Clinton, Riady talked trade, White House says Indonesian billionaire made more than a dozen visits to executive mansion

November 05, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- James Riady, an Indonesian billionaire with a financial stake in U.S. policy toward Asia, discussed trade policy with President Clinton and perhaps senior aides in some of the more than a dozen visits he made to the White House, administration officials acknowledged yesterday.

After weeks of declining to provide details of the visits by Riady, the central figure in the current campaign finance uproar, White House press secretary Mike McCurry said a preliminary internal review had shown that Riady had been a guest at the Executive Mansion at least between 15 and 20 times over the past four years.

McCurry said the purpose of the visits was to pay social calls, lobby the Clinton administration to appoint more Asian-Americans, and occasionally discuss policy issues with the president and his advisers.

But McCurry and other administration officials said they were unable to describe with any level of precision how often Riady was there, with whom he met, what policies he was advocating and what briefings he received during his visits. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that there were at least 14 visits and quoted McCurry as saying that they were for "outreach to the Asian-American communities."

McCurry said the review had determined that Riady had discussed Asian trade policy generally with the president, may have met with Robert E. Rubin, then the head of the National Economic Council, for an unspecified policy meeting and may have had con- versations with other advisers as well.

"We have established that he saw a variety of people and that some related to concerns he had on policy matters," McCurry said in a telephone interview during a campaign stop in Cleveland. "There would be nothing inappropriate about this."

In the closing weeks of the presidential race, Republicans and Ross Perot have suggested that big campaign donations by people with ties to the Riadys, who control a $12 billion empire of real estate, banking and other holdings, allowed the clan to influence unduly U.S. policy toward Asia, where most of the family's holdings are located.

When Riady worked in the late 1970s at an Arkansas bank partly owned by his family, he became friendly with Clinton in Little Rock as his political career was beginning to take off.

Riady and other family members control the Lippo Group, which is based in Jakarta, and whose holdings include LippoBank, a small bank based in California.

During the 1990s, the family's senior executive in the United States was John Huang, who left for a trade post at the Commerce Department that the Riadys have said they helped secure in exchange for their political support of Clinton. Huang left government earlier this year to become a senior fund-raiser for the Democrats. He was suspended last month after reports that he had solicited questionable contributions.

Clinton campaign aides have denied the accusations of undue influence and have said GOP candidate Bob Dole's financial patrons have received the same kind of access in Republican circles as Clinton's have at the White House.

But the latest disclosure suggested that Riady was a more frequent guest than had previously been known.

Pub Date: 11/05/96

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