they would stand outside the wall he was rebuilding and taunt him; daring him to come down and face them like a man, if he was so certain he was right in what he was doing.
Nehemiah refused to lose his focus. His replies were always the same. The work he was doing was too important to allow him to be so foolishly distracted with senseless meetings and encounters with his adversaries and critics.
I feel the same way. The work I am doing is too important for me to waste time in the United States arguing with those who don’t want to be persuaded by facts and truth, but who have dedicated their lives to the express purpose of finishing my humiliation and ruin, no matter what it takes in diverting, perverting and subverting facts and defeating justice.
Quite by seeming accident I came to Uganda and on what initially proved to be a pointless mission as relates to Co-Operative Bank. One thing led to another and I stayed, not knowing at the time that the United States did not have an extradition treaty established with Uganda. Happy coincidence? Or a situation in which an Unseen Hand guided along the way? You pick it as seems right to you. I know how I now feel about it. It was for such a time as this that I was brought here.
GATES: In one of the reports I read of your indictment it mentioned that you paid $700,000 for a fleet of 30 Jeep Cherokees to be shipped to Uganda.
Brink: Yes. It is yet another instance of taking facts completely out of context to try to make me look quite the scoundrel.
I mentioned that when I first came to Kampala on the Co-Operative Bank matter there were some delays before we actually presented a proposal to the Governor of Bank of Uganda. During those delays I was introduced to many people, once of whom is Willy Mishiki, a Congolese of Goma, DRC.
Willy and I spent an afternoon talking, he having heard that I was the CEO of a bank interested in making investments in Africa and hoping that I would be open-minded enough to consider helping him start some projects in DRC in addition to the ones that had attracted me to Uganda.
As I asked about the available roadway, electrical power, telecommunications and banking infrastructure in Congo, he just looked at me in amazement and tried to explain the heart-breaking poverty and total lack of development in what happens to be one of the richest countries on earth in terms of natural resource potentials.
I had difficulty comprehending what he was saying and had him back up and tell me about the history of Congo for the past couple hundred years and what went wrong with natural economic evolution in the 1900s.
He took me back to the days when a King Leopold of Belgium considered all of Congo to be his personal plantation. In those days rubber, not oil was the global economic king of commodities. Able-bodied Congolese men were invited to spend their days working in Leopold’s rubber plantations. Those who refused to do so were allowed to refuse such labors. They also had both hands chopped off at the wrists. If they wouldn’t work for King Leopold, they wouldn’t work at all.
When he told me this, tears filled my eyes. Perhaps the neo-colonial master nations of today no longer literally chop off a man’s hands at the wrists, but it seemed to me that in this age of enlightenment, the economic bullying of the neo-colonial nations has simply become more sophisticated. If you don’t scrape and bow as a proper African-American slave, saying, “Yes, Massa. Yes, Massa…” your entire developing country will have its economic hands chopped off through “black listing” and economic sanctions imposed by the hypocritical “have” nations that keep trying to convince the “have not” nations that their true desire is to help them become a “have” nation too. Bull manure.
Anyway, I was deeply moved by what Willy told me about his people’s history. He worked his way up to the 20th century and to national independence from Belgium in the early 1960s, he recounted how that no one in the Congolese armed forces had ever served at a rank above Sergeant Major. It wasn’t allowed. Higher education had been virtually outlawed for the Congolese people, too, and at their independence day, only two Congolese held a college degree. Bear in mind that Democratic Republic of Congo is a nation the size of Western Europe or of the continental United States west of the Mississippi River. Big, big country. Millions upon millions of people. Only two had college education when Belgium granted independence to the country. Only two!
Then the Mobuto years where billions and billions of dollars in American foreign aid poured in to keep Mobuto in the American camp in the years of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Billions of dollars of aid that didn’t flow to the Congolese people but disappeared into Mobuto’s regime. Then the civil war that brought Laurent Kabila to power, followed quickly by another civil war trying to unseat Laurent Kabila.
This was June of 1999. The second Congolese civil war was then about one year old.
At the time I met Willy, he was affiliated with Professor Wamba dia Wamba’s RCD-Kisangani rebel movement. I asked him why the Congolese didn’t just all get together and work out a way to live in peace so that they could get to developing their national economy. There was more than enough natural resource wealth to go around. Quit killing each other and blowing things up and start working with each other for the mutual benefit of all.
He said that if I would write such a plan on how peace could be achieved and economic development could begin, he would quit Wamba’s group. He knew the leaders of each warring faction, including Ministers high in Kabila’s government. If I would write the plan, he would see that it was presented to the right people and adopted. He assured me that he had the personal connections throughout the country to do that. But he needed an economic plan to present.
Where to begin?
I began by considering the foundation for a nation’s economic development and situation within the global community of nations. There needs to be a sound currency and a banking system that works.
I quizzed Willy on the current national currency of DRC and learned that it had two currencies. The one from the previous government that was officially worthless but still widely used for lack of anything else. And the new currency that was virtually printed anytime the government or a favorite general wanted to pay people or purchase anything locally, a currency that was worthless in international trade.
With that introduction I went to work outlining an economic plan for the revitalization of DRC. That is how the Union Reserve System was born.
True to his word, when I finished writing the basic plan, Willy read it, asked if I actually could arrange for initial asset backing of $10 billion in financial instruments. I assured him that I could. He set up a series of meetings with Wamba dia Wamba and his closest advisors. After a few weeks, in August 1999, I believe, the first treaty with one of the Congolese rebel factions was signed on behalf of RCD-Kisangani, First Bank as funds/asset provider and the URS as funds administrator.
I then had to leave for a couple weeks worth of meetings in the Philippines. I returned briefly to coordinate some details in Uganda on behalf of the First Bank, then flew to Grenada to prepare for the Board of Directors meeting at which I announced my resignation as Chairman, as a bank Director and as the bank’s CEO. I wanted to devote my full-time attentions to the Union Reserve System. I resigned from First Bank on October 1st. Mark Kennedy became my successor. I notified the staff and affiliated companies, along with Grenada’s Minister of Finance and its Prime Minister.
Wamba sent a delegation to Grenada to work on outlining what humanitarian projects they wished to see undertaken by the URS in their sector of DRC. That was signed in November. A day or two after that signing I flew back to Uganda. I came down sick on the plane flight. Dr. Ian Clarke diagnosed it in Kamala as dengue fever, probably contracted from an insect bite in Grenada. He told me that Grenada was the international headquarters for dengue fever research. He recommended I return to Grenada, so I did. A truly horrible sickness. About 90% of my body was covered in a rash, I had a high fever, could hardly move and was losing motor functions in my right hand. By the time I arrived back in Grenada, I was virtually paralyzed on the right side of my body.
