Clifford, Altman Face Second Round of Questions on BCCI
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Influential attorney Clark Clifford and his partner insisted anew today that they committed no misconduct in their stewardship of a big Washington bank and were unaware it was secretly owned by the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.
Clifford and his protege, Robert Altman, faced a second round of questioning in Congress about how deeply they were involved in the BCCI banking scandal.
″To state it simply, our consciences are clear,″ Clifford said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on terrorism, narcotics and international operations. ″We have not violated any law. We have not been guilty of any impropriety.″
The subcommittee is holding hearings this week on BCCI, a foreign-owned institution that has been accused of massive fraud and illicit activities worldwide.
A former top executive of BCCI testified Tuesday that Clifford and Altman had to know that BCCI secretly controlled First American Bankshares Inc. of Washington. The two have not been charged with wrongdoing by authorities.
Clifford, a former defense secretary and powerful Washington insider, resigned in August as chairman of First American, the bank holding company the government says BCCI illegally acquired in 1982. Altman quit as a director of First American and president of an affiliate.
″The question is, did (BCCI) corrupt First American?″ Clifford told the subcommittee. ″Not in any way. Do I ask you to take my word for that? I do. My word has been important for many years here in Washington and I ask you to take it.″
The statements by Clifford and Altman today were similar to their testimony last month before the House Banking Committee.
The two received a far less hostile reception, however, from the Senate panel. In the House hearing, several lawmakers openly questioned the accuracy of their statements.
″It is not a comfortable or happy occasion to have this kind of investigation,″ said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the Senate subcommittee chairman. He said, however, that he didn’t intend for the hearing to be conducted in a manner that was ″recriminatory or berating or ugly.″
On Tuesday, former BCCI employee Abdur Sakhia told the subcommittee: ″For me, it is very hard to believe ... almost impossible to believe - I may be naive - that Clifford and Altman did not know″ of BCCI’s secret ownership of First American.
Sakhia, who worked for BCCI for 13 years in the United States and Britain, described several meetings of high-level BCCI executives that Altman attended.
Robert Bennett, an attorney for Clifford and Altman, disputed Sakhia’s statements.
The two law partners ″adamantly deny any wrongdoing,″ Bennett said. ″They adamantly deny that they knew of any secret ownership.″
On Wednesday, the Senate subcommittee released copies of a January 1978 telex message from a BCCI official to the bank’s Pakistani founder and head, Agha Hasan Abedi, regarding the purchase of First American’s predecessor bank.
″I met Mr. Clark Clifford and explained to him our strategy and our goal. He was happy to know the details and has blessed the acquisition,″ the official told Abedi.
Abedi was introduced to Clifford and Altman by Bert Lance, a Georgia banker who was White House budget director in the Carter administration.
Lance told the subcommittee Wednesday he is convinced the CIA recruited Abedi in 1984 in order to use BCCI for agency purposes. ″... I felt there was obviously an overt effort by our intelligence agency ... to co-opt Mr. Abedi and BCCI in an effort to turn them into the bank of the CIA,″ he said.
Mark Mansfield, a CIA spokesman, called Lance’s statements ″absolutely false.″
Acting CIA Director Richard Kerr is scheduled to testify on Friday.
In a related development Wednesday, Rep. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., told President Bush he was ″very disturbed″ to learn that Edward Rogers, until recently a deputy to White House chief of staff John Sununu, had been hired to represent a prominent figure in the BCCI scandal.
In a letter, Schumer urged Bush to order an investigation of the new business relationship between Rogers and Sheik Kemal Adham, a former chief of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service who is being investigated in connection with BCCI.
There was no comment from the White House.