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UQ Wire: Harken Energy - Bush’s No Good Trade

Unanswered Questions: Thinking For Ourselves
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Harken Energy - Bush’s No Good Trade

By Tom Flocco*
First Published World Net Daily - Friday February 18 2000

According to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission records, on four separate occasions Gov. George W. Bush disregarded federal statutes by failing to file insider stock trade reports on a timely basis, back-dating one trade by some four months. Moreover, one key trade just a few weeks before Iraq invaded Kuwait -- but reported some eight months late after the Gulf War was over -- netted Bush close to $1 million in profit as he sold stock in Harken Energy, an oil company doing business in the Middle East wherein some of his father's largest contributors also maintained substantial positions.

The SEC under President Bush carried out an incomplete investigation of the younger Bush's pre-Gulf War trade in 1991 after key presidential advisor George Jr. claimed that he filed a report, but that the SEC had most likely lost it. (No one has really asked whether the governor bothered to use registered mail to verify receipt of the documents.)

According to an Oct. 28, 1991, Time Magazine report, SEC spokesman John Heine said, "as far as I know, nobody ever found the 'lost' filing." And, strangely, Bush refused comment to Time regarding either the incident or his involvement with Harken.

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The governor also did not reveal the blatant conflicts of interest involved, since the chairman of the SEC was Richard Breedon, former lawyer with Houston firm Baker and Botts and deputy counsel to Bush's father when he was vice president. Breedon received his SEC appointment after the elder Bush became president.

The SEC investigation of George W. was led by general counsel James R. Doty who, according to a UPI report, mysteriously neglected to interview any of the Harken directors. Moreover, Doty had previously served as George W. Bush's personal lawyer in the deal involving his Texas Rangers purchase. So, in the end, the younger Bush was cleared of insider trade wrongdoing by his personal attorney and by his father's vice-presidential counsel, a virtual impossibility for the average U.S. citizen.

That the mainstream media has refused to question Bush regarding what voters might consider a mockery of the criminal investigative process is a story in and of itself -- especially considering it concerns how a possible future president might enforce U.S. laws if he had also broken those statutes.

Consider that Americans who currently hold stocks or mutual funds would never -- by virtually no stretch of the imagination -- be able to obtain access to corporate insider information that could turn a million dollars profit. But reporters following Bush have not broached the subject during the campaign.

Stocking Up

Most reports involving Bush's insider oil stock trades refer only to his highly controversial June 22, 1990, million dollar trade made six weeks before Gulf War hostilities broke out in Kuwait -- a trade which was reported eight months later. However, SEC documents between 1986 and 1993 show that Bush acquired 212,152 shares of Harken stock on Nov. 1, 1986, at the time he merged his Spectrum 7 company with Harken. But the future governor did not report the transaction until April 7, 1987 -- more than five months later.

When Bush filed late on April 7,1987, SEC filings show he had purchased another 80,000 shares on March 10, 1987. But strangely, two weeks later, an April 22 filing noted that the 80,000-share purchase was backdated to Dec. 10, 1986. When questioned by the media, Bush's attorney said it was the same 80,000 shares but he could not explain the discrepancy regarding the purchase dates or why Bush even reported the trade two times.

Another SEC filing, this from June 6, 1989, showed that Bush purchased another 25,000 shares of Harken but again waited more than four months to report the transaction.

The Houston Post, recognizing Bush's late SEC filings, noted that he "took eight months to notify the government of his sale of stock in a company on whose board he served" and "also missed the filing deadline for reporting other insider trades involving Harken Energy."

Documents obtained by the Post showed "additional instances in which Bush ... ran afoul of the SEC rule requiring notification." And George W. described himself as a "small, insignificant" Harken stockholder; but news reports examining SEC documents identified Bush as the third largest non-institutional investor.

Bush in Bahrain

In October 1991, Time Magazine questioned why the tiny country of Bahrain would stake so much of its financial future on Harken Energy, which it labeled an "obscure, money-losing company with no refineries and no experience in offshore oil exploration." But the magazine also noted that oil-insiders speculated that Bahrain's rulers saw the arrangement as a way to gain influence with the Bush administration.

Mysteriously, primary reporters have also ignored what could point to a nexus regarding foreign policy and personal financial interests. Interestingly, the Village Voice in January 1991 reported that in 1990 the Bush administration signed an agreement with Bahrain that chose the small country as the permanent principal allied base in the Middle East, although it was some 200 miles away from the hostilities in Iraq and Kuwait.

The military-base deal came after Harken announced its Jan. 30, 1990, joint oil-drilling venture with Bahrain. So President Bush's key contributors and his son George W. were carrying on personal financial business with Bahrain at the same time decisions were being made regarding the possibility of a war in the Gulf.

And neither the president nor his adviser, George Jr., let the press know that Bahrain had been permitted to infuse $7.7 million in foreign cash to hire U.S. public relations firm Hill & Knowlton to lobby Congress and the American people; a stunning variety of opinion-forming devices and techniques were employed to inflame U.S. patriotic passions of war while personal financial interests were on the line.

Jumping Ship

On May 21, 1990, less than ten weeks before Saddam Hussein's troops invaded Kuwait to initiate the Middle East hostilities -- but just four weeks before Bush unloaded the bulk of his Harken stock -- a renegotiated corporate loan agreement featured an unusually high interest rate of 12 percent, less credit for acquisitions, a $750,000 debt fee and even requirements by some of Harken's major stockholders to guarantee $22.5 million in debt, according to Associated Press.

