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Nugan Hand Bank conspiracy: Ripe for a TV series

heavy-allies_LARGERenewed interest in the infamous Nugan Hand Bank, a CIA front for money laundering and drug running, has reinvigorated an award-winning Australian author’s quest to turn his novel on its sensational collapse into a major television series.

Wayne Grogan, whose book Heavy Allies was launched by former NSW Premier and American history buff Bob Carr in 2006, has spent the years since working on a TV adaptation of his “factionalised” novel, which reveals Nugan Hand’s relationship with the underworld and how the bank flooded Sydney with heroin in the 1970s – creating an endless junkie plague.

Grogan – winner of a prestigious Ned Kelly Award for Crime Writing – is now well advanced on turning Heavy Allies into a TV series. He is collaborating with one of the most respected script consultants in the industry, Ray Devitt, who was script editor on the acclaimed Animal Kingdom, the crime drama that earned actress Jacki Weaver an Academy Award nomination.  

Interest in Nugan Hand has reignited since 60 Minutes found former CIA agent Michael Hand living in Idaho in the United States – 35 years after the bank’s co-founder and kingpin vanished when the bank collapsed, ripping off investors for more than $50 million.

Grogan says: “The rise and fall of the Nugan Hand Bank remains the greatest criminal conspiracy in Australia’s history. This is the real Underbelly, with all the ingredients to make it a world-class TV series. It is ripe material for people who want to invest in a quality drama about political and criminal machinations, set against the backdrop of CIA dirty tricks against Australia, America’s supposed great ally.”

Grogan wrote his novel after extensively researching the Stewart Royal Commission into the Activities of the Nugan Hand Bank, as well as conducting interviews with corrupt police officers and criminals who were privy to its heroin business. He has since dug even deeper to develop the TV series: obtaining first-hand accounts from a range of people who were involved with the Nugan Hand organisation, including a woman who had an affair with one of the key players.

Grogan’s book has drawn interest from film producers due to the larger-than-life presence of Hand and other CIA-Americans in 1970s Sydney, including the late Bernie Houghton, the flamboyant Texan who ran the Texas Tavern in Kings Cross – a favourite watering hole for criminals, bent cops and American intelligence operatives.

Some Nugan Hand Bank facts:

  • It was set up in Sydney after the Vietnam War to finance secret global CIA operations: the brainchild of Michael Jon Hand, a fearsome member of the US Special Forces, CIA operative and rabid anti-communist.
  • The directors were mostly ex-US military men of high rank – none with any experience in banking. These admirals and generals gave the bank political connections in South-East Asia that underpinned Nugan Hand’s vast criminal enterprise.
  • Frank Nugan, the Australian partner whose mysterious death in 1980 was officially treated as suicide, had the business card of William Colby in his car when he died. Colby was Director of the CIA 1973-76.

About the novel

Heavy Allies tells the explosive story of how the United States inflicted an ongoing heroin plague on Australia, its closest ally, in the 1970s. It happened through the operations of the Nugan Hand Bank – a drug-trafficking and money-laundering front for the CIA, based in Sydney, aided and abetted by the "Mr Bigs" of the underworld.  

Heavy Allies marries fact and fiction to chart the rise and spectacular fall of Nugan Hand, one of the most secretive chapters in Australia’s crime history.

Heavy Allies gouges out the entrails of the shadowy merchant bank and its key operatives: Frank Nugan, the Australian lawyer who allegedly committed suicide in mysterious circumstances; Michael Hand, the Green Beret and CIA operative who disappeared when the bank crashed; and Bernie Houghton, the flamboyant Texan and CIA agent-at-large who became a colourful Sydney identity as the bank ramped up its illegal operations with ruthless military precision.

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