ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN INVESTIGATE: MARCH 00

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A major weakness has been discovered in New Zealand’s foreign intelligence analysis: trade officials invited a rich Asian businessman to invest here and meet the Prime Minister and top business leaders – apparently unaware that he has been publicly named by US intelligence agencies as a Chinese spy with organised crime connections. Now a photo of him meeting President Clinton at the APEC conference in Auckland is causing uproar in the US. IAN WISHART reports on the so-called “Bamboo Network”:
It is a postage-stamp sized photo – a moment in time
captured on videotape at the APEC conference in
Auckland, beamed via satellite to the Fox TV news centre in Los Angeles, broadcast on Fox News across America, recorded on someone’s VCR, photographed off the screen, scanned into a computer and uploaded onto the Internet. What’s so special about the photo? Well, for a start it features Bill Clinton pressing the flesh of someone in the crowd at the APEC conference in Auckland last September, only this time it isn’t a cigar-lovin’ intern. Instead, the other face in the photo belongs to someone much more interesting: an Indonesian businessman with links to New Zealand, organised crime and Chinese Intelligence.


What’s also special about the photo? Well, the same week that Investigate began making inquiries to locate the original APEC video footage taken in New Zealand, the raw footage disappeared from TVNZ’s tape library and has not been seen since.
But it’s the man in the photo that this story is about. His name is James Riady, and to those in the know he currently heads the list of America’s Most Wanted – an alleged criminal on the run from US Justice. And that’s why the photo is at the centre of a political furore in the United States: why is President Clinton exchanging pleasantries in Auckland with a wanted man?
Funnily enough, it’s the same question asked in New Zealand back in June 1999, when Riady first turned up for a special meeting with Prime Minister Jenny Shipley.
It should have been just another unnoticed thread in the rich tapestry of New Zealand politics, but the Indonesian’s fleeting appearance in our corridors of power had all the subtle discretion of a glow-in-the-dark cat collar.
Riady heads the Lippo Group, one of Indonesia’s largest companies – but a company with heavy organised crime connections.
The New Zealand Government agency Tradenz extended the invitation for the June visit with a little-publicised announcement that Riady would receive a “red carpet” welcome in New Zealand. That welcome included a special meeting with Prime Minister Shipley, and a series of meetings with leading New Zealand business executives.
What’s extremely significant is that Riady, and his company, are at the centre of a major spying and bribery scandal that’s blown up around US President Bill Clinton.
Amazingly, New Zealand’s intelligence agencies had failed to brief Prime Minister Shipley on this point, despite a claim by to the contrary in Parliament. The closest the intelligence briefings – released to Investigate under the Official Information Act – get to the real Riady is this:
“Most important of all to the Riady family in business are relationships and networks.”
As you’re about see, that comment is a dramatic understatement, and we’ll examine shortly how Lippo Group’s incursions into New Zealand and Australia could have security implications.
The latest twist in the Riady scandal comes in a letter from US Congressional investigator Dan Burton to Beth Nolan, legal Counsel to the President.
“Upon President Clinton’s return from his trip to New Zealand for the annual meeting of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC),” writes Congressman Burton, “I was dismayed to read the following report from the Wall Street Journal on September 24, 1999:
” ‘TOGETHER AGAIN: James Riady, the Indonesian businessman central to Donorgate, used an economic summit in New Zealand last week to chat with Clinton. The White House won’t talk about it, but Indonesians say Riady didn’t discuss anything “sensitive” with the President.’
“If the report is true,” continues Burton, “I am concerned that the President would meet with an individual who has continued to evade questioning by the Congress and the Department of Justice about his pivotal role in the campaign finance scandal that came to light just prior to the President’s re-election in 1996.
“As you are aware, Mr Riady was recently named by John Huang as the architect of a massive scheme of illegal conduit political contributions in the United States.
“I cannot understand what purpose would be served by the President meeting with Mr Riady except to urge him to cooperate with Federal investigators.
“From his home in Indonesia, Mr Riady appears to have orchestrated a complex scheme to launder over $4 million (NZ$8 million) in illegal political contributions to Clinton/Gore ’92, the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, state Democratic parties, individual candidates, and non-profit groups in 1992 and 1996.”
