With a large charitable donation in hand, Indonesian businessman Mochtar Riady flew to Little Rock to dine with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at a 1993 gala honoring her as an “Arkansan of the Year” at a time his company, a multibillion dollar banking conglomerate, was seeking an end to a 30-year trade embargo with Vietnam.
Five days after the March 4, 1993, dinner at the Excelsior Hotel, Mr. Riady took the embargo question directly to President Clinton, saying in a four-page letter that its demise would bring political reforms in that communist country.
By that time, Mr. Riady’s banking conglomerate, the $12 billion Indonesia-based Lippo Group, its subsidiaries and its employees, including his son James and executive John Huang had funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mr. Clinton’s 1992 presidential race and had guaranteed a $3 million last-minute loan to a cash-short Clinton campaign just before the crucial New York primary in 1992.
Within six months of the dinner, the Lippo firm opened its first offices in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and a further five months later Mr. Clinton signed an executive order lifting the embargo, which had been in effect since 1964.
The close proximity of Mrs. Clinton’s contact and Mr. Riady’s Little Rock donation to his efforts to lobby for an end to the embargo were never disclosed at the time and only became public with the release last week of 11,046 pages of Mrs. Clinton’s White House activity calendars.
The calendars, released in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit by Judicial Watch, a Washington-based watchdog group, show that Mr. Riady and his wife were among nine people who sat with Mrs. Clinton at the head table. His name is listed next to the notation, “**giving large donation**.”
Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign, in response to questions by The Washington Times, said only that Mr. Riady had flown to Little Rock to see Mrs. Clinton receive the award, presented by the March of Dimes, and donated $50,000 to the charity “on the spot.”
The campaign declined to answer questions on whether Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Riady discussed lifting the embargo during the dinner or at any other time.
LippoBank California, a state-chartered bank affiliated with the Lippo Group, pleaded guilty in 2001 to 86 misdemeanor counts charging that its agents made illegal foreign campaign contributions to Democrats from 1988 through 1994.
James Riady paid a record $8.6 million in criminal fines in 2001 and also pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to defraud the U.S. by unlawfully reimbursing campaign donors with foreign corporate funds in violation of federal election law.
Mr. Huang pleaded guilty in 1999 to a felony charge of conspiring with other Lippo employees to make campaign contributions and reimburse employees with corporate funds or money from Indonesia. He was sentenced to one year probation and fined $10,000.
Federal prosecutors said that during the 1992 presidential campaign, political donations by U.S.-based Lippo companies and employees were reimbursed by wire transfers and cash from foreign sources through a fictitious $780,000 “bonus” paid by the firm to Mr. Huang.
They said Lippo officials sought access, meetings and time with elected leaders and other high-level government officers; contacts and status with business and government leaders in the United States and abroad; and “government policies” that would benefit the firm. One of those policies, prosecutors said, was a normalization of trade relations with Vietnam.
Justice Department and House committee records also show that Mr. Huang played a critical role in seeking an end to the Vietnam trade embargo. He quit his $120,000-a-year job at Lippo in December 1993 to accept a job offered by Mr. Clinton as deputy assistant secretary for international economic affairs at the Commerce Department, at $60,000 annually, where he aggressively argued for a new U.S. trade policy toward Vietnam.
Mr. Huang resigned from Commerce in December 1995 to join the Democratic National Committee as a fundraiser, after Mr. Clinton had made inquiries on his behalf. The DNC returned $1.6 million of the more than $3 million he raised because the contributions were either illegal or suspicious.