I was touch-and-go for a while, but recovered sufficiently by January to host in Grenada a meeting Willy orchestrated on the Congolese end of things. The meeting was a small convention, featuring a delegation from the RCD-Goma faction rebel movement (the second of three primary DRC rebel movements at the time), a delegation from the Congolese civil society called Movement for Security, Peace and Development, and a delegation of Congolese kings from the 50 kingdoms of DRC. We had to charter an entire Boeing 707 to fly them to Grenada, where they pretty much took over an entire beachfront hotel for a week. This was in early-January, 2000.
Three new treaties were negotiated. Two of those treaties were signed. The signing of the third treaty was delayed until I could return to Uganda and arrange to fly to meet the President of the RCD-Goma faction. One of the two treaties that were signed in Grenada was with the Congolese kings group. Part of that treaty was in the first year to provide them with a fleet of Jeeps so that they could spread the word and help coordinate the humanitarian projects of the URS on the ground throughout DRC.
Did I spend $700,000 on a fleet of 30 Jeep Cherokees to import to Uganda? In a manner of speaking, yes. I authorized the ordering of them as a first step toward implementing what were then three signed treaties for humanitarian aid. First Bank advanced the down payment for the Jeeps. It was part of a treaty signed by Mark Kennedy on behalf of First Bank, by myself on behalf of URS and by representatives of the Congolese kings. There was no shipping company we could find that would deliver the Jeeps into a war zone. They were to be delivered to Kampala, whereupon we would caravan the Jeeps to DRC.
Was I raping the bank for personal gain? No. I had resigned from the bank October 1, 1999. Mark Kennedy was Chairman and CEO of the bank. I asked him before we signed each and every treaty if the bank’s cash position was such that it could afford to enter into the treaties. He assured me that the bank would handle its part and that it would not present a problem to the bank nor would it put the bank’s obligations to depositors at any risk.
GATES: So what happened? What brought about the bank’s collapse?
Brink: That is a long story and I’m not sure that I know all of it. Contrary to the assertions of the U.S. Justice Department, I did not remain in control of the bank. So I simply don’t have all the facts on what all happened after I left. I’m not sure I ever will.
One of the things that can be done to destroy a bank is to keep up negative press coverage to the point that a run on the bank by depositors occurs, wiping out its cash reserves and pushing it into default on its depositor obligations. It then snowballs until the bank is forced into closure and liquidation, if it can’t mobilize its non-cash assets quickly enough.
That, in essence, is what happened at First Bank. There are some twists and turns in the story with other characters misleading the bank on remedial steps to take that proved to make worse the situation that was developing in February and March and snowballed into a bank run in April and May.
Mark [Kennedy] resigned at the end of May. Richard [Downes] became Chairman of the Board and a British Barrister named Lawrence Jones became Acting CEO for the bank.
I was called back to consult with the Board on how to pull the proverbial fat out of the fire and flew to Malaysia in June to negotiate with a large asset holder, both on behalf of the G-77 World Trade and Development Bank initiative and assisting Richard [Downes] in separate negotiations related to that bank. I then spent the bulk of July and August in the UK, assisting Bob [Skirving] in negotiating income-producing asset placements to give First Bank the snap of some serious income that would have brought it current on all obligations within less than 30 days.
GATES: And were you, Downes and Skirving successful in those separate efforts?
Brink: Very much so.
In Malaysia Richard [First Bank Chairman of the Board Richard Downes] and I successfully negotiated an injection of $120 million in additional bank share capital in the form of a Certificate of Deposit issued by a large world bank. We also had the bank approved for $22 billion in economic development funds to be released to its care over the following year.
In the UK Bob [First Bank Vice Chairman of the Board Robert Skirving] and I negotiated the placement of an asset independently valued at $855 million, insured for that amount by a ranked and S&P-rated insurance company and confirmed bank-to-bank by Barclays Bank, Brazil. On just about the very day we concluded that negotiation, the Government of Grenada moved to seize the bank’s operations. That was August 11, 2000.
GATES: So after all of that, why was the bank forced into involuntary liquidation?
Brink: Once the Government of Grenada seized upon the bank, no one on our team had authority to sign any deal on behalf of the bank, including a deal that would generate immediate income to the bank. All had to pass through the Government’s appointed administrator for the bank, a Mr. Garvey Louison. All that was needed in respect to the $855 million placement was for him to confirm that the asset did belong to the bank and also that the bank committed the asset to that income-producing placement. That and confirming to what wire coordinates the bank wished its income to be sent.
In the first respect Louison held in his hands the confirmation from Barclays Bank/Brazil that the $855 million asset had been transferred to First Bank’s ownership. Beyond that, he needed to complete the documentation authorizing the asset’s placement and providing wiring coordinates. That’s it. Less than a month’s worth of weekly income from that placement would have cleared all arrears to depositors. From that point on the bank would have been in significant positive weekly net-profit income. All obligations to all depositors could have been paid out in full within three months, if that is what depositors wanted, leaving with bank with no depositors at all, just massive, pure income from then on until the proverbial cows all came home.
GATES: So why didn’t Mr. Louison do those things?
Brink: I don’t know. From what I could tell, he busied himself seizing various used Jeeps in Grenada and writing letters accusing me and other former bank operatives of various possibly criminal acts of negligence and personal enrichment at the expense of depositors. He didn’t seem at all interested in a financial solution. He seemed dedicated only to bloodletting and malicious accusations. Since then he has offered himself as a bank liquidator to assist in Grenada’s court-ordered liquidations of other Grenada offshore banks and is so engaged. I don’t believe that any Grenada offshore bank has survived.
GATES: From what I’ve read the Grenada government replaced Mr. Louison with another interim administrator in the fall of 2000. I take it that you and/or others were not successful in having him revive the deal on the $855 million asset placement, either.
Brink: You’ve done your homework. At a press conference in the fall of 2000, the Grenada Minister of Finance congratulated and thanked Garvey Louison for a job well done and then announced that Mr. Errol Thomas would be replacing Louison as Interim Statutory Administrator for the bank. Thomas was a former Attorney General of Grenada, a man of spotless personal reputation in that country.
Simultaneously, the Minister announced that a Canadian office of PricewaterhouseCoopers had been awarded a contract to advise the Grenada International Financial Services Authority on how to clean up Grenada’s offshore sector and also that the first assignment to PWC was to conduct a forensic audit on First Bank. This was the entry point of Marcus Wide into the process, as he was the Managing Partner of the Canadian PWC office that was retained as consultant to GIFSA and, separately, as forensic auditors of FIBG.
