Alex Constantine - November 8, 2015
Also see: "Notorious Banker Found, But Who Cares?"
Nugan Hand bank mystery: Michael Hand found living in the United States
One of Australia's most wanted fugitives, Michael Hand, the co-founder of the Sydney-based international merchant bank Nugan Hand, has been found alive and well and living in small-town America.
He vanished in 1980 amid rumours of CIA and organised crime involvement in the bank as the United States attempted to back anti-communist governments and anti-communist insurgents at the height of the Cold War.
Sydney author Peter Butt found Hand. In his new book, Merchants of Menace, Butt reveals that Hand, 73, is living under the name Michael Jon Fuller and resides in the small town of Idaho Falls.
Hand manufactures tactical weapons for US Special Forces, special operations groups and hunters.
Hand disappeared in June 1980 after his partner, Griffith-born lawyer Frank Nugan, then 37, was found dead beside a .30-calibre rifle in his Mercedes-Benz outside Lithgow and as corporate and police investigators, ASIO and the FBI started investigating the Nugan Hand bank. A coroner founded Nugan had killed himself.
The bank collapsed with debts in excess of $50 million and a subsequent royal commission found evidence of money-laundering, illegal tax avoidance schemes and widespread violations of banking laws.
Over the years, the two words Nugan Hand became shorthand for drug-dealing, gun-running, organised crime and clandestine intelligence activities.
But nobody has been convicted. Governments, security and espionage agencies ran dead or appeared to look the other way. Many men associated with the bank's affairs in Australia, the US and Asia have died early or in mysterious circumstances.
The most problematic death was William Colby's. Director of the CIA between 1972 and 1976 as the US wound down its involvement in Vietnam, Colby became a legal adviser to the Nugan Hand bank. He was found face-down in the water after leaving his Maryland home on a solo canoe trip in 1996.
Butt thought Hand had been protected since fleeing Australia in June 1980.
Michael Hand disappeared in 1980 after the his partner, Frank Nugan (pictured), was found dead. Photo: Supplied
"It turns out that the FBI could have dealt with Michael Hand long ago. A simple background check reveals Fuller's social security number is identical to the one allocated to Michael Hand in New York in 1960," he said.
"The fact that Hand has been allowed to live the free life in the United States suggests that he belongs to a protected species, most likely of the intelligence kind. Indeed, an intelligence document I found places Michael Hand back working for the CIA in Central America 18 months after his disappearance."
Butt's previous "big reveal" was in 2006 when his well-watched and Logie award-winning ABC documentary, Who Killed Dr Bogle and Mrs Chandler?, claimed their unsolved deaths on New Year's Day 1963 may have been caused by accidental hydrogen sulphide poisoning from industrial waste that had concentrated in the bottom mud of the Lane Cove River.
While Australian and American authorities failed to find Hand after he disappeared in 1980, Butt hit upon the idea of using the former US Green Beret's most formative experience to track him down.
In 1965, Hand was in a small contingent of Special Forces troops dispatched to Dong Xoai on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In June, Hand's outpost came under fierce Viet Cong attack. This was free-fire warfare without constraint. Only six of the 19 Americans survived. Hand saved four of them. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, America's second-highest bravery award. His chutzpah brought him to the attention of the CIA – out of bullets, Hand ended up in a hand-to-hand combat, during which he killed a killed a number of attackers with a Ka-Bar combat knife.
"Hand now manufactures tactical weapons for US Special Forces, special operations groups and hunters. Many of his weapons are designed to work in the unforgiving conditions of combat and hark back to that Technicolor Kodak moment in the battle of Doing Xoai when Hand used his Ka-Bar knife to rip through the sternum of a Viet Cong attacker before removing the man's head from his body with his bare hands," he said.
"It appears that Hand has spent the last 17 years alchemising that critical, existential moment in his life when a blade honed and sharpened to a micrometre represented the line between life and eternity.
"He now produces tens of thousands of such weapons a year, many of which he exports to countries around the world, including Australia."
On Sunday night, the Nine Network program 60 Minutes, using information provided by Butt, filmed Hand emerging from a pharmacy in his local shopping mall.
Shocked and befuddled, Hand said nothing but drove home and locked himself behind closed doors refusing a request for an interview.
Butt said he would inform the Australian Federal Police and the NSW Police of Hand's new identity and whereabouts.
He said he would also provide authorities with details unearthed during years of research about Hand's criminal deeds, including money-laundering for drug traffickers, tax evasion schemes, gun-running, foreign exchange fraud, false evidence to a royal commission, fabrication of a false passport and false declarations to customs.
"Australians who lost their life savings in the Nugan Hand debacle may wish to see Hand face his day in court, but it would be naive to believe this would come to pass," he said.
"Extradition from the US would require a serious measure of political will. It would also demand answers of our American friends as to why Hand, who had become an Australian citizen, was allowed to settle back into the United States when the Australian police and Interpol were desperately trying to track him down."