In 1973 Frank Nugan, an Australian lawyer, and Michael Hand, a former CIA contract operative, established the Nugan Hand Bank. Another key figure in this venture was Bernie Houghton, who was closely connected to CIA officials, Ted Shackley and Thomas G. Clines.
Nugan ran operations in Sydney whereas Hand established a branch in Hong Kong. This enabled Australian depositors to access a money-laundering facility for illegal transfers of Australian money to Hong Kong. According to Alfred W. McCoy, the "Hand-Houghton partnership led the bank's international division into new fields - drug finance, arms trading, and support work for CIA covert operations." Hand told friends "it was his ambition that Nugan Hand became banker for the CIA."
In 1974 the Nugan Hand Bank got involved in helping the CIA to take part in covert arms deals with contacts within Angola. It was at this time that Edwin Wilson became involved with the bank. Two CIA agents based in Indonesia, James Hawes and Robert Moore, called on Wilson at his World Marine offices to discuss "an African arms deal". Later, Bernie Houghton arrived from Sydney to place an order for 10 million rounds of ammunition and 3,000 weapons including machine guns. The following year Houghton asked Wilson to arrange for World Marine to purchase a high-technology spy ship. This ship was then sold to Iran.
By 1976 the Nugan-Hand Bank appeared to have become a CIA-fronted company. This is reflected in the type of people recruited to hold senior positions in the bank. For example, Rear-Admiral Earl P. Yates, the former Chief of Staff for Policy and Plans of the U.S. Pacific Command and a counter-insurgency specialist, became president of the company. Other appointments included William Colby, retired director of the CIA, General Leroy J. Manor, the former chief of staff of the U.S. Pacific Command and deputy director for counterinsurgency and special activities, General Edwin F. Black, former commander of U.S. forces in Thailand, Walter J. McDonald, retired CIA deputy director for economic research, Dale C. Holmgren, former chairman of the CIA's Civil Air Transport and Guy J. Pauker, senior Republican foreign policy adviser.
One of those that Earl P. Yates brought in to help the Nugan Hand Bank was Mitchell WerBell. Yates later told the Joint Task Force on Drug Trafficking he recruited WerBell as a consultant because he "had extensive experience in Central America". Former CIA agent, Kevin P. Mulcahy later told the National Times newspaper "about the Agency's use of Nugan Hand for shifting money for various covert operations around the globe."
The investigative journalist, Jonathan Kwitny, became convinced that the Nugan Hand Bank had replaced the Castle Bank and Trust Company in Nassau, as the CIA's covert banker. The bank, run by Paul Helliwell, was forced to close after the Internal Revenue Service discovered that he Castle Bank was laundering CIA funds and drug profits.
On 27th November 1979 Michael Hand wrote to Ted Shackley. It concerned a meeting the two men had recently attended in Washington: "The opportunity of meeting you again on different terms was very enjoyable and I sincerely trust that something worthwhile businesswise may surface and be profitable for both of us."
In the winter of 1979, Edwin Wilson had a meeting with Bernie Houghton and Thomas G. Clines in Switzerland in an attempt to help him out of his difficulties. This included a non-delivery of 5,000 M16 automatic rifles. The three men discussed ways of using the Nugan Hand Bank to float a $22 million loan to finance the delivery. Hand was obviously concerned that if Wilson was arrested he might begin talking about his dealings with Nugan Hand.
On 7th January 1980, Robert Wilson (House of Representatives Armed Services Committee) and Richard Ichord (chairman of the Research and Development Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee) had dinner with Bernie Houghton at the Bourbon and Beefsteak Bar and Restaurant in Sydney.
On 27th January, 1980, Frank Nugan was found shot dead in his Mercedes Benz. With his body was a Bible that included a piece of paper. On it were written the names "Bob Wilson" and "Bill Colby". Robert Wilson was a senior member of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee and William Colby was a former director of the CIA.
Bernie Houghton was in Switzerland at the time and he immediately rang his branch office in Saudi Arabia and ordered the staff to leave the country. Houghton also visited Edwin Wilson's office in Geneva and left a briefcase with bank documents for safekeeping. Soon afterwards, a witness saw Thomas G. Clines going through the briefcase at Wilson's office and remove papers that referred to him and General Richard Secord.
Two days after Nugan died, Michael Hand held a meeting of Nugan Hand Bank directors. He warned them that unless they did as they were told they could "finish up with concrete shoes" and would be "liable to find their wives being delivered to them in pieces".
Michael Hand, Patricia Swan, Bernie Houghton and his lawyer, Mike Moloney, spent the next few days removing files from Nugan's office. They also began paying back selected clients. One estimate is that over $1.3 million was paid out in this way.
Frank Nugan's inquest took place in April, 1980. Testimony from Michael Hand revealed that Nugan Hand was insolvent, owing at least $50 million. Hand then promptly fled Australia under a false identity on a flight to Fiji in June 1980. Bernie Houghton also disappeared at this time and it is believed both men eventually reached the United States.
According to one witness, Thomas G. Clines helped Bernie Houghton escape. Michael Hand also left the country accompanied by James Oswald Spencer, a man who served with Ted Shackley in Laos. The two men traveled to America via Fiji and Vancouver. One report published in November, 1980, suggested that Michael Hand was living in South America. It claimed that he had managed to escape with the help of "former CIA employees".
An investigation by the Australia/New South Wales Joint Task Force on Drug Trafficking discovered that the clients of the Nugan Hand Bank included several people who had criminal convictions relating to drug offences including Murray Stewart Riley, Donald William McKenzie, James Lewis Williams, Malcolm Craig Lord, Charles Robertson Beveridge, Barry Graeme Chittem, Murray Don Newman, Bruce Alan Smithers, James Sweetman, James Blacker, Colin Courtney, Stephen Demos, John Brooking and John Ceruto. According to the records the bank was making $100,000 a year from tax advice. In reality, it was receiving it for money laundering.
One right-wing organization called Accuracy in Media defended the Nugan-Hand Bank claiming it was really an honest but hard-luck banking organization that had been maligned by an anti-military press.
The Australian government asked the Royal Commissioner D. G. Stewart to investigate the Nugan-Hand Bank scandal. The Stewart Royal Commission was published in June, 1985. It stated that the "Nugan Hand Ltd. was at all times insolvent... and flouted the provisions of the legislation as it then stood in that large volumes of currency were moved in and out of Australia".
Stewart went on to blame the dead Frank Nugan and the missing Michael Hand for the illegal activities of the bank. Rear-Admiral Earl P. Yates, William Colby, General Leroy J. Manor, General Edwin F. Black, Walter J. McDonald, Dale C. Holmgren, Guy J. Pauker and Bernie Houghton were considered blameless. Despite the evidence, Hand and Patricia Swan, Nugan's secretary, were accused of being the only ones "responsible for the shredding of documents". The Crimes of Patriots