With Wide/PWC looking over his shoulders, Thomas did nothing to revive the deal on the $855 million. Further, a deal that the bank had been working on since 1999 involving the placement of $500 million in First Bank guarantees came to fruition in November. The bank was offered $1.1 billion a year in income for five years, if it would simply confirm that the bank had, indeed, written the guarantees and also confirm to what wire coordinates it wished the weekly income stream on $1.1 billion over a 40-week year to be sent. And this at a time when the total arrears to depositors was not more than $50 million. Weekly income on the $1.1 billion would have been something like $25 million. I don’t have my calculator handy at the moment.
Thomas sat on that offer, not replying in any way. The offer expired. Only then did Thomas reveal in a telephone conversation with Richard [First Bank Chairman of the Board Richard Downes] that the reason he didn’t respond timely to the offer is that he had not received permission to do so from the Grenada Minister of Finance.
Upon hearing that, I strongly encouraged Richard to renegotiate the offer. He did so, on the same original terms. Meanwhile, through a mutual friend of both the Minister’s and mine, I was successful in having the Minister give his specific approval to going ahead with that transaction. So when it was presented again, we were shocked when Thomas, again, did nothing about it. He did, however, on January 12, 2001, present the Minister’s petition to the Grenada High Court of Justice that First Bank be ordered into involuntary liquidation and requesting that the bank’s forensic auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers, be named as the bank’s Liquidator.
When queried on why he didn’t just go ahead with the telex confirmation necessary to start receiving $1.1 billion in income to the bank, Thomas explained that all employees who knew how to operate the bank’s telex machine had been let go and there was no one available to transmit the necessary confirmation and wiring instructions.
GATES: Which brings into question what possible influence in this PricewaterhouseCoopers, Marcus Wide and unknown others may have had in persuading Thomas or the Minister of Finance not to allow problem-solving income streams to flow into the bank.
Brink: Indeed it does. Indeed it does.
GATES: In my mind it also begs another question. Why didn’t First Bank just do a voluntary liquidation? In a voluntary liquidation the bank could have gone ahead with both of those income generating scenarios, first the one on the $855 million, then the one of $1.1 billion in offered annual income. Why wait to be forced into an involuntary liquidation where your hands are tied and everyone is at the mercy of a Liquidator who is self-interested in receiving 50% or more of liquidation proceeds?
Brink: Matter of fact we pleaded with the Minister of Finance to allow us to perform a voluntary liquidation. He wouldn’t have it. We even arranged for our voluntary liquidator to charge no more than 15% of liquidation proceeds.
GATES: Backing up a few steps, why didn’t First Bank’s self-insurance administrator, International Deposit Insurance Corporation, step in under its contract and take over the bank’s administration so that the interests of the depositors could have been preserved? I’ve read the contract between First Bank and IDIC. It seems to me that IDIC would have had full authority to proceed with those income- producing propositions so that depositors could have received all.
Brink: IDIC tried to do exactly that.
When Louison wouldn’t go forward with the $855 million placement, IDIC wrote to Louison for the asset to be turned over to IDIC so that IDIC could perform its contracted role. Louison refused to even respond to IDIC on that topic. Instead, he sent me a scathing letter that he had not been appointed by the Minister of Finance to abide insults from my personal friends, like Doug Ferguson.
GATES: Ferguson being IDIC’s Executive Director.
Later, IDIC even presented a petition to the Grenada court fully documenting its legal right to take over the bank’s administration or to liquidate the bank entirely. The court acknowledged receipt of the item, and then removed it from its records by sending it to Thomas, whereupon Thomas did nothing with it other than rush to court with the petition that the bank be put into involuntary liquidation at the hands of PricewaterhouseCoopers.
GATES: Which, again, begs the question on what role PricewaterhouseCoopers and Marcus Wide may have played in seeing to it that the bank and its depositors were not financially rescued.
Brink: It does beg that question, doesn’t it?
GATES: One more question arises in my mind. Since placing these assets to produce income was, according to what you have said, something that could be accomplished, why didn’t you do several such placements before you resigned from the bank so that the bank would have plenty of income during its transition phase following your resignation as bank Chairman and CEO?
Brink: I’ve asked myself the same question so many times. Why, oh why didn’t I just personally see to more than ample placements of assets being done before I resigned?
Have you ever wanted to go back to a moment in time and just change one decision? I have made many, many decisions. Some turned out perfect. Some didn’t. If I could change just one decision in my entire life, that would be that one.
At any given moment in time, it is difficult to see what will be the end result of decisions you are making. Making such asset placements involves weeks and sometimes months of dedicated effort. Bob [Skirving] and I spent most of July and about half of August 2000 in the UK working on arranging placement for one or more of the bank’s assets. During that time we succeeded in arranging for the placement of the one $855 million asset. It is tedious work involving meetings upon meetings and frustrating waiting periods in-between the meetings.
As I’m sure other executives also tend to do, I tend to personally handle those aspects of a given project that give me joy in the doing and look for others to whom I may reasonably delegate the administration of those functional processes that must also be accomplished.
I did a lot of delegating of authority and responsibility, when I should have buckled down and assumed personal responsibility that many assets were successfully placed. I kept allowing myself to be consumed by other functions that more suited my individual personality and nature. Take, for instance, the three-day trip to Uganda and quickly becoming sidetracked on the development and implementation of the Union Reserve System. The URS was infinitely more thrilling to me as a life-long student of economics than was managing and personally acting in the asset placement processes.
GATES: And if you had it to do over again?
Brink: That reminds me of a question posed by American comedian George Carlin. “What if there were no hypothetical questions?”
There is no doubt that if I could do it over now, based on my previous experiences, I would do many things differently. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? At the time of your first full cycle of experiences, you don’t have the benefit yet of those experiences. You are taking it a decision at a time, a day at a time. While you may be intellectually capable, even academically trained, you are not yet experientially equipped. It is through lessons learned in life’s “School of Hard Knocks” that one becomes truly equipped to handle challenging situations with seeming grace and ease. I’ve been through that school as relates to private bank administration.
GATES: Do you regret your decision to have Mark Kennedy be your successor as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at First Bank?
Brink: There were some dark times. In dark times you can’t help but look around for someone to blame. Mark was a handy enough target. And at that time I did say that I regretted my decision to recommend him for all of my official titles, offices and powers at the bank.
But looking back, I do believe he was the right candidate for the job. I had found him intelligent, competent, and efficient and a true pleasure to work with. But it’s not easy stepping into the shoes of another in the best of circumstances. The local and international media feeding frenzy occurring at First Bank made it far less than the best of times.
Today, if I were looking for one man who could put together and operate a successful private banking operation, I really would choose Mark all over again. I did make the best decision possible in those circumstances. It was the circumstances that were externally arranged to be quite impossible, no matter how perfect any internal decision-making happened to be.
GATES: So would you ever go back to private banking?
Brink: No matter how experientially qualified for it I now am, I would never be allowed to go back into private banking. I am not “a fit and proper person,” you see. That is not an option.