We’ll return to Burton’s letter shortly, but first a little background context. Here’s the story the New Zealand press gallery didn’t tell you about Riady, and the story the Government didn’t know either.
To put what follows in its proper context, it pays to
first examine James Riady, and his father Mochtar,
the way New Zealand officials see them.
“The Lippo Group is one of Indonesia’s largest conglomerates in terms of market capitalisation with estimates of value putting it at having US$11 billion in assets.
“The vision of its founder Mochtar Riady is to transcend the institutional limitations placed upon organisations run in the traditional overseas Chinese pattern and adopt a modern publicly owned and professionally managed pattern of business.
“Mochtar has formed alliances and joint venture partnerships with world class multinational corporations and has high calibre professional management staff working for him.
“The Lippo empire rose out of the success of the Lippo Bank. Unlike just about all other banks in Indonesia its founder Mochtar Riady tended to shun the Suharto connections that for other conglomerates in Indonesia were the keys to success.
“He avoided lending to politically connected groups or to state enterprises and instead built his business on legitimate retail and trade finance.”
Yes. Well.
The real story, shorn of its diplomatic awe, begins 22 years ago with a 1978 move by the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, BCCI, to become established in the United States.
BCCI subsequently crashed in 1991 when a multi-territorial investigation revealed its connections to organised crime, arms smugglers and intelligence agencies. Investigators have since dubbed it “the Bank of Cocaine and Conmen International”.
Formed by a Pakistani businessman and marketed as “an Arab bank”, BCCI used a group of American investors as a front to purchase two US banking institutions – the National Bank of Georgia, and Financial General Bank in Washington DC. Because of foreign ownership restrictions, BCCI could not appear to be the real owner of the banks.
Assisting BCCI in this subterfuge was Jackson Stephens, an Arkansas stockbroker based in Little Rock. Stephens brought in three lawyers from Little Rock’s Rose Lawfirm: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vince Foster and Joseph Giroir.
The Clinton connection – as you’ll see – continued to grow, but in the meantime Hillary Clinton and her two law partners helped Stephens, via his company Systematics Inc, to transfer control of Financial General to BCCI.
Financial General’s Washington location meant many politicians and civil servants on Capitol Hill were account holders. The intelligence benefit to BCCI and those associated with the crime bank was enormous.
In 1983, Lippo Group began its own US invasion, choosing to do so in the apparent backwater of Little Rock, Arkansas, where Bill Clinton was Governor. Lippo Finance & Investment in Little Rock brought in a former aide to President Jimmy Carter, Vernon Weaver, to chair the company and Governor Clinton acted as a character reference for Lippo boss Mochtar Riady.
In 1984, Jackson Stephens joined forces with Lippo Group to purchase stock in Arkansas’ Worthen Bank, based in Little Rock. Their buy-in coincided with the establishment of a major cocaine importation operation at nearby Mena, Arkansas, and the laundering of US$100 million a month in drug money through the local banking system and ultimately BCCI.
BCCI investor Abdullah Taha Bakhish joined Riady as a co-owner of Worthen.
By 1985, things began to get hot for Bill Clinton, but Worthen Bank came to the rescue. Clinton had authorised Arkansas state pension funds to be deposited with Worthen by a brokerage firm, but the funds lost 15% of their value as a result of bad short-term investment decisions. Although Jack Stephens wrote out a $52 million Worthen cheque and saved Clinton’s hide, it paved the way for Lippo Group to take a larger role in Worthen. Over the next few months, the Riadys increased their holding to 40% of the bank.
James Riady was appointed to the board of directors, and helped engineer a buyout of the First National Bank of Mena, a town of 5,000 people whose only claim to fame was a secret CIA supply base for the Nicaraguan Contra rebels and the aforementioned cocaine-smuggling operation.
Worthen Bank became politically close to the future US President, and Hillary Clinton’s Rose Lawfirm. Bill Clinton banked with Worthen and steered much of Arkansas’ state business its way. Much of Mena’s billion-dollar-a-year drug money went through Worthen accounts, then on to BCCI branches in Florida and Washington DC as part of the money laundering loop.
