Dead presidents, ex-presidents, incoming presidents—Joe Allbritton loves them. When George W. Bush‘s inaugural parade cruised down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House in January 2001, the new president passed a Riggs National Bank branch, spotted Allbritton, and shouted out, “Hey, Joe, how are you doing?”
That time, Allbritton wasn’t looking the other way. An explosive Senate report ramrodded by Michigan’s Carl Levin concluded this spring that in processing U.S. oil companies’ money paid to Equatorial Guinea dictator Teodoro Obiang, Riggs “turned a blind eye to evidence suggesting the bank was handling the proceeds of foreign corruption.”
An investment bank for wealthy people run by Bush’s uncle Jonathan Bush was part of Allbritton’s Riggs empire. But the biggest customer of Riggs National Bank was the Maryland-sized country of Equatorial Guinea. For a decade—until this year—Riggs handled more than 60 accounts for the country’s government, officials, and their families, with deposits ranging from $400 million to $700 million. The Washington Post sketches some of the details of the slimy relationship among Riggs, the Obiang clan, and U.S. oil companies in a long story this morning. (Dubya’s shout-out to little ol’ Joe is from an earlier Post story. Other details of the Bush-Riggs connections are enumerated by the Center for American Progress here.)
Yeah, Allbritton was doing great. The portrait of Ronald Reagan that hangs in the White House? That was a gift from Allbritton, the Post notes. Riggs officials were delirious from the oil fumes.
“Where is this money coming from? Oil—black gold—Texas tea!” a Riggs executive vice president, Raymond M. Lund, gushed to colleagues in a 2001 e-mail quoted in today’s Post story.
Equatorial Guinea’s 500,000 inhabitants lived on $1 a day (and some of them got tortured by stinging ants by Obiang’s brother) while the despotic Obiang and his family made out like bandits, and Allbritton propped up the revived neocon establishment in D.C. (including Doug Feith) with some of the lucre.
The Post story suggests that the Riggs scandal, which resulted in Allbritton’s losing control of the bank this summer, may unravel a skein of shady oil company deals with dictators like Obiang. Or not. Post reporter Justin Blum notes that officials at John Ashcroft‘s Department of Justice “refused to discuss enforcement” of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which outlaws bribery of foreign officials by U.S. companies.