Foutanga Babani Sissoko isn’t exactly a name you might be familiar with, but others will never forget the man from a small Malian village who ended up pulling off one of Dubai’s greatest heists.
In 1995, he walked in the Dubai Islamic Bank and asked for a loan to buy a car. When the manager agreed, Sissoko invited him back to his house.
That, as told by the BBC’s Brigitte Scheffer, was the beginning of one of the most “audacious confidence tricks of all time”.
During their dinner, Sissoko told the bank manager, Mohammed Ayoub, that he had “magic powers”. His unique skill meant that he could “take a sum of money and double it”, and he invited his friend to come again and to bring some cash.
You know where this is going:
Black magic is condemned by Islam as blasphemous. Even so, there’s still a widespread belief in it, and Ayoub was taken in by the colourful and mysterious businessman from a remote village in Mali.
When he arrived at Sissoko’s house the next time, carrying his money, a man burst out of a room saying a spirit – a djinn – had just attacked him. He warned Ayoub not to anger the djinn, for fear his money would not be doubled. So Ayoub left his cash in the magic room, and waited.
He said he saw lights and smoke. He heard the voices of spirits. Then there was silence.
The money had indeed doubled – and, along with a delighted Ayoub, the heist could begin. From then on, between 1995 and 1998, Ayoub would make 183 transfers into Sissoko’s accounts around the world.
Sissoko didn’t have to be in the country to receive the money. In fact, only weeks after he put on the black magic display for Ayoub, Sissoko visited another bank in New York, and did much more than open an account:
“He walked into Citibank one day, no appointment, met a teller and he ended up marrying her,” says Alan Fine. “And there’s reason to believe she made his relationship with Citibank more comfortable, and he ended up opening an account there through which, from memory, I’m just going to say more than $100m was wire transferred into the United States.”
In fact, according to a case brought by the Dubai Islamic Bank against Citibank, more than $151m “was debited by Citibank from DIB’s correspondent account without proper authorisation”.
And Sissoko paid his new wife more than half a million dollars for her help. Cheers.
But, in 1998, the Dubai Islamic Bank’s auditors began to notice that something was wrong.
Rumours that the bank was having cash flow problems began to swirl. As crowds of people gathered to withdraw their money, the Dubai authorities downplayed the crisis, calling it “”a little difficulty that did not lead to any financial losses either in the bank’s investments or depositors’ accounts”.
But this wasn’t true:
“The people who owned the bank took a huge, huge hit. It was not covered by insurance,” says Alan Fine, a Miami attorney the bank later asked to investigate the crime. “The bank was saved because the government stepped in to help. But they gave up a lot of their equity in the bank for that to happen.”
Ayoub was getting nervous, and Sissoko had stopped answering his calls:
Finally [Ayoub] confessed to a colleague, who asked how much was missing. Too ashamed to say, Ayoub wrote it on a scrap of paper – 890 million dirhams, the equivalent of $242m (R2,8 billion).
He was found guilty of fraud and given three years in jail. It’s rumoured he was also forced to undergo an exorcism, to cure him of his belief in black magic.
Sissoko, on the other hand, has never spent a day in jail for the black magic bank heist.
This is only half the story, however, and one that delves into the world of Huey helicopters dating from the Vietnam War, nights spent in Geneva’s Champ-Dollon prison, and donations made to mobilise influential supporters.
Read it in full here – it’s fascinating to see just how easily people are corrupted by the promise of easy money.
[imagesource:wikicommons] Have you ever driven past one of those storage buildings and...
[imagesource:wallpaperflair] Amateur 'psychonauts' have been attempting for years to ma...
[imagesource:iol] South Africa has been totally shaken by the appalling prison escape o...
[imagesource:hbo] After some internet speculation and guesswork, the next lush location...
[imagesource:unsplash] Prince Harry Back In London For ...