The best newspaper job we ever had was reporting for the late, great Santa Monica Evening Outlook, a paper owned by two brothers, Ron and Deane Funk.
While our politics couldn’t have been more different, our in-depth reporting and our coverage of the Santa Monica Superior Court had earned the brothers’ respect, so we had unprecedented leeway, and were told by reporters at the much bigger Los Angeles Times and the Herald-Examiner that we had the best newspaper job in L.A. [which is why we turned down a much better paying offer from the Times].
It’s also a reminder of what’s been lost as America’s community newspapers die and what a reporter could once do at a publication with a circulation of less than 50,000. . .
One day we discovered a court filing about a lawsuit in which the defendant was Erik, the Marquis de Lafayette.
Now even in Santa Monica, where the court jurisdiction included Malibu, Beverly Hills, and Bel Air, we didn’t come across all that many cases involving European nobility with grand titles, so we did a little digging.
What we discovered was a fascinating yarn, and, we later learned, a story in which the principal player was hold a loaded pistol aimed at us from inside a desk drawer where his hand remained during most of the conversation.
We’re posting the story in two parts [second part here], the same way it originally appeared in print.
And if you read to the end of the second part, you’ll find a fascinating surprise or two in our post script, including a couple of very famous names.
So with that we begin a story which first appeared in print 16-17 April 1979:
Marquis’ financial operations detailed
Who’s the Marquis de Lafayette?
You’d be right is if you thought of the French officer whose military prowess helped America win her independence two centuries ago.
But there’s another, more contemporary Marquis de Lafayette. This one’s a Sunset Strip aristocrat who says he negotiates loans for governments across the globe through an “offshore bank” and a series of 15 other companies.
The man with the aristocratic title has been known by a variety of other names, including Erik de Norling and Eric Olof Norland.
An Evening Outlook look at the man and his activities reveals:
- He has been the subject of recent inquiries by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
- He is the subject of a cease-and-desist order issued by the state banking commissioner last July banning his use of two corporate names: Swedish International Bank and Trust and Inter-Bank Financial Group Ltd. Both names are still in use at the marquis’ 9000 Sunset Blvd. Offices, where the phone is answered “Inter-Bank,” and his business cards are printed with the Inter-Bank name. Lafayette vows to fight any further effort to ban their use.
- He has in his possession what the Thai government calls a “false paper” naming a Thai citizen as an agent for securing a $676 million [$2.57 billion in 2016 dollars] for that nation’s government. The Thai citizen, now a fugitive, was attempting to negotiate a bogus loan through Lafayette, according to Thai officials.
- The Thai consulate flatly denies Lafayette has ever been engaged in negotiating loans for her nation, but Lafayette insists he is currently involved in such arrangements — and that they have been stalled only because of the “situation in Cambodia.”
- A Lafayette associate, Harry Davey Anderson of San Francisco and Reno, says he spent five weeks in Thailand last May meeting with top government officials, and that the loan was in process until he, Anderson, stopped negotiations because of internal Thai political conflicts. Anderson said unnamed Thai officials contacted him last week about renewing the loan bid.
- Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley signed an official letter of endorsement of Lafayette and his enterprises, commending the man and his banks to the Thai government.
“Mr. De Lafayette represents important financial institutions and his mission is one of great interest to us in Los Angeles,” said the mayor’s letter.
Lafayette says the recent deposed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran was one of seven kings and other political dignitaries he used as references in acquiring his bank charter.
Lafayette says he conducts no business in the United States with monies from American investors, but he does conduct business here with funds from foreign governments and multi-billion-dollar trusts. He says most of his business is transacted “through sealed diplomatic pouches and couriers.”
Lafayette says his bank works “basically with foreign governments. Most of our work is highly confidential.”
During an interview, Lafayette cautioned an Evening Outlook reporter to be “very careful in what you write. You have to be a little careful of your statements because of the people involved — heads of states, kings, prime ministers and so forth. It could have severe consequences if something was written that would reflect badly.”
