Bank of Credit and Commerce International – Records of a fraudulent bank worth saving?

 

Background

 

Negotiations

In 1982, ten years after its establishment, the London-based Bank of Credit and Commerce International was ‘on its way to becoming the financial equivalent of the SS Titanic’. Thirty years after the memo was written, London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) was working with the liquidator of the bank– which had lived up (or down) to the expectations of the Bank of England by collapsing in 1991 – to arrange the deposit of three series of records: board minutes, annual reports and company newsletters.  Negotiations had begun towards the end of 2011 but in the following Spring came a sudden reversal when the offer of records was withdrawn and LMA was notified of their pending destruction.  An appeal for an extension of the planned disposal of the records from six months to six years was agreed. Renewed enquiries into the records were made by LMA and the wider archive sector. Academics too have proved strong allies in the debate. In this instance these combined efforts have come to nothing: the retention period was passed in 2018 and it is therefore reasonable to fear the worst.

 

 Records of a fraudulent bank worth saving?

Titanic aside, superlatives abound in relation to the BCCI.  The Manhattan District Attorney, uncovering the complex web of the bank’s structure, declared it the largest bank fraud in world financial history; the lists of bank clients contain some of the most notorious political and criminal figures of the late twentieth century; the bank’s fines were the largest single criminal forfeiture ever obtained by federal prosecutors; a legal case brought by liquidators against the Bank of England, and eventually withdrawn was thought to be the most expensive case in British legal history. In the light of this it must be in the public interest to retain and ultimately make available records of the bank.

 

 The principle of ‘private = destroy’ must be challenged

The fundamental stumbling block was the belief of the liquidator that the destruction of the records is the only possible course of action, acknowledging and respecting the private conditions under which they were created.  If this principle were carried to the extreme, what would be in our archives? What sort of history could be written?

The Business Archives Council and Crisis Management Teambelieve that this principle should be challenged.  While this case is not a success story, there are numerous examples of records successfully deposited by liquidators with appropriate archive repositories.  We need to work hard to eliminate the element of chance from similar negotiations between archivists and liquidators, to build relationships and meaningful guidance, so that archives do not simply tell the story of successful businesses, but of those that fail too.

 

Lessons Learnt

 

  • Archives of failed businesses are less likely to survive than successful ones, leading to a skewed record which remains for posterity
  • Stronger relationships need to be built between liquidators of businesses and the heritage sector, especially to foster a greater understanding within the insolvency profession of the value of archives and support archivists and other record-keepers can provide

 

Special thanks to BAC volunteer and London Metropolitan Archives, City of London.