It is around this time that another character becomes integral to the plot: Lippo Group executive John Huang. Huang travelled to Arkansas to take up a role as James Riady’s right-hand man in Little Rock.
Mochtar Riady, meanwhile, also formed a joint venture operation with Jack Stephens in Asia. Together, they purchased the Seng Heng Bank in Macau – the former Portuguese island colony close to Hong Kong that’s controlled by Triad organised crime syndicates. Macau is effectively an Oriental Las Vegas, and gambling is a primary source of government revenue. Even the recent Chinese takeover of the territory seems unlikely to dent the criminal powerbase.
Systematics Inc, the Stephens-owned software company, supplied software to Macau’s Banco Nacional Ultramarino – the state bank of the colony.
Over the next five years, the Riadys consolidated their empire. Selling out of Worthen Bank in 1987 they moved from Little Rock to Los Angeles to establish Lippo Bank LA.
The Worthen experience bit them hard: the bank had lent $80 million to entities associated with either the Riadys or Stephens. In the end, an investment firm collapsed owing Worthen $100 million, and a subsequent investigation criticised Worthen for all the inside loans to its owners.
Lippo LA came unstuck as well, and investigators there launched a criminal investigation in 1990 after discovering that a 21 year old teller had made more than 900 suspicious wire transfers to the Lippo-owned Hong Kong Chinese Bank. Each transaction totalled just under the magic US$10,000 limit which had to be reported to money-laundering investigators.
Nearly all the transfers involved false names, and were initialled by a supervisor. Despite that, investigators could find no documents indicating Lippo Bank LA’s top management knew of the practice.
US banking regulators issued three “cease and desist” orders against Lippo LA up until 1997, on the basis of sloppy management and suspicious funds transfers.
In another joint venture with Jack Stephens, the Riadys purchased the Hong Kong branch of BCCI, with James Riady and Johnny Huang relocating to run Lippo Bank Hong Kong. When Senator Al Gore visited Asia in 1989, accompanied by Huang, the trip was paid for by a Buddhist organisation, Fo Kwang Shan.
In 1991, an entity known as China Resources Company Limited began purchasing shares in Lippo’s Hong Kong Chinese Bank. The price paid for the shares was fifteen percent below the market value. US intelligence agencies have since claimed China Resources Co is a front for Chinese military intelligence.
During his relationship with Worthen bank, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton passed several pieces of legislation favourable to Lippo’s US interests. The payoff? In 1992, with the Clinton/Gore presidential campaign on the ropes over the Gennifer Flowers affair and donations drying up, Lippo Group organised for Worthen Bank to pay the Clinton campaign fund a massive US$3.5 million bailout.
But that wasn’t the worst of it.
In addition to the money channelled via the bank, James Riady and the Lippo Group were personally funding Clinton’s presidential campaign – a move that’s illegal under US laws restricting foreigners from making political donations.
In August, 1992, James Riady flew from Indonesia to Los Angeles to take part in a fundraiser for Clinton. Federal investigators piecing the jigsaw together allege Riady took a limousine ride with Governor Clinton, handing over US$100,000 and promising a further US$1 million.
So far, it appears Riady and Huang funnelled US$700,000 in illegal donations to the Clinton campaign, via Lippo Group employees and subsidiaries. Most did not live in the US.
One of the questions posed by US congressional investigators is “Why?”. What did the Riadys hope to gain by funding Bill Clinton? They now believe James Riady and the Lippo Group were engineering a major espionage operation on behalf of the Chinese government, a deliberate attempt to bribe an American President, compromise US security and steal US secrets.
The operation, involving more than a hundred people, many of them Chinese, has been dubbed “the Bamboo Network” by investigators.
By January of 1993, with Clinton now President-elect, Huang and Riady arranged for another $100,000 to drop into the President’s coffers and, in February, Huang organised a meeting between Mochtar Riady and the President.
The elder Riady, whose business philosophy is quoted in New Zealand Government briefing papers as “Every network has to have its foundation laid on special, personal, human connections…what I am looking for is what my partners can offer in personal contacts and business connections”, urged the new US President to reinstate China’s “most favoured nation” status. He also told Clinton to relax economic sanctions against China, imposed after the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Clinton, whose election campaign was significantly funded by the Riadys, obeyed. In June of 1993, China was given “most favoured nation” status. A week or two later, purely coincidentally, the Riadys make US$163 million in profit when China Resources Company Ltd increases its share price offer for Lippo’s Hong Kong Chinese Bank to a figure 50% above market value.
