Investigators check Clifford link to stock windfall


WASHINGTON -- Federal and New York investigators are exploring whether a series of lucrative stock transactions were part of an elaborate scheme to reward Clark M. Clifford and his partner for any help they may have given international money-launderers to illegally acquire a secret share in a Washington banking company the two men head.

Now, after a long career as an unchallenged symbol of rectitude, Clifford, as well as his junior law partner, Robert A. Altman, are at the center of a widening investigation of how a Luxembourg-based bank convicted of money-laundering covertly acquired an interest in Washington's largest banking company.

Clifford is chairman of a holding company, First American Bankshares, which has assets exceeding $11 billion and owns eight banks with nearly 300 offices in Virginia, Maryland, New York, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. Altman is its president.

Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve and the Manhattan district attorney's office acknowledged starting an investigation after having learned that Bank of Credit and Commerce International in Luxembourg had secretly acquired at least 25 percent of First American.

It is illegal to conceal a federally chartered bank's true ownership.

Federal regulators approved the sale of First American to a group of 14 Middle Eastern investors in 1981 after Clifford offered assurances that the Luxembourg bank would have no role in First American.

Clifford said he was gulled by Bank of Credit officials, particularly its chairman, Mohammed Hassan Abedi.

Now, in addition to exploring that secret interest in First American, investigators are examining Bank of Credit's role in the series of recently disclosed stock transactions in which both Clifford and Altman made nearly $10 million in less than two years.

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