GATES: And so what is next for you?
Brink: It starts with completing the Restoration Project for the bank’s former depositors. I cannot leave that undone. There is no “next” for me until then.
GATES: But even with that accomplished, you still have the indictment of the U.S. Justice Department hanging over your head. Can anything at all truly be next until that is fully addressed?
Brink: I lived my first 46 years without ever stepping foot outside the United States, but for one tour bus ride across the California border into Mexico for an afternoon and evening and maybe a half-dozen short trips across the border between Washington state and British Columbia, Canada. For me up through that time there was no relevant world outside of the United States.
Since then my eyes have been opened. There is a whole world out here that isn’t the United States.
Why is it that we allow ourselves to entertain the notion that the sun rises and sets with the United States?
Is it because the US is the only remaining, globally capable, military superpower?
There is more to life than military muscle. And even the military muscle of the United States has its limits, based upon what the American people are willing to endure of their sons and daughters being sent on military exploits to small countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. What if there were a dozen Afghanistans and Iraqs? How long would the American people endure a President so devoted to preserving the supposed national security interests of the United States by waging wars on small Arab countries that do not pose a military threat to the United States at all, but to which the president chooses to send American jets to bomb them back into the stone age and American soldiers to fight and die?
Last I heard there happens to be something like 200 member nations in the United Nations. As a small American boy I couldn’t imagine any nation not wanting to become a state in the United States. But is such American child-like thinking truly what we want the world to become?
A Union of African States certainly is an idea whose time has come, even as the nation states of Europe have largely moved into the European Union arrangement.
The United States happens to be the largest consumer marketplace on the planet. For decades the US dollar has been king in global economics. But with the emergence of the European Union, that predominance has been challenged and a balancing is now occurring.
Each year the American government and the Federal Reserve System have to figure out how to balance the American trade deficit. The U.S. economy may be huge, but there are limits to how much it can continue to import in relationship to its ever-weakening power as a value-added exporting economy.
This is what makes developing countries such as Uganda actually feared by the developed nations. If any developing country ever truly understands and grasps and sets about to exploit its own economic advantages, then it has hope of eradicating national poverty and emerging, finally, as a developed “have” nation in the global community.
I was delighted to read the Uganda Cabinet Minister of Finance’s last budget speech to Parliament, for instance. It seems to me that key people in the Ugandan government are beginning to understand and grasp the keys to economic development. Moreover, the Government has actually done something about it by charting the way for attracting foreign investment capital to Uganda so that the nation’s industrial sector may more fully develop.
Value-added exports are the key. So long as a developing country remains locked into simply exporting unprocessed commodities, it will remain a neo-colonial slave state to developed countries and it will be looted of more and more of its wealth with each passing year.
What is “next” for me is to be able to get back full time to focusing on ways and systems by which developing countries, particularly those in Central and East Africa, may begin their emergence as economic power nations. Forget focusing on military might. The real fight, globally, is the battle for positive national economies. All of the rest of the nonsense is diversionary.
GATES: And this is how you also view the indictment that stands against you in the United States?
Brink: Absolutely. I am not the criminal mastermind of gigantic banking fraud. I was, Fidelity Bank and First Bank were, the Union Reserve System was and so also the G-77 World Trade and Development Bank project was perceived as economic threats to be eliminated.
The strategy employed to eliminate these threats has been the continual use of diversionary tactics. The indictment unveiled against me just continues the diversionary excitement. Nothing more.
I am tired of having my time and energies diverted. I see what needs to be done. I know in what ways I can be helpful in getting it done. And none of that requires me ever having to step foot in the United States again. I grew up in America being proud to be American. I wish my American family and friends well. I love them dearly and would love to be able to visit them again. But there is a whole lot more to the world than the USA. I am a non-criminal, non-terrorist, peace-loving and productive citizen of the world now living and residing in Uganda.
Bearing no grudges and seeking no vengeance, I am attending to the full financial restoration of former bank depositors. My life goes on and I will not be diverted from the true battle to help the economies of developing countries emerge into their rightful places under the sun of their national abundances.
What more is there than that? To me there is nothing more important than seeing the economic captives of the world set free to pursue and achieve their full potentials.
GATES: Back to your belief, which you say you confirmed through three American intelligence sources, that you and First Bank were “taken” down because you were viewed as a threat to the National Security Interests of the United States.
GATES: I may be submitting this interview for publication by the Internet journal called Offshore Informant. A year or so ago its editor, Mr. Paul Collin, published a lengthy article called Global Economic Brinkmanship in which he charted the development of Private Military Companies/Contractors [PMC], private organizations, that are often hired to do covert ops in the private sector. Are you familiar with that piece?
Brink: Yes. A lot of detail in there about things concerning which I was not aware. What references he made to First Bank concerning which I did have first-hand information were shockingly well researched on his part. I was flabbergasted when he contacted me by e-mail, set forth his research and asked for my comment. Flabbergasted on three counts.
First, that he had put together so much detail-- names, dates, and events-- on matters concerning which to my knowledge no one had ever made any public statements or revelations. At that time his web site was called AnExCIA or X-CIA Files, I believe.
I’ve been interviewed by reporters before, each claiming that they just wanted to present a balanced story, yet each publishing just another “trash and bash” piece in the end, full of the same sort of nonsense that has typified the coverage of me and the bank in the press since a Mr. David Marchant in his Internet journal Offshore Alert, just a couple weeks after I attended the Barbados Global Forum: Offshore Financial Services, in late November 1998, began his relentless campaign to ruin me and the bank. Yet Collin seemed genuinely interested in the facts and to let the proverbial chips fall where they may. That was shocking to me.
Second, in those matters where he did have the rendition of facts slightly distorted, he said he would correct his piece, if I would provide him what I regarded as the truth and two or three ways that he could independently confirm such matters. I tested him on that. To my amazement, Collin did.
Third, he told me things—complete with names and dates—that I had completely forgotten, yet instantly recognized as true. Where did he get all of that information? I haven’t a clue. But it does give me the suspicion that while Collin may be an ex-operative for the CIA, his intelligence gathering resources still seem to be intact.
GATES: My reason for bringing this up is that in coming across that article since our last interview session, it seems to me you glossed over some of the significant aspects of why you may have become to be regarded as a threat to national security interests.
Brink: Yeah, maybe so. But to get into it all just makes the whole story more and more unbelievable. I’d never believe it, if I hadn’t lived it personally.
GATES: Well, let’s have it, then. Let readers decide for themselves. What do you have to lose?
Brink: Point well taken.
Okay, without getting into and reviewing all of what Collin uncovered and pieced together, let me get back to where I was and what the Fidelity Bank and First Bank did and then offer a couple additional points of perspective.
