Details of Hatch's efforts on behalf of BCCI revealed in interviews, papers

August 26, 1992|By New York Times News Service

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the powerful Republican from Utah who is a member of the Judiciary Committee, worked behind the scenes on behalf of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International while at the same time pressing the bank to make a $10 million loan to a close business associate.

From documents and interviews with bank lawyers, a picture emerges of Mr. Hatch and an aide as integral parts of the bank's efforts to escape Senate scrutiny and avoid bad publicity after the bank pleaded guilty in 1989 to federal charges of illegal laundering of drug money.

Mr. Hatch gave a widely reported speech on the Senate floor in 1990 defending BCCI and he later publicly acknowledged asking the bank to lend money to Monzer Hourani, a Houston businessman. But an examination of internal bank documents and the interviews with lawyers and others found that the relationship went much deeper. These were among the findings:

* In late 1989, when a Senate subcommittee began a formal investigation of the bank's ties to dictators and terrorists, Michael Pillsbury, a longtime aide to Mr. Hatch, sat down with the bank's lawyers and offered advice on how to counterattack another senator's inquiry, according to Mr. Pillsbury, as well as some of the bank's lawyers.

* After BCCI resolved the money-laundering case in Tampa, Fla., by reaching a plea agreement that many government officials complained was far too lenient, Mr. Hatch talked to high-ranking Justice Department officials and urged them to step forward and defend the plea deal. A senior Justice Department official acknowledged the call.

* The senator said he made his Senate speech on behalf of BCCI after the bank's lawyers had assured him that the Florida money-laundering case involved only low-level corruption. But some of BCCI's lawyers said in interviews that they were actually reluctant to meet with the senator, fearing such a meeting would backfire and anger the Justice Department. The lawyers said they only sat down with the senator under pressure from Mohammad Hammoud, a close friend of Mr. Hatch and also a large BCCI shareholder. Mr. Hammoud died in 1990.

* Hatch earlier acknowledged news media reports that he telephoned BCCI's president in London, Swaleh Navqi, to ask him to consider lending money to Mr. Hourani. He portrayed this as a casual request that had no results. But BCCI documents show that Mr. Hourani, who is a close friend and campaign contributor to Mr. Hatch, himself made a detailed proposal for the loan. The loan apparently was never made.

Mr. Hatch's motivation for helping the bank was not clear. But at least three of his friends stood to benefit if BCCI could remain a going concern in the United States: Mr. Hammoud; Robert Altman, one of the bank's chief lawyers; and Mr. Hourani.

Mr. Hatch declined an invitation to discuss the details of a New York Times examination of the documents.

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