The Riady Family - Absent Friends

Mar 17, 2009
*Special to asia!
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On April 19th, 1993, Bill Clinton’s Attorney General Janet Reno ordered the FBI to storm the compound of the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas. Nearly 80 cult members, among them 21 children, were killed, many burnt to death.

Clinton, Reno and the FBI caught a lot of flak from the incident. James Riady, on the other hand, gained much from it.

Riady had befriended Clinton, then Governor of Arkansas, in the 1980s. His Worthen Bank lent millions to Clinton, first to fight the Gennifer Flowers allegations, then to finance his presidential campaign.

Clinton became president in January 1993. By April, James Riady and his henchman, John Huang, had become constant visitors to the White House. They visited Clinton on the day of April 19th, their fifth visit in a week.

On that day, Waco occupied the full attention of the administration. Clinton nevertheless found time to entertain Riady and Huang, and agreed to place Huang in a sensitive job at the Department of Commerce. Riady also recounted how he and Huang were brought into the Situation Room, then on full alert, to follow the raid at Waco.

Situated at the basement of the West Wing, the 5,000-sq-ft Situation Room is the intelligence heart of the White House where successive presidents, starting from John F Kennedy, monitor and cope with crises at home and aboard. It’s run by the National Security Council and off-limits to most visitors.

That Riady was actually allowed into the Room by Clinton was enough to convince many of his close ties with the president. This sent the Riadys’ standing soaring in the eyes of the Indonesian and Chinese governments.

Over the next few years, Riady organised half a dozen meetings between Clinton and high officials of the two countries. In return, Indonesia and China gave the Riadys concessions and helped out whenever their businesses got into trouble, such as the 1995 run on Lippo Bank in Indonesia.

This intimacy between Riady and the Clintons came to an abrupt end when the Chinagate saga came to light. Suddenly the Riadys were no longer welcomed in the White House. And indeed not in many places in the US.

In 2000, Riady was said to have extended an invitation to Clinton to join the Lippo board after his second term expired. Clinton did not acknowledge the invite.

But Riady continued to believe he was close to Bill Clinton. In his up-market Lippo Village mansion, his call sign among his security staff was Rose 2, while that of his father’s was Rose 1. Rose is the Arkansas law firm of which Hilary Clinton was a managing partner and the Riadys her valuable customers.

It took a few more years and two books to convince Riady the Clintons were finished with him. In 2002 Hilary published her autobiography, “Living History”. A year later Bill did the same for “My Life”. There was absolutely no mention of the Riadys who had played such an important part in the couple’s life from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. It was as if the Riadys had not existed at all. To the Clintons, this is probably the case.


lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.


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