With large international operations, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is the 53rd biggest bank in the world.
Much of the capital used to establish the current incarnation of CIBC came from supplying the Caribbean slave colonies. The Halifax Banking Company was the first bank in Nova Scotia and the founding unit of today’s CIBC. The Halifax Banking Company’s leading shareholder and initial president, Enos Collins, was a ship owner, who made his wealth by bringing high-protein, salty Atlantic cod to the Caribbean to keep hundreds of thousands of “enslaved people working 16 hours a day.” He was also a privateer, which were licensed by the state to seize enemy boats during wartime. Considered one of the richest men in North America by the end of his life, a biography notes how Collins recalled, “there were many things that happened [during his time in the West Indies] that we don’t care to talk about.” The book speculates that as a privateer in the Caribbean during the early 1800s he likely captured and resold slaves.
In the early 1900s CIBC was well connected in Washington. As US national banks were not allowed to establish foreign branches until 1914, reports Nationalization of Guyana’s Bauxite, “the CIBC acted for the U.S. government after the U.S. came into possession of the Philippines following the Spanish-American war.” During the 1910 –17 Mexican Revolution, CIBC (as well as the Bank of Montréal and Canadian-owned Monterey Tramways, Light and Power Company) asked Washington to help protect its interests in Mexico.
At the end of the 1970s CIBC loaned money to companies owned by Iran’s brutal Shah.
CIBC is apparently popular with wealthy, well-placed Africans. Economist Thierry Godefroy and legal expert Pierre Lascoumes write that the “Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is known as the bank of many African dignitaries” while French Africa specialist François-Xavier Verschave called it “the nefarious CIBC, favourite bank of African oil dictators.” In 1997, for instance, the Toronto-based financial institution was the conduit of a $22 million transfer from Geneva to the British Virgin Islands for Kourtas, which was owned by Gabonese dictator Omar Bongo.
According to documents released in the Panama Papers leak, CIBC registered 632 companies and private foundations in the offshore tax haven of the Bahamas between 1990 and May 2016.