In 1974, examiners for the comptroller of the currency issued stern warnings to private banks that they should reduce or end their loans to Italy because of that country.
At approximately the same time, however, the comptroller's office declined to designate the troubled Indonesian state oil company as a high risk recipient of the private money even though it had information that the conglomerate was facing possible defaults.
The role of the U.S. government in the tangled Pertamina affair was the subject of hearings last week by the Foreign Economic Policy Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
From 1972 on, it was testified, the State Department and the U.S. embassy in Jakarta repeatedly warned large American banks of the oil company's borrowing activities, but the banks kept loaning anyway.
Deputy Asssistant Secretary of State Erland Heginbotham said yesterday that the State Department also had advised the Federal Reserve Board and the Office of the Comptroller in the Treasury Department of the situation in regard to the oil conglomerate.
Starting in 1975, when several private banks threatened to call a default against Pertamina that could have collapsed the company's financial structure, the Indonesian government agreed to pay off the debts.
Heginbotham said he believed that several individual bank loans to Pertamina may have been classified as risky either by the comptroller or by the Federal Reserve Board. But he said that at no time, to his knowledge, did the Comptroller's office issue a broad warning on Pertamina, as it did in 1974 with Italy.
In the summer of 1974, a special system was established at the comptroller's office to classify private bank loans to foreign governments or their agencies.
A committee of three banks examiners from major money markets and two officials from Washington set up four classifications of risky loans, "doubtful" loans, and "loss."
The variation in the comptroller's handling of the Italian and Indonesian situations was evident in 1974 and 1975 in the case of the Republic National Bank of Dallas, which had loans outstanding to both.
In May, 1974, the comptroller's office classified the Dallas bank's $45 million loan to Italy as risky and suggested to it and other American banks that exposure to the financially troubeled European country be limited. Subsequently, Republic got that loan off its books.
The following year, the Republic National Bank failed to receive a payment due from Pertamina on a $40 miilion loan. The Central Bank of Indonesia subsequently promised the Dallas institution that it would see to it that Pertamina's payments were met.
There was no indication, however, that the comptroller ever declared the loans to Pertamina as risky.
Tim Sullivan, an official of the comptroller's international division, said yesterday the office never commented on policy toward individual countries. He said, however, that Indonesia and Italy had sharply different economic situations, with the former having substantial oil and natural resources as well as access to foreign aid while Italy was an industralized country with a dense population and large import bills.