The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: Jonathan Kwitny’s ‘Crimes of Patriots’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Nov• 20•10

Here’s a book about one of the great bank swindles of the 20th century, that touched countries as disparate as the U.S., Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, and Indonesia. And it touched them all in a big way. The bank was called Nugan Hand, named after its co-founders, lawyer Frank Nugan and ex-Green Beret Bill Hand. Nugan eventually committed suicide, but Hand disappeared, was never found, and is presumably still alive somewhere living off his money. 

As detailed in Jonathan Kwitny’s extremely detailed The Crimes of Patriots: a Tale of Dope, Dirty Money, and the CIA (1987, ISBN 0-671-66637-1), the bank was launched in 1973, took in billions of dollars from investors that were promised exorbitant rates of return, and went insolvent in 1980. It served as a laundering facility for southeast Asian drug money, CIA slush funds, what have you, and subsequent investigations of the total scope of the fraud went nowhere, allegedly because the CIA sealed various documents that might have blown the conspiracy wide open. And Iran –Contragate is a player here, as well. 

The Nugan Hand Bank was an expert in the “advanced brokerage fee” con game, in which people are told they’ll receive a loan, but must pay a brokerage fee in advance, only to never receive the loan, nor ever see their fees again, just one of many con games spelled out in the book. 

So why read it? If you’re a traveler to Southeast Asia with any notion of history, you’ll occasionally run into situations (e.g. Golden Triangle dope) that are referred to in the book, which makes for fascinating reading. And if you’re thinking of investing in Asian businesses, read here too. We here at WoWasis love to report on scams, and this book is one big cautionary tale about how personal greed got the best of some very well-meaning — but later broke — investors. The book’s flaw is also its drawing point: author Kwitny includes so much material that 400 or so pages can really grind down the reader at times. We’d use the word “exhaustive” to describe this project, but we’re glad Kwitny put in the time and research to write it. It’s a good adventure and a great reference book, and to Kwitny’s credit, he makes a valiant attempt to tell the story from everyone’s perspective, black hats and white. Buy it now at the WoWasis estore, powered by Amazon.

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