Fidelity and First Bank experienced something of an exponential growth curve, both in the number of depositors being served and the total volume of deposits undertaken. As I pointed out, that in itself would be perceived as a threat to American banking interests. Bankers can do basic math and make projections into the future.
GATES: But American bankers don’t set Executive policy in the United States?
Brink: Oh? The Federal Reserve is the American banking system and Congress is continually consulting its Chairman, but cannot order him to do anything at all. Neither can America’s President. The American Banking Association’s lobby in Washington D.C. is one of the most well funded special interest group forces in American politics today. They wield amazing power and influence in Washington D.C.
But, technically, you are correct. And it is a simplistic approach to attribute the entire Executive Action policy agenda developed (that included the targeting of Van Brink and First Bank) to simply the banker’s lobby or perhaps even the Federal Reserve. You have to look at socio-economic implications, taxation issues and what is going on in the global economic wars for currency supremacy too.
Through the past several decades America’s immigration policies have been turned increasingly against allowing in “the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The days when huge ships full of immigrants were welcomed into New York Harbor are long gone. For the past several decades the emphasis has been on the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Border Patrol turning back would-be immigrants by the dozens, hundreds and thousands.
GATES: Socio-economic policy?
Brink: Yes. The view has been that immigrants displace Americans in the employment markets. They come from countries where even minimum wage is regarded as high pay and are, therefore, quite willing to snatch up menial labor job openings for even less than minimum wage, thus highly competing with and quite often displacing Americans in the low-level job market.
GATES: In what way could you and the bank possibly been perceived as exacerbating that problem?
Brink: To see this you have to look at what was happening in the immediate and short term and then extend it to the medium term of a decade or more. Let’s say you are middle class Joe Average American. You have a full time job that pays $40,000 a year. Your wife also has a job where she’s earning $15,000 to $20,000 a year and maybe you have a couple children in secondary schools with part-time, minimum wage jobs earning $6.00 an hour. You are keeping up with your middle-class lifestyle, but you are not getting ahead, economically. Just maintaining status.
Your brother or a close friend comes to you and tells you about a bank where your savings deposits earn 100% per year. You tiptoe in with a modest deposit. You get paid as agreed. You shift in more and more funds, such as your retirement account funds. Pretty soon, you are receiving enough income that your wife can quit her job. And in a year or two you also find that you can quit your job as well. Moreover, your kids no longer have to work for extra pocket money and you are earning enough to put them all the way through your state’s colleges and universities.
Over the three full years I was with Fidelity and First Bank, we saw this very thing occur, over and over and over again. Average Joe American depositor was getting ahead, economically. Average Joe American’s wife was soon able to quit her job, and Average Joe soon followed her into that well-financed early retirement. Moreover, chances were good that they were following legal advice on how, lawfully, to avoid paying income taxes on the bulk of their offshore bank account earnings. They were leaving the rank-and-file job markets completely (and also the rank-and-file of income tax payers).
This does several things.
First (and perhaps foremost), it creates high anxiety for the [United States] Internal Revenue Service. They do NOT enjoy watching a decline in income tax revenues or in the numbers of people who are voluntarily filing annual income tax returns. Much of the “witch hunting” of me and of the pressure on the bank was IRS-inspired and led. Many who were called upon to testify before the various grand jury panels would send me e-mails after the fact recounting the high pressure and bullying tactics of IRS Criminal Investigations Division agents who seemed even to be directing the FBI and the Assistant United States Attorney on what to do and say to gain “full cooperation” from a former depositor. Each person called that later sent me a note mentioned being threatened with criminal prosecution for income tax evasion. This was, generally, a mystery to them since they were acting in accordance to personal legal counsel advice in how they arranged their financial affairs. But that is the substance of how they were bullied, nonetheless.
Second, remember that Joe Average and family no longer need to work to make ends meet. Ends are meeting nicely. So nicely that they pay off their automobile loans, their revolving charge accounts, their home loans—all debt. They become debt free, beholding to no one. Do you have any idea how reliant the U.S. economy is upon consumer debt to keep all the wheels turning? Do you think there is even the slightest chance that the “powers that be” truly want the nation to rid itself of the national debt or all of the Joe Average Americans to rid themselves of all of their debt?
Think of the implications. Start with the fact that those who don’t need to work do have significantly more time on their hands. Time for thinking. Time for planning. Time to contemplate what is really going on politically, socially, culturally and economically. Time for sharing their ideas and opinions with others. Do you think the American government wants to have tens of millions of citizens who can afford to retire in their 30s and 40s instead of dutifully slaving away for that gold watch at age 65?
One hundred years ago America was built on gold and silver equity instruments. Today it is propped up with non-gold/silver backed debt instruments. Lock, stock and proverbial barrel.
What happens to the debt barons when no one needs to borrow? What happens when people can afford to choose their own health care practitioners who might not belong to the American Medical Association? What happens when people with all of this extra time on their hands start studying health issues and the dangers of genetically modified foods? What happens when people with more time on their hands start studying the environmental implications of how their society is being run? What happens when no one wants to accept paper money that has no real backing to it? What happens when people prefer to use their own private currencies (instead of the official fiat currencies) to conduct their financial affairs? Would that not rattle a few cages in official circles?
The “American system” drapes itself in American flags and celebrates itself with praises on the country being a land of opportunity, the land of the free and the home of the brave.
I don’t know if you watched any of The Matrix movie series. But American life is a matrix operation. One does not do win favor in that system by “waking” people up to what is really going on that is all designed to keep them in perpetual servitude rather than freeing them as individual Sovereigns.
Once someone “wakes up,” there is really no going back for him or her. They become individuals living in the world but who are not of the world’s present system of things. That is threatening to the system itself—and in reaction the system will send swarms of its agents to eliminate the perceived threat to its existence.
Third, the impact, long term, on employment statistics is something that can also be projected.
With bank depositors leaving the rank-and-file of the job market in droves (among Fidelity and First Bank depositors), over time it will have a real impact of encouraging a job market that actually seeks to find a way of employing immigrants to illegal aliens in the United States. Yet the socio-economic policies of the USA have been set against attracting and receiving ever-increasing numbers of non-Americans to America’s shores.
Within the past couple weeks it was announced in Uganda that U.S. President George W. Bush was soon to unveil a program to get all illegal aliens in the United States to register and be accepted. I think it is perceived as a threat to the national security interests of the United States that Ugandans, for instance, and people from other poor countries from around the world have been figuring out ways to enter the U.S. and just not leave—with or without a U.S. visa that allows them to stay. In this post 9-11 era, the U.S. government has become even more intense in its desire to know all persons in the United States, i.e. to know who they are, where they are and what they are doing at all times.
GATES: And how did you and First Bank factor into that equation?