James Riady’s influence with Clinton was so great that on April 19, 1993, at the very moment the FBI was raiding the Branch Davidian religious complex at Waco Texas, killing scores of men, women and children in the process, Bill Clinton was chatting with James Riady in the Oval Office while a TV set in the background was carrying footage of the tragedy.
Clinton even had time during this national disaster to give Riady a tour of “the Situation Room” – a kind of “Bill fiddled while Waco burned” scene.
It is the beginning of a scandal that is seeing President Clinton dubbed “China’s first US President” by some commentators.
And despite the briefing papers from New Zealand trade officials who told Prime Minister Shipley that James Riady and the Lippo group shunned the cronyism surrounding Indonesia’s President Suharto, a US Congressional Investigation paints a very different picture.
“The Riady family was able to show off its close ties to President Clinton during the 1993 APEC summit in Seattle, Washington. Lippo organised a group of Indonesian businessmen to visit Little Rock, Arkansas, before the summit.
“A sister-state agreement between Arkansas and Indonesia was to be signed at a ceremony during the APEC summit, and James Riady planned to have President Clinton and President Suharto attend.”
Despite reservations from White House staff, who told Riady that “the human rights controversy surrounding East Temor (sic) may be an impediment,” the Congressional report notes that “Ultimately, during the 1993 APEC, President Clinton did meet with President Suharto, along with James Riady, over the objections of his staff.”
Clinton met Suharto again during the G-7 summit in Tokyo in July 1993, and then sent a handwritten note to James Riady saying he’d enjoyed his visit with Suharto.
The briefing to New Zealand’s then-Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, says “The [Lippo] group is seen as not having ties with President Suharto’s family, hence it is regarded as clean and fits in with the spirit of reform.”
At the full APEC summit in 1994, hosted by Indonesia, Clinton spent more time with the Riadys, stopping only to pose in a batik shirt alongside the New Zealand Prime Minister at the time, Jim Bolger.
In 1994, US Secretary for Commerce Ron Brown visited China carrying an “unprecedented” US$5.5 billion dollars worth of trade deals. Included in the package is a $1 billion deal for an Arkansas firm, politically linked to Clinton, to expand and manage Lippo’s 725 megawatt coal-burning power plant in China’s Fujian province.
In April 1994, Clinton’s appointee to the US Justice Department, Associate Attorney-General Web Hubbell, resigned from his post amid allegations of fraud relating to his involvement with the Rose Lawfirm and the Whitewater scandal.
After meeting Hillary Clinton in mid-June, Hubbell held further discussions with Indonesian businessmen James Riady and John Huang. White House records show the two Lippo executives visited the White House every day from June 21 to June 25, 1994.
Hubbell spent much of June 23 with Riady, and four days later the disgraced politician was paid US$100,000 by the Hong Kong Chinese Bank, ostensibly to put him on the Lippo Group payroll. The bank, as investigators now know, is majority-owned by Chinese military intelligence.
The payoff didn’t save Hubbell, who was subsequently jailed.
Asked at a news conference if it wasn’t more than a little suspicious that Hubbell ended up working for Lippo, President Clinton told reporters “To the best of my recollection, I didn’t know anything about his having that job until I read about it in the press. And I can’t imagine who could have ever arranged to do something improper like that and no one around here know about it.”
But less than two weeks after Lippo’s payoff to Hubbell, the Clinton administration decided to appoint John Huang as the new Assistant Secretary of the US Commerce Department. Huang’s resignation from the official payroll of the Lippo Group was marked with a US$800,000 golden parachute.
Under US law it is illegal to export high-technology material from the US. This was to enable America to maintain a military and/or commercial edge over possibly hostile nations.
But armed with an interim top-secret security clearance, courtesy of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, Huang found himself suddenly in a position to authorise technology transfers to places like Indonesia and China. Incredibly, Huang’s security clearance was issued without the routine FBI and foreign security checks.
