Pedro Daniel Oliveira
Bruce Aitken, 72, was in charge of a money laundry business with links spanning the CIA, government officials and wealthy drug lords. Speaking to O CLARIM on his autobiography released last April, he shares episodes of his life and the reason why he converted to Catholicism after serving time in the United States. Living now in Hong Kong, he runs a radio program for domestic helpers but has also enjoyed great success among the inmates of the Territory.
First of all, what is The Cleaner about?
It’s my autobiography with insights into the money-laundering world of thirty odd years ago. It is published by Intellect Publishing and the book can be found on Amazon and Kindle.
You have born in the United Stated and worked in Vietnam, before you moved out to Hong Kong. Why did you consider the former British colony a perfect place for your job?
The United States, in its role as the world’s super power and policemen, instituted cash currency reporting requirements in the late 1970’s and early 80’s in part [because] of the war on drugs, to “follow the money” as one of its investigating tools. While this tactic has been successful, it has been at the price of the loss of financial privacy for the general population, and the war on drugs has still not been won.
You were laundering money for CIA, government officials, some of the richest drug lords of the planet, and so on. How did you do it?
The company I started out working for in Hong Kong was Deak & Company (Far East) Ltd, part of the Deak & Company worldwide foreign exchange houses and banks. Our motto was that “We accept cash, no questions asked,” because “we are not paid to be policemen.” Sometimes we found out who our clients were, when some type of international scandal involving them occurred. By accepting cash no questions asked, our clients turned out to be government intelligent and other agencies, drug lords, tax evaders, but also mostly libertarian thinkers who were against big government. Another example, it was illegal for Americans to own gold then. If they could get their cash to Hong Kong they could buy gold here, no questions asked. Hong Kong was the best free market in the world.
Macau was right around the corner. Did you feel tempted to extend your operations to here?
Deak & Company had a small office in Macau, which was mainly used as a booking office, paper transactions, for some tax reasons. It was not used to launder cash. In those days Macau was completely different. There was one casino, and Macau was so sleepy you had difficulty staying awake when you were there.
When was it “game over” in your business?
Eventually, I became aware that the businesses of my best clients, most of whom had also become my friends, was in the drug business (marijuana) out of Thailand to the US and Australia. I decided to close the business down and look for something else. However, as I think they would say in Macau, like in a card game, “you have to know when to hold them and when to fold them.” I waited too long and in 1987 my clients were caught in a money-laundering sting in Reno, Nevada, set up by the FBI. A lot of information was revealed that they all had accounts with my company, First Financial Services Limited.
What happened next?
The US Government came to me asking my cooperation. I refused. I had confidentiality agreements, plus no such laws existed in Hong Kong. Instead, they “kidnapped” me in Bangkok while I was on a business trip to Vietnam on June 9, 1989. I was immediately escorted back to the USA, thrown in prison and denied bail, and indicted in the two major cases with my clients (Reno and Seattle) facing 14 counts and up to 20 years in jail.
In the United States you served 1 year behind the bars. You later converted to Catholicism. When did the “click” happen?
I learned in jail that if you do not have a firm spiritual foundation before you arrive, you are in trouble. I had no formal religious upbringing as a youth. We never set foot in a church. However, my mother, who was the sole breadwinner for 5 children, of which I was the last, knew the New Testament quite well, as I later realized when I read it. I always had a thirst for the spiritual, and not the material things of the world. This led me to start attending the Mass at St Joseph‘s Church [in Hong Kong]. To my surprise, what I discovered there was totally unexpected. The Church was full of Filipina domestic helpers, who I discovered and I observed had strong faith that gave them hope and happiness in spite of having very difficult lives. It was the life and words of Jesus Christ that drew me to the Church, and baptism on December 15, 2000, by my dearest mentor, Fr Javier de Pedro (Fr Jay) of Opus Dei in Hong Kong.
You now run a Radio program for inmates in Hong Kong…
The radio program started in 2004 and was (still is) for domestic helpers. It happened to attract great interest in the prisons, as inmates can buy small radios. It has now become the major source of comfort and inspiration to the Hong Kong prison population.
What change have you experienced?
The “worldly days” of living life in the fast lane, with all its “attractions,” were a learning experience that eventually lost all its attraction. Marriage and having two sons changed everything for me. Along the way, I heard the words “To serve the Lord, is the highest calling.” This made great sense to me, and this is what I decided I would try to do. However, frankly, the difficulty I find in serving the Lord is the exact opposite of the prosperous life I lived before. Then, I did not have financial problems. Today, I struggle. Poverty is irony and one of the problems I see in “man’s inhumanity to man.” It exists everywhere, however I would not wish it on a dog. It ruins lives and families.
How do you see the worldwide scandal regarding the Panama Papers?
No interest and no knowledge of this except what I have read. Money buys tax havens and all sorts of benefits for the “rich” to hide behind.
Due to your past “expertise” what can Macau do in order to become cleaner from the money laundered through its casinos?
Personally, lucky for me gambling has not been one of my vices. I happen to be firmly against gambling and casinos. I expect that Macau has done much to counter money laundering through casinos. However, it seems those who launder money always find a new way.