Brink: We didn’t. Not directly. But in projecting statistical realities it could easily be determined that left un-checked, the growth of First Bank’s use by American depositors would have an increasing impact on Americans leaving the job market for early retirements, thus forcing employers to widen acceptance of immigrants and illegal aliens into the low-paying job market.
GATES: And you think that was an underlying factor in you and First Bank being targeted?
Brink: No. I think it was a reinforcing factor in the decision that was made for other reasons.
GATES: But you’ve still skated around the factors in the Paul Collin news story originally published at AnExCIA and, now, also by Offshore Informant.
Brink: Okay. Let me face that head-on, then.
One of the significant areas in which both Fidelity and First Bank applied investment funds was in the development of gold refinery technologies. At one time we had three unrelated projects going in this sector. Different technologies being developed. Different, unrelated teams working on those developments.
Each of these projects concerned ways to enhance the typical yields achieved in gold ore processing and refining. Each demonstrated in clinical testing unique capabilities of doing just that— one of those processes by an enhanced yield potential, tested, of up to 1,800%. I later found out that the process was actually classified as a national secret.
GATES: And how did you get your hands on that?
Brink: It was brought to us. Handed to us on the proverbial silver platter by some of those who had been instrumental in its discovery and development to that point. I don’t know how he found out about all of that, but Paul Collin read me chapter and verse of how and by whom it was developed, how we got our hands on it, etc.
While I did keep all of those specifics as completely confidential, what I had done was announce to depositors and prospective depositors who attended one of a few Offshore Educational Institute seminars in Grenada to which I was a speaker that the bank’s goal in this was not so much profit oriented as it was oriented toward the creation of an alternative monetary system that could be used worldwide. Our intention was to fully back each banking instrument we issued with gold. We also wanted to create small-denomination banking notes issued by our bank and also fully convertible into gold, should a note holder ever desire to do so.
That was during my days at Fidelity and First Bank. When I resigned First Bank and became Chairman of the Union Reserve System and African Union Reserve System, the whole intention of the URS/AURS was to create national currencies and banking systems wholly backed by gold. The humanitarian treaties negotiated with various Congolese groups was simply to pave the way for peace so that the economic re-development of Congo could be accomplished in this manner, with the AURS Congolese currency becoming a world standard of value.
I was naïve enough to think that no one would much mind a private organization going to the rescue of Democratic Republic of Congo. It was for sure that the existing “powers that be” had done nothing to significantly help the Congolese people in decades. There had been no effort to bring the Congolese into the global economic mainstream with full rights, dignities and privileges.
But rattling the topic of currency supremacy is not taken lightly. Excuse me, but the fact is that before the American/British invasion of Iraq and the toppling from power, Saddam Hussein was removing Iraq from the U.S. dollar standard on selling Iraqi oil and switching to euros. Care to wager on whether euros or dollars happens to be the new choice of the new, American-installed Iraqi government? It wasn’t an case of feared Weapons of Mass Destruction. It was an issue of attempting to shore up global dollar supremacy. My opinion.
Look now at Saudi Arabia and advisors suggesting that it should not sell its oil for either dollars or euros, but should demand payment in gold. Ring any bells? The world is awash in intrinsically worthless paper currencies. Something of genuine value is the solution to what are constantly eroding paper currency values.
Consider what happens to all of the Joe Average Americans, if one by one the nations of the world conclude to take itself off the US dollar standard. There are trillions and trillions and trillions of American dollars circulating globally. If the dollar becomes perceived as not much worth the bother, what is going to happen?
The answer to that question is already a footnote in America’s monetary history. 1972. Richard Nixon. American travelers stranded abroad when overnight the US dollar was subjected to major international devaluation.
Why did that happen?
Because on an international level (although not at home in America) the United States was still insisting that its dollars were redeemable in gold. But when payments were demanded in gold, the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve balked and stalled and stalled in making those conversion payments in gold. Finally, European nations (principally France) got tired of the song and dance routine and the American insistences that American dollars had so much value vs. their local currencies, that they decided to pull the plug, accept no more stalling and demand immediate conversion to gold.
Big surprise. There were not enough gold reserves to make the payment demanded. The European governments, then, demanded a major devaluation of the U.S. dollar. I can’t remember. Think it was in the range of 50% devaluation.
That would be a stroll in the park in comparison to what would happen if a vast majority of nations all at once started sending all of their dollars back to the United States in search of something of value to buy instead of continuing to hold America’s intrinsically worthless paper currency.
We’ve also seen that in microcosm in the United States when its balance of trade with Japan was so out of balance that the Japanese started rushing to purchase America itself—land, buildings (including the Empire State Building in New York City), businesses, industries, resorts, you name it. It was quite the story at the time. The America that defeated Japan in World War II… the America that helped re-build Japan after the war… THAT America being purchased by the Japanese and rented back to the Americans.
Now imagine that on a much larger scale. Not just Japan buying out America, but also Germany, France, Belgium, Russia, Spain, Italy, etc. – all wanting something of value to replace their boatloads of US dollar paper currency that they are sitting on.
Okay, Joe American. Good thing that you got something of a head start by moving your savings to a bank that paid you so well that you could pay off all your debt and also start utilizing the private gold-backed currency your bank issues.
Fidelity Bank started heading in that direction. First Bank pushed even further in that direction in meaningful ways. For instance, one of the assets the bank held by deed of assignment was $47 billion worth of gold bullion held by the Bank of Japan. At the time we received that assignment, I think our total deposit liabilities amounted to less than $50 million.
We were in our infancy when struck down. I was intending to create an international system of banks—with participating banks in every nation and state and province on earth, if possible. A system that would be sort of an “ark of safety” to which individuals, families, businesses and industries could turn in the times of a global economic storm that I thought I saw brewing on the horizon.
GATES: So this is a principal way that you believe that you and the bank were perceived to be a threat to the national security interests of the United States, a nation that depends on the non-gold backed US dollar being financial king of the world?
Brink: Yes. The URS plan was openly published on the Internet on an African news site. First Bank’s plans in that respect had been voiced to small groups, but never published openly. That Paul Collin was able to get his hands on all of that background information is quite amazing to me. If he could become so fully informed while no longer working for the CIA, I have to admit that I am no longer shocked about what I was informed about the CIA concluding that the bank and I constituted threats to the national security interest.
GATES: So is that all of the story?
Brink: No. But it is the part of the story that can easily be proven and substantiated by records and confirmed by third parties.
GATES: What can’t you prove?
Brink: That in February 2000 I was invited to speak before a convention of leading representatives from most African countries. It was held in Cairo, Egypt. I was asked to introduce the concept of the Union Reserve System and its sub-part, the African Union Reserve System. I can prove that much.
