Watchdogs at Work

From Holden:

The Washington Post, as it has done before, manages to write an entire story about Riggs Bank copping a guilty plea to laundering money for Agusto Pinochet without mentioning the fact that President Wigglebutt’s uncle Johnathan J. Bush is a former Riggs executive, or that Joseph L. Albritton is an old Bush family friend and fundraiser.

Riggs Bank has agreed to plead guilty to a federal criminal charge and pay a $16 million fine to settle an investigation of money laundering at the D.C. bank, according to sources close to the matter.

The bank, which has been controlled by the family of Joe L. Albritton since 1981, has been under intense scrutiny for its handling of international and embassy clients for more than a year. In April, it agreed to pay a $25 million civil penalty as part of an agreement with federal bank regulators stemming from its handling of accounts held by diplomats and officials of the governments of Saudi Arabia and Equatorial Guinea.


The guilty plea, which was reported this morning in the Wall Street Journal, is a rare one for a commercial bank. In recent cases of money laundering settlements with the Justice Department, banks have agreed to what is known as a deferred prosecution. That means the bank pays a fine, but does not technically plead guilty — agreeing instead to certain facts that could result in a prosecution during a period of one or more years.

The relatively small size of the fine also surprised some observers. AmSouth Bank of Alabama paid a $40 million penalty as part of its deferred prosecution agreement on similar charges last fall.


Spokesmen for Riggs and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington declined to comment. But sources said Riggs will plead guilty to one count of failing to file suspicious activity reports, required when banks become aware of potentially criminal activity involving their customers. The failure to file the report is the most basic violation of law in such cases, and the most easy to prove, say lawyers and regulators familiar with such cases.

In July, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations detailed Riggs’s longstanding ties to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. In that inquiry, and subsequent investigations by Riggs’s own staff, the bank was found to have conducted suspicious transactions involving Pinochet, members of his family and other Chilean military officers.

The plea agreement will detail several transactions involving Equatorial Guinea and Pinochet that should have triggered suspicious activity reports.