Indonesian Couple Break Silence on DNC DonationsBy Alan C. Miller and Glenn F. Bunting
Los Angeles Times
Monday, October 27, 1997; Page A06
Breaking their long silence in the scandal over foreign donations to American political campaigns, an Indonesian couple who gave $450,000 to the Democratic Party have told Senate investigators that the funds came from a wealthy relative in Jakarta, contradicting previous explanations by Democratic officials.
Arief Wiriadinata, disparaged in news accounts as an "Indonesian gardener," and his wife, Soraya, explained during a lengthy interview in Jakarta last June how they made a series of five-figure payments to the Democratic National Committee between November 1995 and July 1996.
The Wiriadinatas' statements, contained in internal Senate documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times, are particularly intriguing because of the couple's ties to other controversial participants in the fund-raising controversy.
Soraya's father, Hashim Ning, was a close business partner of Mochtar Riady, the patriarch of the Indonesian-based conglomerate the Lippo Group and a longtime supporter of President Clinton. Ning wired $500,000 to the Wiriadinatas for the contributions in November 1995, records show.
The couple then began making sizable donations their first ever at the direction of John Huang, a former Lippo executive and then a Commerce Department official, shortly before he moved to a fund-raising job at the DNC.
Huang was aided by James Riady, Mochtar's son, who two months earlier had arranged an Oval Office meeting with Clinton in an effort to help facilitate Huang's hiring as DNC finance vice chairman.
The Riady connection accounts for one of the most compelling moments captured on the recently released videotapes of White House events: Arief Wiriadinata shaking hands with Clinton and confiding: "James Riady sent me."
DNC and White House officials have said the Wiriadinatas gave so lavishly to the Democrats because they were grateful that Clinton sent a get-well note to Ning, who suffered a heart attack during a 1995 visit to the United States.
But Arief Wiriadinata provided a different explanation to Senate Governmental Affairs Committee investigators: All the donations were either solicited or recommended by Huang, who in turn promised to arrange business meetings for Wiriadinata with prominent Asian Americans. Wiriadinata owned a U.S.-based landscape architecture business and a Jakarta-based computer company that he wanted to expand in the United States.
Furthermore, the couple made the initial donations when Huang was still employed by the Commerce Department and legally prohibited from soliciting campaign contributions. Although internal DNC tracking forms show that Jane Huang, John's wife, brought in those funds, the Wiriadinatas told investigators that she never spoke to them about making political donations.
Michael A. Nemeroff, a Washington attorney representing the Wiriadinatas, said, "It is our position that the funds contributed were Mrs. Wiriadinata's." He declined further comment.
Ty Cobb, Huang's attorney, said his client "did nothing illegal in connection with the Wiriadinatas' voluntary donations." He said Huang only referred the couple to the DNC while he worked at the Commerce Department, which he was permitted to do, and did not directly solicit funds.
The Wiriadinatas have loomed over the past year as mysterious figures in the continuing Democratic donations controversy. Their largess attracted attention early last fall, long before the broad dimensions of the campaign fund-raising scandal were known.
The Wiriadinatas, like other foreign-linked donors, retreated overseas, rebuffing questions by investigators and reporters. This silence, also maintained by Democratic fund-raisers such as Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie, Pauline Kanchanalak and the Riadys, has hamstrung congressional and Justice Department inquiries.
That the couple had showered the Democrats with more money than any other individual donors in the last election cycle was one of the few things known about them. Among the unknowns: why they gave, where the money came from and what if anything they received in return before quietly leaving the United States.
And it appeared that questions about the Wiriadinatas and their money would remain unanswered. But the couple finally agreed to speak out not to satisfy investigators but because they were angered by the depiction of Arief Wiriadinata in U.S. news reports as an "Indonesian gardener" who lacked the resources to be such a generous benefactor.
With their interview with two committee investigators and an FBI agent at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Jakarta on June 24, the Wiriadinatas have become the first Riady associates to provide their own version of events that are the focus of ongoing federal and congressional probes.
Arief Wiriadinata said Huang solicited their first donations a pair of $15,000 checks when he was still working as a mid-level administrator at Commerce. A Democratic staff member familiar with the handling of the Wiriadinatas' initial contributions said the party was aware that John Huang had a role in raising the Wiriadinata donations.
The Commerce Department's inspector general and congressional investigators are reviewing Huang's government work for possible violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from soliciting campaign contributions.
The Democrats returned the Wiriadinatas' donations last November after learning that the couple had failed to file 1995 U.S. income tax returns and had failed to come back to the United States as they had promised.
Their contributions represented more than a quarter of the $1.6 million raised by Huang during the 10 months after he left the Commerce Department and became a party fund-raiser. That money was sent back to contributors because it was illegal or improper or otherwise suspect.
Democratic National Committee spokesman Steve Langdon declined to comment on information provided by the Wiriadinatas to Senate investigators.
Thus far, the Senate committee has elected not to reveal the Wiriadinatas' interview in its hearings, but the Times obtained a four-page memo that summarizes the couple's account. The Wiriadinatas were not put under oath and said they deliberately did not inform their U.S. attorney of the session.
Arief Wiriadinata, now a manager of Sea World of Jakarta, a marine park owned by the Lippo Group, told investigators he was in frequent contact with James Riady.
The Riadys, billionaire owners of real estate, banking and insurance interests from Indonesia to China to Los Angeles, were the Wiriadinatas' link to the heady, high-priced world of campaign finance. Ning, the head of various Indonesian companies, was at one time a 50 percent owner of Lippo Bank in Jakarta. When he became seriously ill in Indonesia in 1995, the Riadys flew him to Australia for medical care on their private plane.
Arief Wiriadinata said he had discussed the uproar over the Indonesians' role in the U.S. election campaign with James Riady only to the extent that they once asked each other at a social event: Can you believe what's happening over there?
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