The NYT business section, which is always worth reading on Sunday, has a long story about a bank in D.C. – Riggs bank. It is a private, homey kind of D.C. bank – for the champagne and chauffeur set, as one of their interviewees puts it. They do a roaring trade in blood money for the Saudis and Equatorial Guinea. Also, incidentally, they’ve done the Bush family one of the characteristic favors banks and businesses like to do the Bush family: as the story blandly puts it, “deepening its links to the Bushes, Riggs also bought a money management firm owned by Jonathan Bush, the former president's brother, in 1997.”
It’s the Equatorial Guinea money that is bringing them down at the moment. The NYT is behind the ball on this story – the Nation had a story six months ago about Equatorial Guinea’s suRprising redemption in the eyes of the U.S. It used to be a backwater African dictatorship run with the usual large splashes of blood by Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo:
“Mr. Obiang assumed power in 1979 after his uncle was killed in a military coup. The United States ended diplomatic relations with his government in the mid-1990's but rekindled relations last year as the Bush administration moved to support efforts to tap new oil supplies outside the Middle East. Equatorial Guinean officials opened government and personal accounts at Riggs in 1995.
EXXON MOBIL entered into a profit-sharing arrangement with Mr. Obiang's government in order to secure drilling rights there.”
Profit sharing with the government, here, is a soothing way of saying that they massively and regularly bribe Mr. Obiang to splash the blood of anybody who will get in Exxon Mobil’s way as they pump out oil for the world market. Mr. Obiang, knowing that money must go to money, returns that money to the states in the form of running it through the Riggs bank. As the Times reports, the Riggs bank has already had a bit of trouble accounting for the mysterious flows of Saudi money through the bank – some of which has no doubt gone jihadist. In the case of the EG money, the bank put an ace named Mr. Kareri in charge of seeing that the blood drenched bucks were treated within the limits of the law. Mr. Kareri had a flexible view of those limits:
“Riggs investigators discovered that Mr. Kareri approached Mr. Obiang's son in Washington last year and solicited money to buy a car, according to three people with direct knowledge of the event. Mr. Obiang's son gave Mr. Kareri an undated, signed $40,000 check with no payee designated, these people said. Mr. Kareri, they said, then altered the check to change its value to $140,000, wrote a friend's name on the payee line, and then maneuvered to have the funds redirected to his wife.”
Read the Times story, and then read the Nation story here by Ken Silverstein – who is, incidentally, the author of a currently much discussed book about private military companies, ie mercenaries.