Investigators have discovered that, on 37 separate occasions, after attending CIA briefings on encryption technology, Johnny Huang left the building a short time later and went to Lippo’s offices, where he then made long distance phone and fax calls to overseas locations.
The New York Daily News has reported that US intelligence services subsequently determined that Huang was passing classified trade information to Lippo Group headquarters in Jakarta – his former bosses.
How did Huang end up as an Assistant Secretary with a top secret clearance in the US Commerce Department? The London Times quotes one source as saying it was Hillary Clinton’s idea.
“He was not Ron Brown’s guy, and his presence caused intense conflict. Huang was carrying water for the White House.”
Huang made around 70 “water deliveries” to the White House. And all the time, China’s influence in Washington was growing too. During 1994 and 1995, the Clinton administration allowed AT&T to sell its secure communications system to the Chinese Army, in a deal known as “Hua Mei”. In a dramatic backfire, the Chinese reconfigured the encryption technology and re-exported it to Iraq for use in air defence systems.
President Clinton also approved the sale of surveillance system technology to China, under the aegis of a cooperation agreement between Chinese police and the US Justice Department.
Which is where Congressman Dan Burton and his
letter come in. Burton heads the powerful Com
mittee on Government Reform in the US House of Representatives, and it’s his committee that’s investigating the Donorgate/Chinagate/Riady spying scandal.
Far bigger than Monica Lewinsky or other Clintonesque diversions, there is now real evidence that China, and subsequently Iraq, have gained access to US defence, industrial and commercial secrets as a result of Riady’s allegedly corrupting influence on Clinton.
“John Huang, Mr Riady’s political point-man in the US, kept in frequent contact with his former boss and his companies during his tenure at the Department of Commerce,” writes Burton in his letter to the White House spelling out the evidence and demanding more answers.
“Mr Riady’s Oval Office meeting with President Clinton on September 13, 1995, led to Mr Huang’s hiring by the DNC where he promptly raised over US$3 million in illegal political contributions.
“After a week of meetings in the White House, James Riady paid former Justice Department official Webster Hubbell $100,000 at a time when Mr Hubbell’s cooperation in the Whitewater scandal was being sought by the Independent Counsel [Kenneth Starr]. Mr Hubbell has refused to reveal why Mr Riady paid him this money.
“Finally and most importantly, US intelligence agencies report that one of Mr Riady’s chief business partners, China Resources, is an intelligence gathering agency of the communist Chinese Government.”
It is this revelation that poses a grave problem for the New Zealand Government. Intelligence briefings prepared for the then Prime Minister Jenny Shipley and released to Investigate do not reveal any link between China Resources and Chinese Intelligence. Indeed, the New Zealand briefing reads as though it could have been prepared by Chinese Intelligence, judging by its innocuous contents:
“The Lippo Group has a strategic position in China and Hong Kong with substantial investments and relationships with powerful business and government people and organisations.
“It owns 49% of the Hong Kong Chinese Bank with the remaining 51% held by China Resources (Holdings) which is a wholly-owned enterprise of China’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation.”
Which raises the question: was the New Zealand Government sucked in to beginning a relationship with James Riady on the basis of flawed intelligence?
What is the ongoing implication of that if such flaws are not corrected?
And just how bad was the NZ intelligence?
While our Embassy in Jakarta waxed lyrical about
the sound business base of Lippo Group and
the Riadys, the Washington Post was more critical, pointing out that Lippo Group had to be bailed out of bankruptcy by Indonesia’s President Suharto in 1995 and there was a further $700 million restructuring in 1996.
The Post quotes an investment analyst at Deutsche Morgan Grenfell’s Jakarta branch, Lin Che Wei, as describing Lippo Group as a “carefully balanced house of cards, held up partly by the Riadys’ practice of gobbling up shares of Lippo stock to drive up the price.”
“Riady is a master of this kind of game,” says Lin, “He understands what investors want – a rising share price.”
And what about the briefing given to Prime Minister Shipley which, if you missed it earlier, we’ll repeat:
“Mochtar has formed alliances and joint venture partnerships with world class multinational corporations and has high calibre professional management staff working for him.
