Despite criticism of its loans to South Africa by human rights groups and D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, Riggs National Bank has no intention of changing its lending practices, according to board Chairman Vincent C. Burke Jr.
"It just so happens we have made no (loan) commitments in South Africa in three years," Burke said in an interview this week. "But it doesn't indicate in any way, shape or form that we have or will change our lending policies."
The D.C. Bank Campaign, a coalition of human rights groups trying to get individuals and organizations to withdraw their savings from Riggs because of its loans to South Africa and Chile, says Riggs documents show that as recently as Jan. 31, 1978, the bank had six outstanding loans to the South African government or private concerns there that totaled $5.4 million.
Burke refused to say how many loans Riggs currently has in South Africa or the total value. Barry said that Riggs Vice President Carter H. Dove, who accompanied the mayor on his recent five-nation trip to Africa, informed him that the bank currently is owed about $400,000 by South African interests.
When he returned two weeks ago, Barry was highly critical of American businesses that have invested in South Africa, whose apartheid system of racial separation is anathema to Barry and most blacks.
"It is clear that American businesses shouldn't be there," the mayor said.
Burke said he did not construe the mayor's remarks as being critical of Riggs. The board chairman said that Riggs will continue to make loans on a nondiscriminatory basis with the only guideline being whether the bank expects the borrower to repay the loan.
Ted Lockwood, executive director of the Washington Office on Africa and head of the D.C. Bank Campaign, said that savers have withdrawn $65,000 from Riggs in the first two months of the effort. Burke said the amount was "quite a bit less," but wouldn't say exactly how much.
About $125 million in savings has been withdrawn from U.S. banks and $2 million from Canadian banks doing business with South Africa in the last two years, according to Dumisani Kumalo, coordinator of the National Bank Campaign.
A recent United Nations report said that more than $5.4 billion has been lent to South Africa or groups there by financial institutions throughout the world from 1972 to 1978, with most of the money coming from West Germany, the United States, Great Britain, France and Switzerland.
According to documents obtained by the D.C. Bank Campaign and shown to The Washington Post, Riggs from late 1973 to early 1978 had made loans totalling $7.5 million to South Africa or private interests there.
The loans include $1 million each to the Iron and Steel Corp. and the Electricity Supply Commission, both state-owned groups, $1 million and $2.5 million to the South African government, and $1 million each to South African Breweries and the Standard Bank of South Africa, according to the document.
The records show that all but the Iron and Steel and Electricity Supply loans should be paid off by now, assuming that payments were made on time.
Barry was criticized by several black groups for including a representative of Riggs on his trip to Senegal, Liberia, Kenya, Zambia and Tanzania. But the mayor defended the inclusion of Dove because he said he discussed economic development with African leaders and thought the inclusion of a businessman helped.