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.
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.
Sydney author Peter Butt found Hand. In his new book, Merchants of Menace, Butt revealed that Hand, 73, is living under the name Michael Jon Fuller in the small town of Idaho Falls. Hand manufactures tactical weapons for US Special Forces.
The Nugan-Hand 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.
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 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.
“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 US suggests he belongs to a protected species, most likely of the intelligence kind.”
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. Only six of the 19 Americans survived. Hand saved four of them. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross. Out of bullets, Hand ended up in a hand-to-hand combat, during which he killed a number of attackers with a Ka-Bar combat knife.
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