PNC Financial Services Group Inc. agreed to pay $5.25 million to settle the last remaining shareholder lawsuit arising out of the money-laundering scandal at Riggs Bank.
Pittsburgh-based PNC bought Riggs in May, assuming financial responsibility for the civil lawsuit filed in November against former Riggs officers and directors. The lawsuit, brought in U.S. District Court in the District by former Riggs shareholders, charged the officers and directors with failing to implement anti-money-laundering procedures, a failure that ultimately led to a felony conviction of Riggs and its sale to PNC.
The payment, if approved by a federal judge, will bring the total amount of civil and criminal fines and settlements paid in the Riggs money-laundering debacle to more than $59 million, including a $25 million regulatory fine in 2004 and $16 million in criminal penalties Riggs paid in January as part of its guilty plea for failing to prevent potential money laundering.
Riggs held as much as $10 million in funds, under aliases and in the accounts of shell companies, for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in the 1990s and helped Pinochet secretly transport the money into Chile in 2000. Chilean prosecutors are investigating the possibility the money was the proceeds of criminal activity in Chile, including bribes for arms deals.
Riggs also acted as the bank for the West African country of Equatorial Guinea and its ruling family, holding about $800 million, including payments from U.S. oil companies operating in the country. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice are investigating those accounts for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the U.S. law barring bribes to foreign officials by U.S. firms.
Equatorial Guinea's Riggs account manager, Simon P. Kareri, and Kareri's wife are in jail awaiting resolution of federal embezzlement and bank fraud charges. They were arrested in May after the FBI alleged they tried to move nearly $1 million in fraud proceeds out of the country.
Under the shareholder settlement, first agreed to in July but formally filed with the court Oct. 7, defendants in the case denied any wrongdoing. The settlement included six defendants: former chief executive and Riggs's largest shareholder, Joe L. Allbritton; his successor as chief executive, his son, Robert; former Riggs executive vice president Robert C. Roane; J. Carter Beese Jr., former Riggs director and a former SEC commissioner; longtime Riggs executive Timothy C. Coughlin; and former Riggs president and longtime Allbritton executive Lawrence I. Hebert.
But it was PNC, which as Riggs's successor indemnified the former directors and officers for legal claims arising out of their work for Riggs, that made the decision to settle the case. According to SEC documents, PNC already had set aside reserves to cover the costs of the settlement before the merger took place. High legal costs, including the settlements and fines, were the key reason Riggs was forced to knock $4 a share off PNC's eventual purchase price for the banking company. PNC paid $20 a share, or about $650 million.
"All of the events at issue took place long before PNC purchased the company," said PNC spokesman Brian E. Goerke, who declined to comment further. In a court filing seeking approval of the settlement, attorneys said PNC and the plaintiffs agreed to settle "to eliminate the burden and expense of further litigation."
"The settlement is a fair and reasonable one," said attorney Herbert E. Milstein of Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll PLLC, which with D.C. firm Finkelstein, Thompson & Loughran was a lead law firm for the plaintiffs.
Milstein said the case had not reached the discovery phase before the parties agreed to the settlement. He and the other plaintiffs' lawyers could collect as much as 30 percent of the settlement amount, the rest going to shareholders who owned Riggs stock from July 15, 2004, to May 13, 2005.