U.S. Goes Easy on LA Bank Manager Once Accused of Hiding Drug $$$

For Roman Polanski, life as a fugitive has led to the worst of times.

For the manager of a major Los Angeles bank, however, life as a fugitive had led to the best of times including a California home, a big bank job and U.S. citizenship.

Saad Shafi fled the country for Pakistan in 1988 after being indicted by a federal grand jury on charges he and other executives at the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, BCCI, helped Colombia drug bosses and Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega hide millions in drug money.

VIDEO: U.S. Goes Easy on LA Bank Manager Once Accused of Hiding Drug $$$Play
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Polanski pleaded guilty to charges of having sex with a 13-year old girl and fled the country in 1978 prior to sentencing.

Unlike Polanski, prosecutors in the Shafi case decided after eleven years to dismiss the charges against Shafi, apparently convinced the fugitive would never be extradited by Pakistan, his home country, to face the BCCI charges.

By 2005, he had been granted U.S. citizenship and gone back to work in the American banking industry.

VIDEO: Saad Shafi Dodges Questions from ABC NewsPlay
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ABC News found Shafi working as the manager of the Los Angeles branch of Habib American bank, an FDIC insured institution chartered and headquartered in New York.

"He is not a fit person to run a bank," said Jack Blum, who investigated BCCI for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Banks should be run by people of good moral character."

In a brief interview, to be broadcast tonight on ABC World News with Charles Gibson, Shafi confirmed he was the same man indicted by the grand jury and labeled a fugitive for 11 years.

Bank Places Shafi On Leave

He said his return to the United States was approved "though proper channels" and, according to a bank insider, disclosed the indictment on his citizenship application.

"A person who's got a criminal record of questionable background, even without a conviction, would have a terrible time getting a job at any American bank," said Blum. "BCCI was from top to bottom a criminal enterprise."

A lawyer for The Habib American bank, Marcus Asner of Arnold and Porter, said, Shafi was placed on leave on Tuesday evening following inquiries from ABC News.

"The bank takes this very seriously. Since ABC brought this to our attention, they've hired us as outside counsel but the bank can't comment further at this time because of that ongoing inquiry."

New York State banking officials, which have oversight of Habib American, also appeared to be unaware the onetime fugitive was running the Los Angeles branch.

"We don't look down to the branch level," said Jacqueline McCormack, the chief of staff for New York Superintendent of Banks Richard Neiman.

Officials at the FDIC also said they did not know a man once accused of laundering drug money was in charge of the Los Angeles branch of the bank they insure.

Shafi was one of thirteen BCCI officials and drug traffickers indicted after a long-term investigation that included secret recordings made by undercover federal agent Bob Mazur.

Shafi met the agent at the BCCI branch in Nassau, Bahamas.

"He made it very clear to me he was ready, willing, able and experienced to handle the hottest money that could be provided," Mazur told ABC News.

In one of the recorded conversations, Mazur, posing as a financier for the Medellin cocaine cartel, told Shafi, "My clients for their own reasons sell cocaine in the United States."

"We are equipped here for everything," Shafi told the undercover agent.

Click here to listen to audio clip #1 and here to listen to audio clipe #2 - excerpts of the undercover conversation between Mazur and Shafi.

To follow along with a transcript of audio clip #1, click here.

To follow along with a transcript of audio clip #2, click here.

According to the grand jury indictment, Shafi later handled an initial transaction of $382,950 that he was allegedly told was drug money.

"He handled millions of dollars," said Mazur.

Implications on Banking Regulation

It was Mazur who first realized Shafi had come back to the United States as he researched a recently published book on his life as an undercover agent, The Infiltrator.

"I'm extraordinarily disappointed," said Mazur.

After he fled to Pakistan, Shafi, a member of a prominent family with political connections, continued to work in the banking industry there.

Shafi first returned to the United States in 2003 and worked briefly at an investment firm in the Seattle area.

He later moved to the Los Angeles area and now lives with his family in Anaheim, in Orange County.

Shafi started at the Artesia branch of Habib American but then was promoted to run the Los Angeles branch, according to a bank employee.

Its website says the bank "will adhere to the highest levels of honesty, integrity and efficiency in providing value added services to our customers."

Former Senate investigator Blum says the Shafi case raises larger questions about the quality of bank regulation by New York State and others.

"It's painful because after all the problems we've had in the banking business, for something this basic to be slipping by the regulators and the people who license banks is very distressing."

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