WASHINGTON - The U.S. government is fighting the ruling family of Abu Dhabi for control of $104 million from the Bank of Credit and Commerce International scandal.

The U.S. Department of Justice says the money was an investment in BCCI by the leaders of Abu Dhabi, who must therefore wait in line with other creditors to get it back.

"We are proposing to treat all people who are in the role of depositors equally, whether it is the sheik of Abu Dhabi [or a] baker in Liverpool," said Ira Raphaelson, the Justice Department's special counsel for financial institutions.

Rulers Say They Were Robbed

A lawyer for the Persian Gulf state's ruling family disagreed, saying that the $104 million is "all that remains of more than $2 billion that was stolen" by BCCI brokers or investment managers. Abu Dhabi's leaders owned 77% of BCCI when the bank was closed last year.

The Justice Department tracked down most of the $104 million in 14 U.S. financial institutions, mostly in accounts of ICIC Investments Ltd.

Mr. Raphaelson called ICIC "a shell corporation, or alter ego," for ICIC Overseas, one of the defendants in a plea agreement with BCCI.

Under that plea agreement, BCCI was to give half of its U.S. assets to a fund to cover possible losses at four American banks that BCCI illegally controlled.

The Justice Department's view is "not correct" because the Abu Dhabi rulers are not in the role of depositor, said their lawyer, W. Caffey Norman.

The funds "at all times remained the property of our clients," he said, and ICIC's role "was analogous to that of a broker or other investment manager."

Argument for Forfeiture

But the Justice Department said that even if ICIC is viewed as a separate corporate entity, the money should be forfeited to the U.S. government because the funds were originally held by a BCCI company that was involved in the plea agreement.

In a federal court filing last week, the Justice Department said the funds should be turned over to the United States before Tuesday - the day through which the money had previously been frozen by court order.

In another BCCI development last week, a Luxembourg court postponed until this week a decision on a plan to repay BCCI depositors about 30 cents on the dollar if they agree not to sue the Abu Dhabi government and ruling family.

Courts in London and the Cayman Islands, the only other bodies that had to approve the proposal, have already done so.

Group Won't Appeal

If approved in Luxembourg, the plan would be presented to creditors for a vote. The hearing resumes today.

In London, a BCCI creditors committee said Monday that it will not appeal the British High Court's approval of the worldwide compensation plan.

The committee said that its members halted the appeal because they might be held personally liable for the plan's costs.

Individual creditors are still free to appeal, a committee statement said.

The High Court approved the plan even though a majority of the British creditors committee opposed it.

Abu Dhabi backed the plan and pledged to put $1.5 billion into it. With liquidation proceeds, people who lost a total of $9.25 billion would receive 30 to 40 cents on the dollar.

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