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Saturday, February 26, 2005

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished 

Riggs Bank executive Robert Allbritton and his father Joe, a Bush family friend and major backer of Poppy's presidential library, ducked criminal charges by agreeing to pay a million-dollar settlement -- a fine reward for the kindness and professional courtesy they showed an elderly gentleman who was perhaps (in Jeane Kirkpatrick's famous formulation) of "authoritarian," but never, surely never, of "totalitarian" bent:
Riggs Bank and two members of the bank's controlling Allbritton family yesterday agreed to pay $9 million to victims of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for the bank's role in concealing and spiriting Pinochet's money out of Britain in 1999.

In return for the payment to a foundation established for victims of Pinochet's repressive 17-year rule and their survivors, a Spanish court agreed to dismiss criminal charges against current and former directors and officers of the bank, including the Allbrittons. Riggs will pay $8 million.

Joe L. Allbritton, who was chief executive of the bank until 2001, and his son Robert, who is chief executive of its holding company, will pay $1 million as part of the settlement with Spanish officials. The agreement marks the first time the Allbrittons have been held personally accountable for Riggs's long-standing money-laundering compliance problems, which have resulted in the bank pleading guilty to a felony last month, paying more than $41 million in civil and criminal fines and agreeing to be acquired by PNC Financial Services Group Inc. of Pittsburgh.

It also was the first time any institution or person other than the Chilean government has been forced to pay recompense to Pinochet's victims, according to lawyers involved in the case . . . .

Samuel J. Buffone, a D.C. lawyer representing Pinochet's victims who worked with Garces in the Riggs settlement, said Riggs was culpable for helping Pinochet hide about $8 million -- roughly the total amount of funds Pinochet had at Riggs -- from the 1998 Spanish order freezing the former dictator's assets.

"There has never been any allegation that Riggs was culpable for the underlying human rights abuses of the Pinochet government," Buffone said. "But Riggs's recent plea agreement lays out in significant detail what Riggs did in assisting Pinochet in the concealment of his assets. They may hide behind their legal interpretation that they weren't properly served with the [freeze] order. But they were on notice. They chose not to honor it."

Buffone represents the families of two of Pinochet's victims: former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and his assistant, Ronni Moffitt. Letelier and Moffitt were murdered by Chilean intelligence agents in a 1976 car bombing in the District.

Pinochet came to power in a swift and bloody 1973 coup that ousted democratically elected president Salvador Allende. Human rights organizations claim 3,000 people were murdered, tortured or "disappeared" during his rule.
If Allbritton the younger leaves the company after the coming merger with PNC, he stands to pocket a severance payment of $850K, which should soften the blow considerably. Curiously, the Post neglected to procure a quote from another prominent Riggs executive:
Jonathan Bush, President Bush's uncle, was appointed CEO of Riggs Bank's investment arm in May of 2000, just months after his nephew secured the nomination for the presidency. At the time of the appointment, Jonathan Bush had already become a major financial backer of his nephew, rising to "Bush Pioneer" status by raising more than $100,000 for his nephew in 2000. The move solidified the relationship between Jonathan Bush and Riggs, which was originally initiated in 1997 when, according to American Banker newsletter, Riggs paid Bush $5.5 million for his smaller investment firm.
You'll find more about Jonathan Bush and the services Riggs has been alleged to provide for its preferred customers here.

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