What I can’t prove is that twelve hours before I was scheduled to make that introduction to the convention I was tipped off on an assassination plot against me to assure that I wouldn’t be able to make that speech. It took time to re-book an exit flight from Egypt. Talk about a hair-raising experience complete with a chase scene. That is as close as I ever want to come to being the unlikely hero of an action movie.
GATES: And what of the gold enhancement technologies that were under development?
Brink: I still have access to all of them through third parties, although none of the details are within thousands of miles of me. When the time is right, who knows?
GATES: And the concept of the Union Reserve System and African Union Reserve System? A true gold-backed currency?
Brink: Yes. Think of it and ask yourself, “Why not?” It is not as if the technology does not exist. It does. It is not as if the resources do not exist. They do. It is not as if this is some sort of new concept. It isn’t. But it would tend to create a global environment where governments had to be truly accountable, not simply authorize the printing of more money whenever they wanted to spend more money. Yet it is also not as if we don’t have the genius available to re-engineer the monetary systems of the world so that they are not continually prone to fully orchestrated boom and bust cycles.
Creating such an alternative monetary system was also the concept of Fidelity Bank and First Bank. The URS and AURS were simply natural outgrowths of that.
The concept is always available. Concepts are concepts; concepts are not individuals. No one owns a patent or a copyright on a concept. It just is and is always freely available to anyone, anywhere and at anytime.
And, perhaps, that’s the crux of it. It is concepts that are feared, not individuals. I can be relegated to the dustbin of history in total shame and be despised by all. The point of attempting to accomplish that against me is not that anyone fears me as an individual. What is feared are the concepts I was succeeding in developing and the acceptance of a conceptual vision that was occurring, as demonstrated by the phenomenal growth rate of the banks.
Reminds me of something a man named Frederick Douglas said a long, long time ago:
“Once a great truth gets abroad in the world, no power on earth can imprison it, or prescribe its limits, or suppress it. It is bound to go on till it becomes the thought of the whole world.”
Frederick Douglas was born in 1817 as an American slave. He died in 1895, a little over thirty years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring that all American slaves were freed.
GATES: What is it that you see, then, as the feared “great truth” that is being suppressed, at least by attempt, through the effort to “take down” both you and First Bank?
Brink: That we live in a world of abundance, not of lack. That there is no legitimate reason for 80% of the earth’s population to live in poverty so that 20% can live in relative abundance. That we do have the ability to engineer our political, economic and monetary systems in ways that liberate and empower, rather than enslave and impoverish. That nations can be creative enough to find ways of providing essential infrastructure and social services without the need to subjugate, harass and oppress their peoples at gunpoint in collecting taxes the people can’t afford to pay. That if we would simply determine to move in those directions, we would move ourselves out of the grips of daily fear and into the arms of delight in each other’s accomplishments and the true universal brotherhood of man.
GATES: After all of this, are you still so naïve? Such things aren’t likely to happen anytime soon.
Brink: Gandhi was once asked how he had been able in his single lifetime to accomplish such a dramatic change in his world. He said it was simple. Just “be” the change you want to see in the world.
Of course, it will happen, eventually. I have very strong and I think studied feelings about the current system and its ability to sustain itself. Many other well-respected scholars from the fields of economic, political-social and agrarian studies are saying the same things and have been for years. It’s not as if I’m the lone voice crying in the wilderness or anything like that. Something WILL give – and that will leave a vacuum for something new, something that, hopefully, will be better for those creating it and for everyone else, too. The current paradigm has its limits and is already unworkable in many ways and is widely recognized to be completely unsustainable. Who’s kidding whom?
One of the things I want to get back to work on is finishing a book I began to write in 1999, the working draft title of which is New Millennium Economics. There are so many elements of the present system that are viable and helpful, why do we insist on holding onto those things that will bring all nations to the abyss, when changing only a few factors would lead to the prosperity of all nations and peoples? I’m not talking communism. I’m talking about appropriately recognizing value in ways that empowers rather than enslaves people.
But maybe I should put it back on you. After listening to all of this, can you see why “they” may have concluded I was a threat to the national security interests of the United States? Anything that rocks the boat is a threat. The fact that they moved on us in our infancy is telling as to the magnitude of the perceived threat.
GATES: Returning, again, to your presence in Uganda, you have stated why you want to remain in Uganda. What you haven’t stated is why Uganda should want you to remain in its country. What have you done, specifically, to help Uganda? What is it that you are doing now in Uganda and what is it you wish to do in the future in Uganda?
Brink: Fair enough. I want to remain in Uganda so that I can complete the project of restoring all of the bank’s former depositors. In that process I will become amply financially endowed myself, although the way I’ve set it up is that bank officers and directors will be restored last of all and me as the very last of the last.
What I want to do with a good portion of what I’ll receive is to create two things to operate in conjunction with each other in Uganda. One is a school of entrepreneurship and the other is an entrepreneurs’ revolving venture capital fund.
I’ve spoken with many graduates of the largest university, here. These graduates hold degrees and post-graduate degrees in business administration. Their common complaint is that they can’t find employment.
I find such a complaint to be incredible-- not because I doubt that these individuals haven’t found an employer (I think Uganda’s unemployment rate is 30% or more), but because I can’t imagine anyone having an orientation to business and years of training for it not also realizing that they can become their own employers, start their own businesses, pursue their own business dreams and visions. Yet when I prod them on along these lines, I am struck by the fact that they have not even once considered it and wouldn’t know where or how to begin.
Here they are with three, four, five, and sometimes up to six years of university level training in business and business administration and they have never once considered starting and building their own business of some sort. They turn in dozens and dozens of employment applications, then sit and wait for someone to hire them.
I want to set up a three- to six-month training program in how to start and build your own business. The program would have each student identify an economic activity. Anything from chicken farming to agricultural value-added exports to brick making to auto body repair shops to textiles manufacturing and export to broadcasting or publishing to operating a stock brokerage or whatever.
Identify an opportunity for yourself. One that genuinely does excite you because of what you see as being the possibilities. Do your own market research, identifying key competitors and what their weaknesses might be and how you could do it better and more cost effectively. Figure out how to create and register a company and obtain all of the licensing that might be needed. Identify where you will be doing your corporate banking and exactly how to open an account with that bank. Identify the legal counsel and professional accounting services you would need, the equipment you would need, the raw materials, if any, or the stock for retail merchandising, the location, the budget you might need for advertising and promotion, how you would structure labor costs and what the available labor pool might be that you could draw upon. You know, do the essentials of business planning. And do it on a small business scale to start. Something manageable. Something where you can grow with the business as you learn whatever “real life” lessons there undoubtedly are to learn in that field of endeavor.
As an adjunct to such a school would be a revolving venture capital fund that those who do develop approved business plans could draw upon as seed capital and mezzanine-level expansion capital.