“The Lippo empire rose out of the success of the Lippo Bank. Unlike just about all other banks in Indonesia its founder Mochtar Riady tended to shun the Suharto connections that for other conglomerates in Indonesia were the keys to success.
“He avoided lending to politically connected groups or to state enterprises and instead built his business on legitimate retail and trade finance.”
Contrast that with these excerpts from the Washington Post investigation:
“Mochtar Riady sent the President a four page letter, urging him…to support Suharto…”
“Clinton recalls that James Riady also tried to persuade him to meet Suharto…”
“James Riady arranged for…a Little Rock lawyer and longtime friend of Clinton to spend one and a half hours with Suharto in Jakarta…An official with Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry said Riady insisted that [the lawyer] ‘had the ear of President Clinton. He said the meeting would give us special access to the White House’.”
“The Riadys also promoted Hubbell at Suharto’s presidential palace as someone ‘influential with Bill Clinton’.
“After Hubbell resigned from the Justice Department amid allegations of fraud, James Riady arranged for him to tour Indonesia…Riady made sure that Hubbell, like [the lawyer] visited the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, where Indonesian security forces have been accused of widespread human rights abuses.
“Riady ‘said letting a friend of Clinton’s see Timor might help change US policy. So naturally we thought it was a good idea,’ the official said.”
“In April 1993 James Riady escorted the Governor of Jakarta to the East Wing [of the White House] for a meeting on which the White House can provide no details…”
“And Riady accompanies…one of Suharto’s most influential advisers to the White House…joining them was John Huang…two months later the Indonesian Government arranged for a group of private companies to rescue Lippo during a financial crunch.”
” ‘These trips helped Lippo improve their ties to the Suharto regime,’ said a former Lippo executive. ‘As a result, Suharto helped rescue them when they needed help’.”
“In Jakarta, Lippo has approached the Suharto regime for almost everything from critical building permits to outright financial bailouts.”
The Post reports that Riady is also involved in a string of joint ventures with Suharto’s half-brother.
We could go on, and on, about Riady’s close ties to the former Indonesian dictator, but you’ve probably absorbed the point that the message reaching our Government was a very different one from the reality.
Instead, Riady was welcomed to New Zealand with open arms by the National Government – a gesture in sharp contrast with the sentiments in the United States.
“From the above list of activities,” writes Burton, ” I find it inconceivable that the President of the United States would meet with James Riady for any reason. Mr Riady has thumbed his nose at the laws of the United States and Mr Clinton appears to have rewarded him.
“Doubtless, this meeting with the President will be used to personal advantage in Indonesia and China by Mr Riady. Therefore, I would like to request that the White House provide the following information and documents in regard to this matter:
A. Did President Clinton meet James Riady in New Zealand
B. Identify all individuals present during any contacts between President Clinton and James Riady in connection with the President’s travel to New Zealand.
C. Describe the substance of all contacts between President Clinton and James Riady in connection with the President’s travel to New Zealand.
D. Describe the substance of all contacts between White House officials and James Riady or his associates in connection with the President’s travel to New Zealand.
E. When did the White House first learn that James Riady would be in New Zealand during President Clinton’s trip for the APEC meeting?
1. How did the White House learn that James Riady would be in New Zealand during President Clinton’s travel there?
2. Identify all individuals involved in the request that President Clinton meet with James Riady during the President’s trip to New Zealand.
3. Was the fact that James Riady would be in New Zealand during President Clinton’s trip conveyed to the President? If so, when was this information conveyed to the President? Who conveyed this information to the President? Please describe the substance of all such communications.
4. Identify any White House officials who expressed concern over President Clinton meeting with James Riady. Please describe the substance of all such communications.
F. Provide all documents relating to James Riady, his companies, his employees, or his associates in connection with the President’s recent trip to New Zealand for the APEC meeting, including all documents relating to any meetings between President Clinton and James Riady.
G. Provide all recordings, either video or audio, of any contacts between President Clinton and James Riady, his associates, or his employees relating to the President’s trip to New Zealand for the APEC meeting.
“It is my sincere hope that if indeed President Clinton met with James Riady during his trip, that the President used the prestige of his office and his long term friendship with Mr Riady to convince Mr Riady to return to the United States and answer all of the questions posed by Congress and the Justice Department so the American public can finally learn the entire truth about Mr Riady’s role in tampering with our presidential elections.
