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The Crazy Story of Foutanga B. Sissoko, the man who scammed Dubai Islamic bank of $242million and has never faced justice


He’s never spent a day in prison for this crime because he lives in a heavily guarded mansion in Mali. Foutanga Babani Sissoko was a Malian swindler and a politician. He was a member of the National Assembly between 2002 and 2014.  He was said to have swindled the Dubai Islamic bank for $242 million using claims that he could perform black magic. In the year 1995, Foutanga B sissoko walked into the head office of the Dubai Islamic Bank and asked for a loan to buy a car. The manager agreed, and Sissoko invited him home for dinner. Over dinner, Sissoko made a startling claim. He told the bank manager, Mohammed Ayoub, that he had magic powers. With these powers, he could take a sum of money and double it. He invited his Emirati friend to come again, and to bring some cash. When he arrived at Sissoko’s house the next day, 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. Ayoub was delighted! He believed it was Black Magic – that Mr Sissoko could double the money. So he would send money to Mr Sissoko(the bank’s money) and he expected it to come back in double the amount. Between 1995 and 1998, Ayoub made 183 transfers into Sissoko’s accounts around the world. Sissoko was also running up big credit card bills. In 1998, it was rumored that the bank was in trouble. When a newspaper reported that the bank was having cashflow problems, crowds of people gathered outside, waiting to withdraw their money. The Dubai authorities downplayed the crisis. They called 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 wasn’t covered by insurance. 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.

And where was Foutanga B Sissoko? By this time, he was far away One of the beauties of his scheme was that he did not need to be in Dubai to keep receiving the money. In November 1995, only weeks after putting on the magic display for Mohammed 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. And there’s reason to believe she made his relationship with Citibank more comfortable, and he ended up opening an account there through which over $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”. The case was later dropped. Sissoko paid his new wife more than half a million dollars for her help. With the bank’s money rolling in, Sissoko could fulfil his dream of opening an airline for West Africa. He bought a used Hawker-Siddeley 125 and a pair of old Boeing 727s. This was the birth of Air Dabia, named after his village in Mali. But in July 1996, Sissoko made a serious mistake as he tried to buy two Huey helicopters dating from the Vietnam War, for reasons that remain unclear. Sissoko was quickly extradited to the US, where he started to mobilise influential supporters. The readiness of diplomats to vouch for Sissoko shocked the judge presiding over his bail hearing. And Tom Spencer was stunned when a former US senator, Birch Bayh, announced he was joining Sissoko’s defence team. The US gov wanted Sissoko held in custody, but he was bailed for $20m (£14.5m) – a Florida record at the time.

Then he went on a spending spree. His defence team was rewarded with Mercedes or Jaguar cars. But that was just the start.

Sissoko spent half a million dollars in one jewellery store alone, Fine recalls, and hundreds of thousands in others. In one men’s clothing store he spent more than $150,000. “He would come in and buy two three four cars at the same time, come back another week & buy two three four cars at the same time. It was just, the money was like wind,” says car dealer Ronil Dufrene. He calculates that he sold Sissoko between 30 and 35 cars in total. He became a Miami celebrity. He already had several wives, but that didn’t stop him marrying more – and housing them in some of the 23 apartments he rented in the city. Sissoko was also giving away large sums to good causes. His trial was approaching, and he knew the value of good publicity. In one case witnessed by his cousin, he gave £300,000 ($413,000) to a high-school band that needed money to travel to New York for a Thanksgiving Day parade. Despite this PR drive, when Sissoko’s case came to court he disregarded his lawyers’ advice & pleaded guilty. The sentence was 43 days in prison and a $250,000 fine – paid, of course, by the Dubai Islamic Bank, though without its knowledge After serving only half this sentence, he was given early release in return for a $1m payment to a homeless shelter. The rest he was meant to serve under house arrest in Mali, instead he returned home to a hero’s welcome. It was around this time that the Dubai Islamic Bank’s auditors began to notice that something was wrong. Ayoub was getting nervous, and Sissoko had stopped answering his calls.

Finally he 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 (£175m). 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 has never faced justice. In his absence, a Dubai court sentenced him to three years for fraud and practising magic. Interpol issued an arrest warrant and he remains a wanted man. For 12 years, between 2002 and 2014, Sissoko was a member of parliament in Mali, which gave him immunity from prosecution. For the last four years, no longer an MP, he has been protected by the fact that Mali has no extradition treaty with any other country. The Dubai Islamic Bank, nonetheless, is still pursuing him through the courts. Defying Interpol, Sissoko has spent a remarkable 20 years on the run, even if he has squandered all his money and can never leave Mali.

He has never spent a day in jail for the black magic bank heist.


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