The Powerful Washington Insiders Hired by BCCI
WASHINGTON (AP) _ During a decade in Washington, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International assembled a powerful team to represent its interests with the nation’s lawmakers and regulators.
The squadron of high-powered lawyers included a venerable former defense secretary, an ex-federal prosecutor and two presidential campaign officials, one a Democrat and the other a Republican.
Some of the lawyers also acted as lobbyists. Several previously held key positions in the Federal Reserve - which regulates bank holding companies - the Justice Department and other agencies, giving them formidable clout and access to federal decision-makers.
Such practices are hardly unusual in Washington. But what seems to distinguish BCCI’s effort was some of the money involved and the long period during which it flowed. Unlike the typical lobbying effort, which might last while a bill is moving through Congress, for example, BCCI’s influence campaign in this country covered nearly 10 years.
″Money in this instance was spread around so lavishly and so extravagantly, and it went on for so long,″ said Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, an ethics research group.
While it was impossible to determine how much BCCI paid its various Washington representatives, sources have said the company’s most visible attorneys - Clark Clifford and Robert Altman - have received millions from the bank since 1978.
Founded by Pakistanis as a Third World bank, BCCI had $20 billion in assets and operated in some 70 countries - including the United States - before it was shut down in July by regulators in several nations. The bank has been accused of drug-money laundering, arms trafficking and supporting terrorists.
BCCI’s biggest legal effort in the United States was in connection with a federal indictment and 1990 plea agreement in which the bank admitted to drug- money laundering charges in Tampa, Fla.
In the Persian Gulf, Britain, the United States and South America, BCCI officials cultivated relationships with figures such as Jimmy Carter, former Atlanta mayor and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young and former British Prime Minister James Callaghan.
In addition to the money BCCI paid its attorneys and public relations consultants, some prominent political figures also benefited, either directly or indirectly, from the bank’s largesse.
There was nothing illegal about the payments - which included an $8 million donation by BCCI to a charity set up by Carter after he left the White House. But some critics say the payments constituted an influence-buying campaign that led government officials to drag their feet on pursuing criminal activity at BCCI, a contention that investigators have denied.
Some of the lawyers who helped BCCI are well known. Probably the most famous is Clifford, the eminent former defense secretary and adviser to Democratic presidents who has been linked to BCCI for nearly a decade. Until his abrupt resignation this summer, Clifford was chairman of First American Bankshares Inc., a big bank holding company the government says was secretly acquired by BCCI.
Other members of BCCI’s influence team are not household names, but they’re powerhouses behind the scenes. Among them:
-Frank Mankiewicz and Robert K. Gray, top executives of Hill and Knowlton, a major public relations firm that does work for BCCI. Mankiewicz was the director of George McGovern’s 1968 Democratic presidential campaign and Gray was director of communications for the 1980 Reagan-Bush campaign.
In Senate testimony this summer, former U.S. Customs Commissioner William von Raab asserted that Mankiewicz and Gray were members of a ″Washington power-broking unit″ of BCCI. Mankiewicz called von Raab’s statements ″incredibly irresponsible and totally false.″
-Lawrence Barcella, a former federal prosecutor in Washington who is now in private law practice. Barcella played a key role in BCCI’s legal defense following the money laundering indictment in Tampa.
″My role was very simple and very open,″ Barcella said in an interview. ″I hardly think anyone would call me an influence peddler. I’m a lawyer.″
-Robert Mannion, Baldwin Tuttle and Michael Bradfield, formerly high- ranking attorneys for the Federal Reserve. They now work for law firms that have done work for First American, but they insist they were unaware of BCCI’s secret ownership of the Washington-based bank until the government disclosed it this summer.
Mannion, who was deputy general counsel at the Fed, presided over the 1981 hearing at which BCCI’s request to buy First American openly was rejected. He says he hasn’t personally represented First American, although his firm has.