“I am concerned, however, that the President would socialise with an individual who has mocked the laws of this country.”
Intriguingly, the New Zealand media largely missed the unfolding scandal arising out of Clinton’s APEC visit. While local TV crews made much of Clinton’s meeting with the Chinese leader, Jiang Zemin, and the apparent thaw in the US/China relationship, few in the New Zealand press gallery had any idea of the real issues at the heart of the problem.
The scandal over China’s spying became so bad that some in the US publicly accused China of deliberately blowing up a rocket carrying two US commercial satellites, purely to get access to the technology.
And what of James Riady: what can he want in New
Zealand? For a start, he owns property in
Auckland, which TradeNZ identified as the Port Tower hotel. We can find no evidence of such a hotel, but there is a Park Tower Hotel which was owned by “Asian interests” up until December. But apart from his personal business interests, Riady is taking a regional political perspective as well. He was appointed as a “Roving Presidential Envoy for Australasia” by former Indonesian President Habibie, is a member of Parliament, and is a member of Indonesia’s APEC Business Advisory Council.
He also clearly knows of a number of influential New Zealand business leaders.
Government briefing documents obtained by Investigate paint a picture of what Riady wanted to achieve on his June 1999 NZ visit, prior to his later controversial appearance at APEC.
For a start, New Zealand trade officials were told to play down his connection to Lippo Group and boost his diplomatic status, despite the fact that most of his delegation were either Lippo staff or Lippo customers. Indeed, the briefing supplied by the New Zealand Embassy in Jakarta refers to Riady wanting to visit NZ “for private business purposes,” and goes on to say:
“The headings to the [official] programme currently put at the forefront Riady’s position as Deputy Head of Lippo Group. We and Torry [Parantoro, Riady’s executive assistant] agreed that the emphasis should instead be given to his role as Special Envoy; this title should be transposed, upper-cased and put in bold to reflect that this is the primary hat under which he is visiting New Zealand.
“This is also the title that should be used in the first instance for formal introductions, except for his business meetings where he dons his Lippo Group hat.
“Parantoro showed us a fax he had received from the Indonesian Embassy in Wellington. This provided details of Sunday evening’s programme, including a list of journalists for the media interview and a guest list for the dinner hosted by the Indonesian Ambassador; we noted that [National MP] Pansy Wong was included, a pleasant surprise. Parantoro was pleased with the arrangements confirmed to date for the Monday [June 21], especially the call on the Prime Minister. We clarified that whereas Riady’s entourage would be able to participate in most of these calls, the meeting with the PM would be more restricted …Parantoro clearly expected this to be the case.
“We noted that we were waiting for confirmation for calls on Don McKinnon, Bill English, and Don Brash.
“Parantoro commented favourably on the agenda for Tuesday (we noted the likely addition of a call on Sir Selwyn Cushing, Brierley Investments.)
“We discussed with Parantoro opportunities to meet with the Business Roundtable and the ASEAN-NZ Business Council.
“Riady made a specific request that Doug Myers be informed of his visit and be included in his programme. However…Myers is currently in London and will not be returning to NZ until July.”
The cost of Riady’s June visit was to have been met by New Zealand taxpayers, according to the documents.
“We suggested that it would be appropriate to fund all Riady’s expenses (including offering a first class airfare).”
Ultimately, however, the Indonesian businessman and alleged Chinese spy paid his own way.
The unanswered question remains open: are Riady’s activities in New Zealand and Australia purely commercial, or are they motivated also by espionage?
“In his role as the Special Presidential Envoy for Australasia,” write NZ diplomats, “James Riady has been busy. On February 25 1999, Lippo Bank signed an MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] with the Australian Trade Commission to promote the economic development of eastern Indonesia.
“Under the MOU, cooperation programmes between Indonesian and Australian businessmen will be conducted using the Bank Lippo’s networks. Australia will provide training and guidance for Bank Lippo employees.
“In October 1998 James made a visit to Australia to promote relations and dialogue between the two nations. There he met with Victorian chief minister Jeff Kennett, New South Wales Premier Bob Carr and addressed an Austrade seminar. He was also scheduled to meet with the Prime Minister, John Howard.”
