Baba's Big Bucks

African millionaire Foutanga Dit Babani Sissoko opened his checkbook and stole Miami's heart. Not surprisingly, that wasn't the only thing he stole.

According to Ellison, Ayyoub believed Sissoko had special powers and could use black magic to control individuals around him. Ayyoub described one encounter in which Sissoko applied some sort of potion to Ayyoub's skin. "It was left on him until it dried and then he was told to take a shower," recalls Ellison. "His version of events is that ever since that happened he always did what Sissoko told him to do."

Ayyoub also claimed that Sissoko hung a black glass ball from the ceiling of Ayyoub's bedroom. According to Ayyoub, Sissoko said he could watch Ayyoub through that ball and would know everything the banker was doing.

Sissoko then explained that he was about to embark on certain business ventures and needed Ayyoub to provide him the necessary funds. He assured Ayyoub that he could make the money reappear any time he wanted and that he would add an appropriate profit for the bank. The spellbound Ayyoub agreed and followed Sissoko's instructions.

During the next two and a half years, Ellison explains, Sissoko would either meet with or call Ayyoub whenever he needed money: "Sissoko began each conversation with the words, 'Baba here,' or 'Baba speaking.'" Once Ayyoub heard Sissoko's voice and those words, he did whatever Sissoko wanted.

From August 1995 until January 1998, 183 separate wire transfers were made between Dubai and the United States. The smallest individual transaction was $42,000; the largest $966,000. Court and bank records show that during those two and a half years, money from the Dubai Islamic Bank was transferred to the following U.S. institutions:

*Citibank in New York received $37.2 million, which was deposited into an account bearing Sissoko's name

*Barnett Bank in Miami received $26.5 million, which was deposited into an account under the name Abdou Karim Pouye, who has been described by Sissoko's attorneys as his chief financial officer overseeing daily operations of Sissoko's businesses

*City National Bank in Miami received $10.7 million for an account in Pouye's name

*NationsBank in Miami received $2.4 million for an account in Pouye's name
*First Union Bank in Miami received $1.4 million for an account in Pouye's name

*Commercebank National Association in Miami received $400,000 for an account in Pouye's name

In Switzerland Sissoko's preferred bank was Banque Multi Commerciale, in Geneva. Ellison says it received nearly $68 million. He also used the Geneva branch of New York-based Citibank for about $2 million in transfers. On the Isle of Man, located off the coast of England, $150,000 was deposited into an account at Barclays Bank.

In addition, tens of millions in cash turned up missing from the Dubai Islamic Bank. "As I understand it," Ellison relates, "the sum of money that left the bank in cash was $80 million. It was carried out over time in bags. They were plastic bags and they had the name of a local supermarket on them. That's literally what was used."

Ayyoub apparently transferred the money to Sissoko without receiving any clearance from his superiors at the bank. "There are no loan documents, no loan agreements. He just gave him the money," Ellison says, adding that Ayyoub was able to hide the transactions by falsifying bank ledgers with the help of the institution's chief accountant, Hussein El Refaie.

Hussain Mohamed Salim, the Abu Dhabi bank manager Ayyoub had called for help, stated in a sworn affidavit that he interviewed Refaie, and the accountant admitted receiving money from Ayyoub in a series of payments totaling about $52,000. Refaie reportedly told Salim the money was given to him to help the poor, but Salim stated in his affidavit that he believed it was a bribe to buy Refaie's help and silence. (The affidavit is included in court papers filed by Richey to freeze Sissoko's various bank accounts in the United States.)

Ellison says he is also trying to determine why the bank's outside accountants, Ernst & Young, failed to discover any irregularities in the bank's bookkeeping during its annual audits. "In December they gave the bank a clean bill of health," Ellison notes. "That's one of the issues we are working on."

In the end, it was an inquisitive auditor from the UAE's Central Bank -- which plays a role similar to the Federal Reserve Board in the United States -- that ultimately exposed the fraud. During its own annual review, after the Ernst & Young audit, something just didn't seem right to the government bureaucrat reviewing the bank's books, Ellison reports: "He would ask a series of questions and Ayyoub and Refaie would answer, and the auditor was never satisfied with the answers he was given." When it appeared that the auditor was going to keep digging and was on the verge of discovering the truth, Ayyoub contacted Salim and the other bank officials.

If the tales of black magic aren't to be believed, then the question is why did Ayyoub do it? "It is something nobody quite understands," Ellison shrugs. "Ayyoub was effectively the chief executive of the bank, on a good salary. He had a family, a big tribe of kids, a new house -- he shouldn't have been under any financial pressure at all. And yet he throws it all away by organizing and orchestrating what must be one of the world's largest bank robberies." So far, Ellison adds, Ayyoub has admitted receiving one car from Sissoko, although seven additional automobiles were found at his house. But there is no evidence to suggest Ayyoub received any of the cash.

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