Sunday, December 27, 2009
Disgrace - La Trobe Uni laurels ignore Indonesian James Riyadi’s criminal record
Award 'for philanthropic activities'
LA TROBE University has awarded an honorary doctorate to a controversial Indonesian tycoon convicted for making illegal donations to support former US president Bill Clinton's political campaigns. The university bestowed the honorary doctorate of letters on James Riady in September 2007 after he made donations to the university and its overseas partners totalling $800,000. La Trobe's decision has been criticised by the National Tertiary Education Union.
"Honorary degrees are for people who have made outstanding contributions. They should not be for sale to the biggest donor, particularly those with questionable backgrounds or convictions," said the union's La Trobe branch president, Virginia Mansel-Lees.
Riady has also pledged $3.5 million to a scientific facility at La Trobe. The university has yet to receive that money, but a spokesman said a $500,000 instalment was expected next month. Riady has used La Trobe's academic honour to rebuild his image over the past two years following his criminal conviction and record $US8.6 million fine for violating America's campaign finance laws in the 1990s.
A La Trobe spokesman said Riady's academic honours recognised his "considerable support for education and his philanthropic activities". His financial contributions had nothing to do with the doctorate. As the head of Indonesia's powerful Lippo Group of banking and property companies,Riady has built several schools and a university in South-East Asia in recent years.
A controversial figure and publisher of the Jakarta Globe newspaper, Riady has been in the news in Indonesia recently after one of his senior media executives, Billy Sindoro, was filmed last year handing bribes to officials of Indonesia's anti-monopoly agency, the KPPU. Sindoro was later found guilty of corruption. In the 1990s, Riady was a key figure in one of the biggest scandals of Clinton'spresidency, when it emerged his companies had given more than $US1 million to Democratic Party and Clinton campaign funds in breach of US laws that ban foreign political donations.
Riady pleaded guilty in 2001 to a felony charge and a further 86 misdemeanour charges associated with the donations made by his company Lippo Bank, according to the US Justice Department. Riady and Lippo Bank paid a $US8.61 million fine after investigators found he was reimbursing Democrat donors with foreign funds.
A close friend since Clinton's term as Arkansas governor in the 1980s, Riady made 20 visits to the White House during the Clinton presidency.
John Huang, a friend of Riady's and a former employee of Lippo Bank, was also convicted of violating the US campaign finance laws by raising money for the Democrats through shell companies reimbursed with funds from Lippo's Jakarta headquarters. Huang entered the White House more than 70 times during the Clinton presidency and in 1993 was appointed assistant deputy secretary of the US Commerce Department. Clinton came under fierce attack for his dealings with Riady and Huang, particularly as concerns emerged about their alleged links to China. A 1998 unclassified final draft of a report by a US Senate committee found Riady and his father, billionaire businessman Mochtar Riady, had "had a long-term relationship with a Chinese intelligence agency".
Riady rejected the Senate committee's finding. Huang denied any improper activity in his dealings with the Clintons. Asked if La Trobe was aware of Riady's conviction for violating US campaign finance laws, the university's spokesman said La Trobe was
"aware of his background". By RICHARD BAKER The AGE