Nowhere in the intelligence briefing for the New Zealand Prime Minister is James Riady’s relationship with Bill Clinton, or alleged activity as a Chinese spy, disclosed.
Nick Arathimos, the TradeNZ official who organised the June 1999 visit, told Investigate he was aware of Riady’s background. When questioned over his involvement with BCCI and with a bank that was laundering drug cartel money through Arkansas, however, Arathimos was clearly taken by surprise, saying he was not aware of these allegations.
Yet, in answer to a question in Parliament on July 21, Deputy Prime Minister Wyatt Creech said “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was fully aware of the issues surrounding his relationship with President Clinton. Furthermore the Ministry did not, and does not, consider that a visit by the President of Indonesia’s special envoy raised any issues of a security nature.”
The then Opposition leader, Helen Clark, asked a follow-up question:
“Before the Prime Minister met Mr Riady, was she also aware of a draft report submitted by Republicans on a Senate committee in America that alleges Mr Riady and his father both have “a long term relationship with a Chinese intelligence agency”. If so, would that have made a difference?”
“Obviously I do not know the answer to the detail in the question,” replied Creech, “but what I can say is that this person visited New Zealand as a special envoy of the President of Indonesia, and it was in that capacity that the special envoy visited the Prime Minister.”
“How big was the cheque?” interjected one Labour MP, implying Riady’s political donation largesse may have rubbed off on National prior to the election.
Is it possible that Lippo Group may be trying to place itself in a position to steal New Zealand trade secrets or technology on behalf of the Chinese or Indonesia? There is no evidence one way or the other, but given the company’s involvement with Chinese intelligence it would be naïve to assume Lippo would not be interested if an opportunity arose.
After news of Lippo’s Chinese espionage first broke in a Los Angeles Times story three years ago, ongoing investigations have revealed Chinese interests associated with the Riadys have allegedly stolen not only trade, but also critical defence information including nuclear secrets.
Chinese spies have also been uncovered in Canada.
Arrested and questioned by federal and congressional investigators, Riady’s right-hand-man Johnny Huang has coughed to his boss’ involvement, but pleaded the 5th Amendment – the right not to self-incriminate – nearly two thousand times since interrogation began.
Riady has refused to return to the US for questioning or to clear his name. Instead, he remains based at his Jakarta estate where he lives in a southern-US style plantation manor, three stories tall with massive “Greco-Roman columns”, sited amidst a Lippo golf course. The home also has a helipad and a lake, and the entire property is ringed by a moat.
Is James Riady an appropriate person for the New Zealand Government to be promoting as someone to do business with? Despite the revelations, TradeNZ official Nick Arathimos claims yes, effectively saying he’s the best of a bad bunch in Indonesia.
“You can come up with a lot worse. His companies in Indonesia are among the better organised, relying less on cronyism with Suharto. James Riady will continue to be a key player in Indonesia because of his existing interests.
“If he were to invest in New Zealand, he would have to abide by our laws and regulations.”
Which is just as well, because as many critics of our investment regime have pointed out, New Zealand is the laughing stock of the Western world for having some of the most lax controls on money-laundering and inside trading on the planet.
At the end of the day, however, one could question why we bothered to invite someone of Riady’s background to New Zealand in the first place. The argument that ‘he’s the best of a bad bunch’ could equally apply to one of the less violent members of Colombia’s Cali drug cartel.
If the intelligence briefing provided to Shipley was drawn only from trade diplomats, then somebody should probably be caned for not calling in the External Assessment Bureau, and if our foreign spy agency was consulted then the Government could probably save a few million dollars by sacking the spooks and simply purchasing a subscription to the Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times.
As for the Riadys, Indonesians wouldn’t be surprised if it was a quest for world domination that they were really undertaking. The Lippo logo is everywhere in the troubled Asian powerhouse, with its interests in banks, factories and shops, hospitals and housing developments.
“In Jakarta,” wrote the Washington Post, “locals joke that Lippo stands for Lama-Lama Indonesia Pun Punya Oe, meaning: In the long run, even Indonesia will be mine.”
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