The fund would operate on Islamic banking principles. In other words those drawing on the venture capital fund would not be burying themselves and their businesses in debt. Banking debt chokes a business. Instead, there would be an equitable interest in the business granted to the venture capital fund itself, with an experienced businessman serving as a representative of the fund on the Board of Directors of each company that is a recipient of the fund. I want to destine Ugandan entrepreneurs for success instead of failure. Plenty of economic potential exists in this country. It is finding a way to see those potentials realized that seems to be the challenge for Uganda. I want to help Ugandans create solutions, solutions that employ hundreds, thousands and eventually millions of Ugandans. To have such oppressive employment statistics in a country with so much opportunity just isn’t right.
GATES: What about your personal life in Uganda? You married a Ugandan three years ago but you have no children born of your marriage to her.
Brink: My wife and I enjoy a good marriage relationship. Some matters, however, can’t be hurried and can’t be held back, but have a way of happening on their own and in their own time.
Still, the matter of having natural children in a marriage is not all of family life in Uganda. One of the things that would be shocking to North Americans and Europeans is the depth, strength and bond of Ugandan family relationships and the associated expectations that are incumbent upon someone who is a family member.
In marrying my wife I married her family as well and, accordingly, provide weekly support to my wife’s mother and those of her brothers and sisters still living at home, and I provide school fees for her siblings and for the children of some extended family members and so forth.
My wife’s father passed away when she was only a small girl and her family had a considerable financial struggle through the years following that. In essence I was adopted into her family and have, likewise, adopted her family and now provide for their care and keeping, be it medical emergencies or simply on-going educational expenses. One doesn’t marry a Ugandan and have only himself and his wife to consider. It extends much, much beyond that. And, in truth, I do enjoy being able to make a meaningful contribution to the lives of my extended Ugandan family. Having children of our own is something my wife and I leave in God’s hands.
GATES: You’ve answered just about everything I can think to ask. Real quickly, now, can you summarize the charges made against you and your response to them?
Brink: Okay. There is the main charge and then the associated charges.
The main charge is that those indicted defrauded investors of an amount alleged to be $206 million. The foundation of that charge is the prosecution’s assertion that the bank falsely claimed to have large assets. My response is that the bank made no such false claim, but really did have large assets representing a multiple of the amount of deposits it undertook.
The prosecutions entire case rises and falls on whether the bank had large assets. If the bank did have them, the prosecution has no case. The bank did have them. That can be proven.
The associated charges are conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and consequent demanded forfeiture.
The prosecution’s case for conspiracy is that those who were indicted did know and understand that the bank didn’t have large assets and that they chose to encourage the placement of deposits with the bank and then committed mail fraud, wire fraud with the money that was defrauded from investors, those funds being the proceeds of crime, then money laundered those funds through accounts at other institutions with the result being personal enrichment, that subjects them to forfeiture.
To prove conspiracy, the prosecution must demonstrate that at the time deposits were being received, the indicted ones knew full well that there were no major assets. Since I know that here were major assets, I don’t see how the prosecution can demonstrate that I knew the exact opposite.
The prosecution’s many mail fraud charges stem from the fact that some American depositors sent us checks drawn on their home bank accounts. That was not a crime for them to do so. The alleged crime of mail fraud was when the bank sent those checks back to be cleared so that the deposit funds could be credited to the accounts of depositors. It is impossible for a non-American bank to accept checks drawn on American banks without sending those checks back to the American banks for clearing. Banking fact of life. Not a crime unless the initial receiving of checks was because the crime of fraud had been committed.
The prosecution’s many wire fraud charges stem from the fact that as private offshore banks, both Fidelity Bank and First Bank had to establish banking relationships with commercial banks, trusts and contracted service companies so that it could receive funds in US dollars and also transmit funds in US dollars. No private offshore bank can do so directly, but must work through commercial banks, trusts or other service companies to transact funds in US dollars (or in any other currency). Another banking fact of life. Not a crime unless the initial receiving of funds was a crime, in which case wiring the funds forward to any destination would also be a crime.
Only ‘dirty money’ needs to be ‘laundered.’ The prosecution’s charge of money laundering is based on all funds having been received from depositors were the proceeds of crime and that, thus, receiving and transacting on those funds through commercial banks, trusts and contracted service companies constituted money laundering.
The prosecution’s contention that any and all things that may have been done with funds personally received by any of the defendants must be forfeited, since the prosecution contends that those received funds were the proceeds of crime and anything done with those funds by law must be forfeited.
Like I said, the entire case rises and falls on whether the bank had more in owned assets than it had in liabilities to depositors.
GATES: But the bank did fail to meet its obligations to depositors.
Brink: Yes, it did.
It failed because it was the subject of much outside interference that resulted in failed business transactions.
But let’s say you are driving up a switch-back mountain road intending to get to a destination on the other side of the mountain. As you are driving along a giant bolder comes tumbling down from above and suddenly smashes into the hood of your car, knocking your car’s motor right off its mounts, breaking your front axel and causing your front tires to explode. It also smashes the windshield. You and the other passengers in the car are bumped, bruised, have a few broken bones and multiple cuts received from the flying glass when the windshield exploded in on you. Other than that, you are severely shaken up but still alive.
Along comes the helpful Highway Patrol. That Highway Patrol Officer doesn’t assist you and your passengers in any way, doesn’t call an ambulance or anything, but investigates the scene for five years, then decides that you need to be arrested and taken to jail to await a trial that might come about in another couple years. You see, he has concluded that the only possible explanation for the situation is that you were a criminally reckless driver who was deliberately intending to hurt your fellow auto passengers. Noting a coffee thermos in the car, he charges you with drunken driving, reckless endangerment, reckless driving, criminal assault and everything else he can think up-- and if convicted on all charges, you are facing a prison sentence of about 700 years.
The bank failed because of outside interference in its business dealings. It also failed because some arguably poor choices had been made at crucial points in time.
Consider that the driver of the car in the above illustration could have taken a longer route on a less hazardous road. By analogy, the bank could have offered traditional interest rates to savings depositors. That is certainly true.
The question is, however, whether those who stand indicted are criminals who each stand in need of life imprisonment because of the fact that the bank failed.
Suffering outside interferences is not a crime. Irritating. Frustrating. Tragic. Yes, all of these things. But not criminal.
Making poor business decisions is sad, regrettable and tragic also. But not criminal.
GATES: Thank you, Mr. Brink.
Brink: And thank you!
PUBLISHER: Econic News
E-MAIL: [email protected]
REPORTER: Victoria S. Gates
TOPIC: Financial Intelligence
INTERVIEW: Van A. Brink
PLACE: Kampala, Uganda, Africa
TIME: 2 Hours