WASHINGTON - Before he left the government to become a Democratic Party fund-raiser, John Huang told an Indonesian couple to make political donations to gain influence in this country, the couple told Senate investigators.
Acting upon Huang's suggestion, Arief Wiriadinata and his wife, Soraya, told investigators they had $500,000 wired to them from Indonesia and began making donations in late 1995, according to Senate aides, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The money was wired to the couple from Mrs. Wiriadinata's father, Hashim Ning, a business partner of Mochtar Riady, the head of the Indonesian conglomerate Lippo Group that once employed Huang, aides said. Ning has since died.
The couple gave $450,000 to the Democratic National Committee, which said it returned the donations last fall. The donations were all made at Huang's direction from bank accounts that were set up to receive the wire transfers, aides said. The accounts were used virtually exclusively for political donations, they said.
Before Huang left the Commerce Department in late 1995, the couple told investigators they made two $15,000 donations to the DNC at Huang's direction, aides said. Huang's wife, Jane, was listed as the solicitor of the donations in Democratic National Committee records even though the couple had not talked to her about the contributions, aides said.
Huang, a key figure in the campaign-finance investigation, has refused to cooperate with the Senate investigation, saying he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if called to testify. His wife has also refused to cooperate.
The Wiriadinatas were interviewed in Jakarta last August by investigators for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. The contents of their interview was first reported in Monday's editions of The Los Angeles Times.
The couple's attorney, Michael Nemeroff, did not immediately return a reporter's telephone call. But the Times quoted him as saying "It is our position that the funds were Mrs. Wiriadinata's."
The information has not been aired in ongoing Senate hearings on possibly illegal fund-raising from foreign sources. Federal law prohibits anyone who is not a legal U.S. resident from donating to campaigns, and prohibits donors from giving money from others as though it was their own.
The Wiriadinatas were legal U.S. residents living in a Virginia suburb of Washington when they made the donations.
On the recently released White House videotapes of fund-raising events, Arief Wiriadinata is seen shaking hands with President Clinton at a 1996 coffee at the White House. Referring to a son of Riady, he tells Clinton, "James Riady sent me."
"Yes," Clinton replies. "I'm glad to see you."
Wiriadinata, who owned a landscape architecture business in the United States and a computer company in Indonesia, told Senate investigators that all the donations were solicited or recommended by Huang, who promised to arrange business meetings to help him expand his computer business.
That was his motivation for giving money, Wiriadinata said.
The White House and Democratic National Committee have contended that the couple donated out of gratitude because Clinton sent a get-well note to Ning after he suffered a heart attack during a 1995 visit to the United States.
Huang's attorney, Ty Cobb, told the Times that his client "did nothing illegal in connection with the Wiriadinatas' voluntary donations." Huang, he said, didn't directly solicit funds but only referred the couple to the Democratic committee, which was legal.
By The Associated Press
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