For months, I have been investigating the strange financial links between the Carter crowd and the Arabs. All the while, the guardians of President Carter's assets, Charles Kirbo and Robert Lipshutz, have been sitting like stuffed owls on the Carter ledgers.
Kirbo has simply refused to take repeated telephone calls from my reporter Peter Peckarsky. Lipshutz answered the telephone at first but gave evasive answers. Once he slammed down the phone.
Now out of Atlanta has come a lawyerly letter from the pair, professing indignation over my reports and offering a page of obfuscation in response. The letter has the whiff of whitewash common to political documents that are intended more to conceal than to clarify.
I reported that the president had accepted favorable loan treatment from a bank controlled by a Saudi Arabian businessman, Ghaith Pharaon, whose father advises the Saudi king on how to deal with Washington.
Kirbo and Lipshutz now respond by asserting what no one disputes, least of all myself. Their letter professes, as if I had reported something different, what I had been careful to point out: That Carter became indebted to the National Bank of Georgia before he became president and before the Saudi Arabian acquired his stock in the bank. b
I agree completly with Kirbo and Lipshutz that the Saudis had no interest in this obscure bank until Carter had become president. But here are some other points the Atlanta lawyers omitted from their letter:
That the Saudis had learned the Carter peanut business was one of the bank's biggest borrowers; that the Saudis were also aware President Carter wanted to save his buddy, Bert Lance, from financial ruin; that Pharaon then purchased Lance's stock in the bank for about double its worth; that Pharaon consulted his father in the Saudi palace before making the purchase; that it was a questionable investment in a bank which was losing money and paying no dividends; that the bank renegotiated the Carter loan shortly after coming under Saudi control; and that the new repayment terms were favorable to the president.
Of all the banks in America, why would the Saudis want to acquire the National Bank of Georgia? Kirbo and Lipshutz ignore the question, but I have a possible explanation.
The Saudis have made no secret of their belief that the real source of Jewish influence in Washington is a financial hold on the politicians who wield the power. It follows that the Saudis, old hands at the politics of bribery and manipulation, would seek to use their petrodollars to gain a similar hold on the purse strings of the powerful.
The Kirbo-Lipshutz letter also disputes my claim that the Carter family in 1978 got a $60,000 break on their loan from the now Saudi-controlled bank. Declares the letter: "The Carter business got no 'break' for $60,000 or even $1."
In fact, the family peanut works lost about $500,000 in 1977 and would up the year insolvent, with $93,058.49 more in liabilities than assets. This caused a strain on the president's finances, since he was the only member of the family with the resources to make the payments on a construction loan.
These were the circumstances when the Saudi-controlled bank reduced the principal repayment in 1978 from $168,000. After taking into account the extra interest, this amounts to a break of $80,000. To be as fair as possible, I used an even lower figure in my earlier reports.
Finally, the president's trustees wind up their letter with a paragraph of nitpicking. They write: "the public records of Sumter County, Ga., have shown -- for anyone who really wants facts -- that the loan of NBG to Carter's Warehouse was paid in full and satisfied in early March, 1980. The same public records show that the colateral previously given to NBG now is held by Trust Company Bank of Atlanta."
My first report on the Carter-Saudi financial ties, it's true, noted that the county records showed the loan still outstanding but quoted the bank president as saying it had been paid off.
Both Kirbo and Lipshutz, meanwhile, had refused to provide the information that they now volunteer on the status of the loan. I subsequently learned, and immediately reported, that the loan had been transferred to the Trust Company Bank of Atlanta.