Chase Manhattan Bank Chairman David Rockefeller has said he helped persuade U.S. officials to admit the shah of Iran into the country because the former ruler had been a "friend of the United States for 37 years."
Henry A. Kissinger, chairman of Chase's International Advisory Committee and former secretary of state, has given similar reasons for his support for the shah.
Beyond these reasons, however, Chase's commercial ties to the shah and his country long have been a matter of record. And this relationship has been pushed into the limelight by statements from Iranian government officials this week that Rockefeller's efforts on the shah's behalf justified their decision to withdraw funds from U.S. banks.
The outlines of the Chase and Rockefeller relationship with Iran under the shah include:
Chase's former 35 percent interest in the Tehran-based Iran-Chase International Bank which was created in 1974 after Chase's efforts to merge with another local bank failed. Chase's interest in this facility was canceled after the Iranian revolution.
Sizeable deposits of the National Iranian Oil Co. in various Chase facilities. These deposits were reported by sources as having been concentrated in Chase Bank Ltd. of London, the British affiliate. After the revolution, the Iranian central bank took over these deposits and much of these funds are reported to have been transferred to other banks last summer.
Chase International Investment Corp.'s interest in the International Agro-business Corp. of Iran, which was developing 30,000 acres of irrigated land in the province of Khuzistan along with other local and foreign investors.
Housing developments constructed by International Basic Economy, a company created by the Rockefeller family.
More of a mystery than these connections in Chase's role in holding the personal fortune of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi family. Informed sources said yesterday that published reports putting the Pahlavi fortune at between $15 billion and $20 billion are "not in the ballpark."
A Chase spokesman said yesterday that the bank normally does not reveal the identity of its depositors or the amounts they have on deposit.
Asked whether Chase would provide a breakdown of the Pahlavi holding on deposit with Chase or its affiliates and branches in order to put rumors to rest, a spokesman said he would "investigate" the possibility.
Since the departure of the shah, dozens of other members of wealthy families that were associated with him have left Iran. Many of them were partners of U.S. or other foreign mulinational companies based in Iran. It is generally acknowledged that they transferred sizeable amounts of money to bank accounts abroad before and after the revolution, in some cases with the cooperation of the foreign companies in which they were partners.
One source who is acquainted with the shah said yesterday that it was likely the former ruler had spread his overseas funds around a number of different banks, rather than concentrating them in one.
However, some banking sources have said that among banks doing business in Iran, Chase held the largest portion of Iranian deposits.
David Rockefeller has known the shah for 20 years and has made frequent trips to Iran. However, a Chase spokesman said that it was "absurd to suggest there's any connection between Mr. Rockefeller's concern for the shah and [the bank's interest in] his wealth."
In 1973, the shah played a leading role in pushing for a tough stand by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries on higher crude oil prices. At the time, Kissinger was secretary of state. According to columnist Jack Anderson, Kissinger made no effort to urge President Nixon to use U.S. influence with the shah to moderate his stand on oil prices. Kissinger's office here said yesterday that he was not commenting on Iranian matters.
After leaving office, Kissinger took a job with Chase that involves presiding over seminars for top customers of the bank. Pay is estimated at about $30,000 a seminar or $60,000 a year.
According to one source, analysts for Chase had predicted the downfall of the shah due to a combination of religious and political pressures before most of Chase's competitors.
According to John Whitehead, chairman of the New York City consulting firm of Goldman Sachs, Kissinger "alerted us to the dangers [in Iran] long before they happened -- six months before the overthrow." Kissinger also works for that firm, on a part time basis. Whitehead said he believed Kissinger got his information from newspapers.