There’s a whole lot more, after the jump. . .
A former associate, baron Sark-Ees Nahas, says Lafayette is actively engaged in financing films and television programs. Lafayette explains that he does not finance programs directly, but negotiates bonds and other forms of guarantees to insure investors will not lose their monies if the productions flop.
The “Swedish” bank is not registered in Sweden, according to the commercial offices of the consulate of that nation.
The only connection Swedish International Bank & Trust apparently shares with its namesake nation is Lafayette, who was born in that nation 45 years ago.
“There is no bank like that associated with Sweden,” said a representative of the Swedish consulate. “The only financial institution in the United States with affiliations in Sweden is Scandanavian Securities Corporation in New York.”
Swedish International Bank and Trust is, in fact, what banking figures call an “offshore bank,” with a charter from the small Caribbean island nation of St. Vincent’s, according to the state Banking Office.
Lafayette told a reporter for this newspaper that the bank has been in business “since 1976,” then added, “No, since late 1978.”
An Evening Outlook check reveals that the bank is owned in turn by Swedish International Financial Holdings, which was incorporated in the Cayman Islands March 15 1978, and registered with that nation’s Registrar of Corporations two days later.
Lafayette says he chose the bank’s name because of his own Swedish heritage.
Lafayette said that “all of the transactions take place offshore,” adding that for that reason he felt no obligation to comply with the banking commission order since he was conducting no actual business with Americans within the country but in the Bahamas.
The firm maintains no offices in the Bahamas, however, but is represented by International Management Services Ltd. Of Grand Cayman, and managed by E.G. Barlow. International Management is a firm specializing in acting as a middleman for the “offshore banking industry,” the Evening Outlook has learned.
Inter-Bank, Lafayette said, is a “name I’ve been using since at least 1971. It’s a Delaware corporation.”
The Delaware Department of Corporations reports, however, that a company known as Interbank Financial Group, Inc., was incorporated Nov. 4, 1977, with the name being modified to Inter-Bank Financial Group, Inc., a month later.
When asked about the disparity in dates, Lafayette said he has been using the name since 1971, and as a corporation since 1977.
It was the state Banking Commission which issued the cease-and-desist order last July, banning Lafayette from using the Inter-Bank or Swedish bank names.
Both institutions have failed to qualify with state law requirements which would enable the term bank to be used, according to an order issued by then-State Superintendent of Banks Carl J. Smith.
Lafayette formally acknowledged receipt of the order, according to a commission spokesman.
The Evening Outlook has learned that Lafayette has approached various financial institutions in the Los Angeles area representing himself as the principal agent fo “MaXam Trust,” a fund purportedly containing either $2 billion of $5 billion.
When asked about MaXam, Lafayette said he regularly represent multi-billion-dollar trusts, the products of Middle Eastern oil wealth. He also said he works with high officials in the U.S. government in arranging oil purchases for the country.
Also involved, according to Lafayette, is Baron Sark-ees Nahas, who is described as vice president of Time Oil Inc. And a “united Nations representative for his country.”
In a later interview, Lafayette said Nahas was not presently involved with him in any current activities.
According to the Lebanese consulate, Nahas is not an official representative of his country, but is an oil executive very active in the Los Angeles Lebanese community and close to his nation’s U.N. delegation.
[UPDATE: According to a 9 February 1969 Federal Bureau of Investigation summary of the then-ongoing trial of Robert Kennedy assassin Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, Nahas, identified as “a Palestinian nobleman and former United Nations official,” testified as a character witness for Sirhan (page 95 of the FBI file [PDF).]
Nahas said he had been involved with Lafayette briefly in making arrangements for a major financial transaction involving Middle Eastern monies.
That transaction came to an end, Nahas said, with the outbreak of disturbances in Iran which led to the fall of the shah’s government.
“I have done public relations work for Mr. Lafayette, but basically we have not done anything together for the last few months,” Nahas said.