Did Bush know of impending losses when he sold his stock on June 22, 1990, since Federal securities law prohibits corporate insiders from trading "on the basis of" material information that is not publicly known? Bush denied the charge in spite of his positions on the Harken Energy board of directors, audit committee and stock restructuring panel. He added that he had no idea Harken was going to get an audit report full of red ink until weeks after he had made his stock sale.

But U.S. News & World Report said, "there is substantial evidence to suggest that Bush knew Harken was in dire straits. ... Harken's SEC filings make it clear that the company's directors knew radical steps were necessary." The magazine added that "one informed source says Harken's creditors had threatened to foreclose on the company if substantial debt payments were not made." Shortly thereafter, Bush cashed out of Harken.

The April 4, 1991,Wall Street Journal added that "Mr. Bush didn't return their phone calls seeking comment, and the Bush White House said 'it doesn't comment on the activities of the president's children.'"

According to the Washington Post, Harken's audit committee, of which Bush was a member, met with Mikel Faulkner and auditors from Arthur Andersen & Co., Harken's accountants, on June 11, 1990 -- just 11 days before Bush sold his stock on June 22. When asked for a copy of the June 11 minutes or permission to inspect them, the company declined to make the records available.

Bush's insider transaction yielding a profit of $848,560 -- some 250 percent profit on the stock's original value -- came a week prior to the end of a quarter in which the company lost $23 million. The quarterly report was released just a few days after Iraq invaded Kuwait and the Harken stock plummeted. However, as reported in a 1992 Mother Jones report, Bush attended a meeting regarding a revised stock offering in May 1990 working with Smith Barney's financial consultants concerning corporate restructuring.

In an Oct. 11, 1994, UPI report, Bush also claimed that he was not aware of Harken's poor financial condition when he sold the stock, but UPI said that the Dallas Morning News reported on the same day that a corporate official who served with Bush on the audit committee at Harken felt otherwise; Stuart Watson told the Dallas paper that he and Bush were constantly made aware of the company's finances. "You bet we were," said Watson. "We were both trying to keep that company on the straight and narrow."

On March 16, 1992, U.S. News echoed Watson's statement, reporting that "according to documents on file with the Securities and Exchange Commission, his position on the Harken (restructuring) committee gave Bush detailed knowledge of the company's deteriorating financial condition."

Firewalls Or Stonewalls?

Chuck McDonald, spokesman for Texas Gov. Ann Richards' campaign, said that SEC chief counsel in the Bush investigation -- James Doty, George W.'s former attorney -- never talked to George W., Watson or other Harken officials in its 1991 probe. He said, "Was this a real investigation, or was it a whitewash of an insider stock sale by the son of the sitting president?" UPI, which reported McDonald's statement, went on to note that "while Bush claims the SEC investigation absolved him of illegal insider trading, he has refused to release the investigation files."

Harken founder, Phil Kendrick, noted that the company's "annual reports and press releases get me totally befuddled. There's been so much promotion, manipulation and inside deal making." And even Harken chief executive Mikel Faulkner, an accountant, offered advice for those trying to decipher the financial statements: "Good luck. They're a mess."

Press accounts note that Bush requested a letter from the SEC, issued in October 1993, The letter, signed by SEC Associate Director Bruce A. Hiler, said that "the investigation has been terminated as to the conduct of Mr. Bush and that, at this time, no enforcement is contemplated with respect to him." But the letter also stated that "it must in no way be construed as indicating that the party has been exonerated or that no action may ultimately result."

On Oct. 18, 1993, the Bush administration SEC said it would not bring a case against George W. Bush.

To The Manner Born: A Princeling Legacy?

Gov. Bush speaks about his outstanding business record on the campaign stump; however, in 1989, U.S. News & World Report said, "Harken Energy lost over $12 million against revenues of $1 billion." Harken President Mikel Faulkner said that in addition to Bush's position as a director at $2,000 per meeting, stock options worth $131,250, 5 percent loans and 40 percent discounts on stock purchases, he was also a consultant to Harken for "investor relations and equity placement" at a salary of $80,000 per year from 1986 until 1989, when his salary jumped to $120,000.

The board was equally generous to Bush in 1990 as "the company lost another $40 million and shareholder equity plunged to $3 million -- down from more than $70 million in 1988." Faulkner declined to say what services George W. has performed as a consultant.

In March 1992, U.S. News said that "Despite repeated requests for interviews, George W. declined to discuss Harken or the reason for his stock sale, saying through an assistant that he 'does not want to read about himself.'" But some might ask whether American voters have a right to know whether a possible president would strictly enforce federal statutes or appoint lenient attorneys with suspect ethical standards leading to fixed politically sensitive investigations.

Moreover, should Bush -- a director of the corporation -- be accountable when huge losses are reported over a period of time, especially as a presidential candidate purporting to have an outstanding entrepreneurial business record at every presidential campaign stop? The answers have real implications regarding presidential character, morality and personal ethics.

Author and commentator Kevin Phillips offered a perceptive look at the Texas governor in the February 2000 issue of Harpers magazine when he said, "We can fairly ask whether George W. Bush is anything more than another scion who has made a decent governor during a period of prosperity and easy growth, and whether the United States can afford nominees who are to presidential politics what legacies are to college fraternities."

(c) Tom Flocco, 2002, Used by permission

* - Tom Flocco is a teacher and free-lance writer who lives in Pennsylvania. His associates, Robin Akers and Mario Calabrese, contributed additional research to this report.

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