Bush Said Friend's Arbusto Investment Was His Own, Not Saudi Money

Friend "Declined To Comment For The Record"

by Jerry Urban
The Houston Chronicle
June 4, 1992


"Federal authorities are investigating the activities of a Houston businessman -- a past investor in companies controlled by a son of President Bush -- who has been accused of illegally representing Saudi interests in the United States.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network -- known as FinCEN -- and the FBI are reviewing accusations that entrepreneur James R. Bath guided money to Houston from Saudi investors who wanted to influence U.S. policy under the Reagan and Bush administrations, sources close to the investigations say. FinCEN, a division of the U.S. Department of Treasury, investigates money laundering. Special agents and analysts from various law enforcement agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Customs Service, are assigned to work with the FinCEN staff.

"The federal review stems in part from court documents obtained through litigation by Bill White, a former real estate business associate of Bath. White contends the documents indicate that the Saudis were using Bath and their huge financial resources to influence U.S. policy.

Such representation by Bath would require that he be registered as a foreign agent with the U.S. Department of Justice. In general, people required by law to be registered are those who represent a foreign entity seeking to influence governmental action or policy. An Annapolis graduate and former Navy fighter pilot, White, 46, claims that Bath and the judicial system, under the veil of national security, have blackballed him professionally and financially because he has refused to keep quiet about what he regards as a conspiracy to secretly funnel Saudi dollars to the United States. White became entangled in a series of lawsuits and countersuits with Bath, who for some six years has prevailed in the courts. White says the legal action has financially devasted him and Venturcorp Inc., the real estate development company in which he and Bath were partners.

"In sworn depositions, Bath said he represented four prominent Saudis as a trustee [one of whom was Saudi Sheik Salem M. Binladen] and that he would use his name on their investments. In return, he said, he would receive a 5 percent interest in their deals. Tax documents and personal financial records show that Bath personally had a 5 percent interest in Arbusto '79 Ltd., and Arbusto '80 Ltd., limited partnerships controlled by George W. Bush, President Bush's eldest son. Arbusto means bush in Spanish. Bath invested $50,000 in the limited partnerships, according to the documents. There is no available evidence to show whether the money came from Saudi interests.

"George W. Bush's company, Bush Exploration Co., general partner in the limited partnerships, went through several mergers, eventually evolving into Harken Energy Corp., a suburban Dallas-based company. Bush, known informally as George Jr., is a shareholder and director of Harken, which has been granted lucrative offshore drilling rights off the coast of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. One of the top shareholders of Harken, a public company, is Saudi businessman Abdullah Taha Bakhsh. Bush said that to his knowledge, Bath 's investment was from personal funds, and no Saudi money was invested in Arbusto . Bath , 55, a former U.S. Air Force pilot, declined to comment for the record. Spokesmen for FinCEN and the FBI also declined to comment."

According to a 1976 trust agreement, drawn shortly after Bush was appointed director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Saudi Sheik Salem M. Binladen appointed Bath as his business representative in Houston. Binladen, along with his brothers, owns Binladen Brothers Construction, one of the largest construction companies in the Middle East. According to White, Bath told him that he had assisted the CIA in a liaison role with Saudi Arabia since 1976.

Bath has previously denied having worked for the CIA. In a sworn deposition, Bath said he was the sole director of Skyway Aircraft Leasing Ltd., a company that a court document shows is owned by Khaled bin Mahfouz. Bin Mahfouz had been a major shareholder in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, a banking empire that has been accused of money laundering and of using Mideast oil money to seek ties to political leaders in several countries. Mahfouz and his family own the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia.

In 1990, Bath bought the Express Auto Park garage at Hobby Airport for $8.4 million, which included a $1.4 million loan provided by Mahfouz, according to transaction documents. Bath received a 5 percent interest in the companies that own and operate Houston Gulf Airport after purchasing it on behalf of Binladen in 1977. After Binladen died in 1988, his interests in the airport were taken over by Mahfouz, according to court documents.


© Copyright 1992

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