Former Investigator Assails Thornburgh On Handling Of Bcci

Posted: October 24, 1991

The U.S. Senate race took a potentially explosive turn yesterday when the investigator often credited with breaking the huge BCCI scandal accused Republican candidate Dick Thornburgh of failing for years to investigate leads about the bank when he was attorney general.

"I think that the record here is very clear that the attorney general was managing a Justice Department that was more interested in not investigating and not pursuing than it was in following every lead and bringing the guilty parties to justice," said Jack Blum, a former Senate investigator who worked on the BCCI investigation for two years, beginning in 1987.

In addition, Blum said, Thornburgh is lying in a new campaign ad in which he links Sen. Harris Wofford, his Democratic opponent, to the scandal because Wofford has received a $2,000 contribution from a lawyer whose firm represented BCCI.

"When I first heard that there was a commercial that suggested that Sen. Wofford somehow was involved in this, I thought they'd been filming for Saturday Night Live," said Blum, who appeared in the state at Wofford's request. "I think the record is very clear and I'm astonished at that kind of commercial."

The 30-second commercial that first aired Monday, says "Thornburgh's Justice Department is the only agency in the world to successfully prosecute BCCI, the scandal-ridden bank. Wofford took a contribution from the law firm that represented BCCI."

The ad starts by saying: "Harris Wofford has decided that the only way to beat Dick Thornburgh is to attack his integrity." It concludes: "Be careful of Mr. Wofford, he'll say anything to get elected."

The law firm in question is the Washington partnership of Clark Clifford and Paul Warnke. Clifford, a former defense secretary, was chairman of First American Bankshares, which was secretly purchased by BCCI. He also served as BCCI's attorney.

Warnke, a former chief U.S. disarmament negotiator, is a longtime friend of Wofford's who contributed $2,000 as an individual to his campaign.

Thornburgh, in an angry response yesterday, branded Blum's comments a ''media stunt."

"The difference between Harris Wofford and Dick Thornburgh is that I prosecuted and convicted BCCI while Harris Wofford took money from their law firm," he said. "Harris Wofford could learn more about BCCI from his own campaign contributors, the law firm representing BCCI, than from Jack Blum."

Thornburgh said his Justice Department obtained guilty pleas from six BCCI executives, and $15 million in fines against the bank, in 1990. In addition, he said, the Justice Department investigation is continuing.

Last summer, a New York grand jury accused the Bank of Credit & Commerce International and its two top executives of international fraud and theft of more than $30 million. The Federal Reserve has accused BCCI of using Middle Eastern front men to purchase two U.S. banks, despite prohibitions by the Federal Reserve. BCCI was founded by Pakistanis, owned by Arabs and chartered in Luxembourg.

Blum, who was introduced by Wofford at a news conference at Philadelphia International Airport, said that to suggest that campaign contributions from Warnke somehow implicated Wofford in BCCI is "preposterous" and "beyond absurd."

"We're talking about a political system where, if you have enough money, no matter how bad your public record, no matter how bad the government you've been in is, you simply buy TV time to lie," Blum said.

"The effect of that television commercial is a lie," he said. "To accuse him (Wofford) of somehow being involved in a coverup is a flat lie. And somebody's got to tag him for it and say it's a lie."

Thornburgh spokesman Dan Eramian said, "I don't think the ad says the senator is involved with BCCI. The ad doesn't accuse him of being involved in a coverup. It says he's taken money from BCCI's lawyers. (Warnke) is a senior partner in the firm."

Blum said he had not seen the Thornburgh TV spot. He learned of its contents from the Wofford campaign, he said. He is a registered Democrat, he told reporters, but noted that as a private lawyer he once represented Pennsylvania in a case involving oil companies under former State Attorney General LeRoy Zimmerman, a Republican.

He said he turned over evidence on BCCI to the Justice Department in "a nonpartisan manner."

He said he never discussed BCCI directly with Thornburgh, but with several of the former attorney general's subordinates. "He knows about it," Blum said.

Blum said that the Justice Department failed for years to investigate evidence against BCCI presented by himself and others. He said that the department finally prosecuted several "low-level" bank employees, but that it failed to go after those at the top.

Blum, now an attorney in private practice in Washington, said the Justice Department, under Thornburgh, "did not follow up on repeated leads and information given to it at a variety of levels.

"I can't explain what Dick Thornburgh did or didn't do," Blum said. ''There's obviously a terrible failure of management or a terrible corruption problem. And I don't know which it is, but I think it's the kind of thing that everyone should be thinking about."

Blum said that information on BCCI was first made available to the Justice Department in 1983 but that evidence snowballed during Thornburgh's three- year tenure.

"If he says, 'I did everything I could do, we're the tough guys,' he's wrong," Blum said of Thornburgh. "My line is, if he's Eliot Ness, I'm Kevin Costner."

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