N. Bush's foreign business deals draw spotlight

President's brother's role in transactions detailed in documents tied to divorce

December 30, 2003|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

Neil Bush, brother of the president and son of the former president, earned nearly $1.4 million in 2000 and nearly half of it came from simply introducing the executives of a Thailand-based conglomerate to the executives of a U.S. company that makes computer components.

The introduction, which led to a $20 million investment in the U.S. company, is one of several high-stakes international business deals that President Bush's younger brother has been involved in over the past few years, according to court and corporate records.

Neil Bush, 48, the second-youngest son of former President George Bush, has chosen not to join the family business of politics, but to some he seems to have parlayed the family name into a lucrative private enterprise.

While most multinational business deals are made behind the scenes, Neil Bush's role in several major transactions and other financial business is detailed in a lengthy court document relating to his stormy divorce this year from Sharon Bush.

In the document, Neil Bush plays down his business successes and gives no indication that any of his deals were the result of political ties.

"I consider it a success that I made ... ends meet," he testified. "We live in a very nice home. Our kids have a good lifestyle."

Pressed further by Marshall D. Brown, Sharon Bush's attorney, to explain his worldwide business connections, Neil Bush pointed to his degree in business administration from Tulane University.

In one situation brought up in the proceedings, Neil Bush acknowledged that he was being paid about $60,000 a year by a company called Crest Investment, where he said he served as "co-chairman."

Asked by Brown what his duties were at Crest, Neil Bush said he provided "miscellaneous consulting services, such as answering phone call[s]." He said he spent about three or four hours a week to earn the $60,000 from Crest.

Steven Weiss, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, a public watchdog group, said that making a connection with the president's brother was "an obvious way to develop a relationship that could lead to the president himself."

But as the president's brother, Weiss said, "Neil Bush ought to recognize that his business dealings are going to be scrutinized for any improprieties."

Headlines in '92

Neil Bush made headlines during his father's tenure in 1992 when he agreed to pay $50,000 to settle a civil suit related to the billion-dollar collapse of the Silverado Savings & Loan Association. He served on Silverado's board of directors and was accused of failing to disclose his business ties to two of the bank's largest debtors.

Now the head of an educational computer software firm, Ignite Inc., Neil Bush has been back in the news because of his divorce from Sharon Bush, who is publicly contesting the terms of their settlement.

Contacted by phone at his business office in Austin, Texas, Neil Bush declined to answer any questions. He did not respond to a series of e-mail questions.

Neil Bush is not the first presidential relative involved in foreign business dealings. Billy Carter registered as an agent of the Libyan government during the tenure of his brother, Jimmy Carter. He also disclosed that he had received a $220,000 loan from Libyan partners.

In a deposition taken March 3 as part of his divorce case, Neil Bush said he earned $642,000 from the deal that paired U.S.-based Kopin Corp. investors with the CP (Charoen Pokphand) Group, an Asian firm headed by Dhanin Chearavanont.

The CP Group, a huge agricultural conglomerate, is involved in such businesses as aquaculture, telecommunications and motorcycle manufacturing. It was also a 40 percent partner in a company that owned a Thailand toy factory that was destroyed by fire in 1993, killing 188 workers, according to a report by Kroll Associates, a private investigation and risk assessment company. The blaze, which also injured 469 workers, has been labeled the world's worst industrial fire.

"We made introduction of the Asian group to Kopin and they ended up investing a significant amount of money in Kopin," Neil Bush said in his deposition. "I believe it was in excess of $20 million. They're in Hong Kong and Thailand."

Investors in Bush's firm

Two CP Group officers were also investors in Neil Bush's own investment company, owning half the shares.

His investment company, called Interlink, operated out of Suite 920 at 10000 Memorial Drive in Houston. Just steps away is Suite 900, where his father, the former president, maintains an office.

Texas corporate records show that two CP Group officers were shareholders in Interlink, which Neil Bush set up several years ago with a partner, Timothy Bridgewater. Bridgewater did not respond to a request for comment.

Those CP Group officials, Thanakorn Seriburi and Krisada Kampanatsanyakorn, together held 500 shares in Interlink, the Texas records show. The remaining 500 shares were evenly split between Neil Bush and Bridgewater.

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