Foreign Affairs

Bill Clinton's Indonesian connection brought him campaign cash in exchange for influence--and continued inaction on the country's notorious human rights abuses.

          HOW IRONIC THAT the very same week two human rights activists from East Timor received the Nobel Peace Prize for helping their annexed country fight for independence from Indonesia's military dictatorship, national newspapers exposed Bill Clinton's seamy relationship with a billionaire Indonesian family whose cash for Clinton's campaign coffers bought them sweetheart trade deals and influence over U.S. diplomatic and trade policy--which included keeping U.S. policy toward Indonesia toothless.

          The Lippo Group is a multi-billion dollar conglomerate owned by Mochtar Riady, an Indonesian ethnic Chinese, and his family. Mochtar's son James learned the influence-buying business in Arkansas's school for scandal by working at the Worthen Bank in Little Rock after the Riadys became partners in Worthen with the Stephens family, Bill Clinton's largest campaign contributor in 1992. Worthen was for many years one of the most important clients of the Rose Law Firm, where it was represented by Bill's friend and Hillary's partner Webb Hubbell. Hubbell, who kept the Rose files on the Madison S&L mess in his basement while serving as deputy attorney general and could tell all about Hillary's role in the Madison/Castle Grande criminal land scam, got a reported $250,000 from Lippo just before he went off to jail. Hush money?

          The Riadys and the Lippo interests gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Clinton's campaign for president, and in return got to place one of their top operatives high in Clinton's Department of Commerce. John Huang was vice-chairman of the California-based Lippo Bank until the summer of 1994, when he became deputy assistant secretary of commerce for international economic policy. Huang was appointed even though federal bank examiners had found evidence of Lippo banking law violations in April 1994, and the bank was under an order to tighten its compliance with anti-money laundering laws as late as last March. But Lippo had friends in high places: Clinton, who called Huang "my close friend," and his 1992 campaign manager, Mickey Kantor, whose law firm represented the Lippo Bank.

          When Huang went to Commerce, he got nearly a million dollars in severance bonuses from Lippo. He earned his money: On a trip to China, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown (the former Democratic national chairman) announced a $1 billion power project deal between Lippo and Entergy Corp., the latter headed by Arkansas lawyer Joe Giroir, who had hired Hillary Clinton and was her boss at Rose Law.

          Huang left Commerce and became finance vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, raising millions of dollars from Asian-related businesses, including Lippo, and staging secret meet-the-president-for-$25,000 dinners at Washington's plush Hay-Adams Hotel. Many of these contributions were illegal because they came from foreign contributors, some of whom were frontmen for the real donors. The most outrageous example: $425,000 from an Indonesian landscaper with a green card who lived briefly in Virginia, but who happened to be the son-in-law of one of the Riadys' business partners.

          Human rights have always been on the auction block in this administration. When Mickey Kantor, as Clinton's trade representative, negotiated renewal of China's Most Favored Nation status in the middle of yet another Beijing crackdown on dissidents, he came away with a so-called "intellectual property rights" agreement worth billions in royalties on video and audio cassettes to the Hollywood clients of Kantor's firm. When Ron Brown was commerce secretary, he singlehandedly kept the administration from imposing sanctions on the bloody Nigerian dictatorship that would have cost Shell Oil more than $5 billion annually in business--despite a recommendation to do so from Clinton's own National Security Council staff. And while the State Department has been critical of Indonesia's murderous record on human rights, especially in East Timor, the rhetoric conceals the U.S. refusal to impose tariff sanctions on the regime as demanded by human rights groups. The role played by the Riady/Lippo connection in this is clear: Clinton gave his blessings to the Jakarta dictatorship in a 1994 visit there brokered by James Riady, a frequent White House visitor.

          Also last week, Common Cause reported that both major political parties were guilty this year of "the most massive violations of federal campaign finance laws since Watergate," and called the appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate both the GOP and the Democrats. The Clintons' Indonesia connection screams out one of the reasons such an investigation is badly needed.

 
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