According to Nahas, he and Lafayette incorporated as International Bancorp Inc., a firms whose name appears on the 9000 Sunset Building directly above the Inter-Bank name. International Bancorp “is not an active corporation now,” he said.
Nahas and Lafayette have listed addresses in Hollywood. Lafayette’s driver’s license lists his address as a modest one-story frame home on Franklin Avenue. However, he said he actually lives in Sherman Oak,
Nahas is listed in the telephone book at a modest three-story apartment building. A spokesman for the Lebanese consulate said Nahas is an internationally known businessman, both wealthy and well-respected.
The names of both Lafayette and Nahas are listed on the directory of the 9000 Sunset Building as sharing Suite 1515. However, Lafayette said none of the three is currently associated with him in his enterprises, which include “about 15 different companies.”
Lafayette and his staff have occupied the suite since January 1978.
The reception area boasts a large Oriental rug, as do other offices in the suite. The furniture is predominately antique and apparently quite expansive.
Lafayette’s personal office is a cavernous room with ceiling-high windows on two sides and hand-carved walnut paneling on the other two.
A massive Baroque piano sits in one corner and a large oriental rug is on the floor.
Lafayette himself is a tall slender man with graying black hair and a goatee. He sits behind an impressive antique desk fronted by two leather easy chairs for visitors.
On one wall of a nearby meeting room are two maps, one of the United States and the other of the world. Both are studded with pins. The office is a beehive of activity, with individuals of various nationalities wandering through and telephones ringing frequently. A Telex machine stands in the receptionist’s office.
Lafayette was interrupted repeatedly during a recent interview by telephone calls, including one from Mexico concerning the purchase of a 15,000-acre ranch in Maui, and another concerning a Hollywood motion picture studio.
Lafayette speaks guardedly about his business dealings. “Because I work with foreign governments and large trusts, I can’t reveal the names of my clients or the transactions we handle,” he says.
The marquis did say that because of state and federal banking laws, all actual transactions “take place offshore” and do not involve dealings involving American institutions.
The Evening Outlook has learned that Lafayette showed one firm a letter from the executive vice president of a major California savings and loan firm detailing how that institution would handle a $50 million deposit if Lafayette were to come up with the funds.
One financial expert consulted by the paper said most financial institutions will issue a similar document to anyone. “It simply says what they would do if they got the deposit. You could get a letter like that yourself.”
Lafayette showed the letter to one institution as part of a portfolio showing his activities.
Lafayette has also displayed an April 28, 1978 letter from Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, written on impressive city stationery and complete with city seal and ribbon.
That letter was written to Kriangsak Charmanan, prime minister of Thailand, and recommended Lafayette, Swedish International Bank and Trust and InterBank as solid, reputable, and worthy of all consideration.
In requesting that letter, Lafayette told Bradley’s office he was in the process of negotiating a $676 million loan for the foreign government.
Lafayette also acquired a letter from the Royal Thai Consulate in Hong Kond, naming a Thai citizen as the official agent for the Thai government in negotiating loans. Lafayette also has correspondence from that citizen indicating negotiations were in process with the offshore banker’s institutions.
According to Los Angeles Thai Consil Rodprom Prastheung, the Hong Kong document “was a false paper, and our government has issued a paper for the arrest of the man who wrote it. Mr. Lafayette is not an agent for our government in any way.”
According to the Thai official, the letter was apparently written by a member of the Thai consular staff in Hong Kong without authorization from the Bangkok government. The document named a Prasarn Wanaprabhal as Thailand’s official agent in negotiating a loan of up to $2 billion [$7.62 billion in 2016 dollars].
“Our government has made no loans to” or borrowed any money through Lafayette, she added, adding that no plans were in progress to do so,
“That is not true, Lafayette said when told on the consul’s remarks. “The Thai government is still talking about it [making the loan through Lafayette]. The Thai government is involved; the consulate is not. The consulate has nothing to do with it.”
NEXT: More on that Thailand transaction.