The story of an international money launderer
It was a far cry from the small town of Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, where he grew up in the 1950s before moving to attend Florida Southern College on a baseball scholarship.
A 1965 All American College Baseball team player (he still holds a pitching record), he was about to sift through pro rookie offers when his knee gave way. It was the end of his sporting dreams.
An economics graduate, he landed a job with American Express and was stationed in Saigon during the Vietnam War. There he learned to use barnyard money changers to double his money. It was his introduction to money laundering.
He also saw that there was a giant club of military and business people who were not there to wage war but to make money on the black market. “They turned Vietnam into a business,” he says.
Back in America, he was recruited by the charismatic Nicholas Deak, the founder of the financial house Deak and Company. This time his base would be Hong Kong.
Born in Transylvania, Deak had been an American spy and his company had, at different times, acted as a front for CIA operations.
“He was a brilliant guy from Hungary who spoke several languages,” says Aitken. “His philosophy was, ‘Have the money, call Deak, no questions asked. “”
Aitken says Deak moved huge sums for the CIA and was known as the “James Bond of money laundering”.
When a new customer asked Deak to move black money, the launderer would cut up a $2 bill and give half of it to the budding business partner. When Aitken or one of the other field agents arrived at the pick-up point, they carried the other half. If the halves matched, the deal was done. Otherwise, they would leave.
The company’s reputation was well known to those who needed its special skills, until all hell broke loose.
One of America’s largest aviation companies, Lockheed, was sinking into debt and embarked on a targeted bribery scheme to trick governments into buying its civilian and military planes, with Deak’s company transferring more than $8 million dollars (US) in Japan for officials (all the way to the prime minister) to pocket.
Aiken spent a lot of the money in his golf bag. “We gave it to our agent, a Spanish priest, Jose Gardeano – he was a great guy,” he says.
Father Gardeano would then take the money, often in a cardboard box marked “oranges”. Although they were overseas to sell their TriStar passenger planes, “somehow Lockheed won the contract,” Aitken says.
Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka was later found guilty of corruption and the Deak company was exposed as a massive money launderer for big business and drug cartels, including cleaning up $10 million for the notorious mafia grandma’s – a cocaine syndicate run by elderly women. According to Aitken, the publicity led Deak to “fall out of favor with the intelligence people”.
In 1984, Deak was shot dead in his New York office by a mentally ill woman. Aitken wonders why a woman would fly across the United States to kill a man she had never met. “What happened and whether other people will be involved is still speculative,” he says.
One of Mr. Clean’s clients and close friends was Ray “Cito” Cessna, a central cast businessman/hippie/drug dealer. An American who had settled in Australia via Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, he lived in a vast house protected by two imposing Great Danes in the prestigious suburb of Sydney, Lane Cove.
A vegetarian in love with Persian culture, he was an importer, particularly of Thai cannabis, with his business partner, UK-born Tim Milner. This required Aitken and his golf bag.
Milner and Cessna were arrested in 1979 for importing 110,000 Thai Buddha sticks weighing 300 pounds – a serious charge that could have resulted in a prison sentence of around 10 years. Police announced the value at $1.5 million, the equivalent of 30 houses in Sydney.
Aitken had to see how the NSW justice system worked. At a farewell dinner for outgoing Chief Magistrate Murray Farquhar, a group of pals that included barrister Morgan “The Magician” Ryan, Police Commissioner Merv Wood and High Court Judge Lionel Murphy chatted of the case, and the fix was in place – lubricated by fine wine and a $50,000 bribe from Milner.
“Morgan Ryan was a real guy, a real Mr. Fixit, and that’s what he did, he fixed it,” Aitken says.
Wood agreed to reduce the weight of the carriage, which meant the case could be heard at magistrate level. Guess what? Farquhar decided to hear the case as the last before his retirement. Milner received an 18-month sentence and served approximately six months, while Cessna was fined $1,000.
“He was moved to the magistrates’ court that morning, where there was no recording equipment, and they got off with a slap on the wrist.” Aitken said.
This case and others, recorded on illegal wiretaps known as “age Tapes” sparked police interest in Aitken, who had visited Sydney 15 times in less than three years, flying more hours than many pilots.
In the final days of Deak and Company, another more sinister group, Australia-based Nugan Hand Bank, moved in.
The partners were American Mike Hand and Australian lawyer Frank Nugan. Hand, a Vietnam veteran known for his bravery, was dumped with the CIA.
“I didn’t like it,” Aitken says. “You have the feeling that if you get involved with him, there will be no turning back.
“They considered themselves CIA bankers. When they opened a branch in [Thailand’s drug centre] Chiang Mai, they gave away the game.
Eventually the bank collapsed, Hand went missing in the US (living under an assumed name in Idaho) and in January 1980 Frank Nugan was found shot dead in the NSW country. In his Mercedes was a list of names, including Bob Wilson (a member of the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee) and former CIA Director Bill Colby.
Nugan’s death has been ruled a suicide, though Aitken and many others suspect the lawyer was murdered because he was seen as a weak link.
Another of Mr Clean’s clients was Howard Marks, the Oxford-educated son of a Welsh tugboat captain and at the time the world’s biggest cannabis smuggler.
He owned a 30-meter trawler (the Axel-D), which he used to distribute up to 30 tons of cannabis around the world, and formed a fake rock band, importing weed inside giant loudspeakers that were to be used for non-existent purposes. outdoor pop concerts.
The authorities should have read the fine print. The group was called “Laughing Grass”. Typical Howard.
Aitken recalls, “He was a soft-spoken guy. The first time I met him, he gave me a suitcase full of money [$US150,000] and asked me to take care of it.
All Marks wanted was a handshake agreement that the money would be there when needed. “That’s how we did business back then,” says Aitken.
Marks wrote in the foreword to Mr. Clean’s book: “He was a master of his chosen craft.”
Aitken knew he had become too well known for his skills and was trying to leave the company when in 1989 he was caught in Bangkok and sent back to America, kept in a detention center and forced to leave. turn against its customers. Instead, he eventually agreed to plead guilty to the relatively minor charge of aiding and abetting money laundering, and was released after serving his sentence.
He returned to Hong Kong, where he has a weekly Christian radio show. He no longer takes his golf clubs with him when he travels abroad.
Mr. Clean, Drugs and the CIA: The True Story of a Master Money Launderer. One hour Asian media.
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