Businessmen use Bush link to win deals

By Stephen Fidler and Thomas Catán
Published: December 11 2003 21:58 | Last Updated: December 11 2003 22:33
 

Two businessmen instrumental in setting up New Bridge Strategies, a well-connected Washington firm designed to help clients win contracts in Iraq, have previously used an association with the younger brother of President George W. Bush to seek business in the Middle East, an FT investigation has found.

John Howland, the company president, and Jamal Daniel, a principal, have maintained an important business relationship with Neil Bush stretching back several years. In Mr Daniel's case, the relationship spans more than a decade, with his French office arranging a trip for Mr Bush's family to Disneyland Paris in 1992, while his father, George H.W.Bush, was president.

On several occasions, the two have attempted to exploit their association with the president's brother to help win business and investors.

Three people contacted by the FT have seen letters written by Neil Bush recommending business ventures promoted by Mr Howland, Mr Daniel and his family in the Middle East. Mr Daniel has also had his photograph taken with the elder Mr Bush. Such letters and photographs can be valuable props when doing business in the Middle East.

Mr Daniel's Houston investment fund, Crest Investment Corporation, employs Neil Bush as co-chairman. Crest Investment also helped fund Neil Bush's Ignite!, an educational software company. Mr Daniel sometimes introduces himself as a founding backer of Mr Bush's company, a Middle-Eastern businessman who has met him said, and has persuaded the families of prominent leaders in the region to invest.

Mr Daniel, Mr Bush and Mr Howland have also been directors of Silvermat, a Swiss company controlled by Crest Investment that supplies the hospitality industry and has had financial and industrial relations problems. Mr Howland is chairman of the company.

Mr Howland, the Houston businessman who heads New Bridge, was accused in a court case in 1997 of misusing company funds, self-dealing and civil conspiracy, while running a company owned by a Saudi businessman. It was alleged more than $12m (?9.9m, £6.9m) went missing from the company while he was in sole charge of its finances. Mr Howland was also being paid by the company's sole supplier, American Rice, with whom he negotiated a "fraudulently induced" contract, it was claimed.

Mr Howland denied the arrangement had been secret and he and American Rice countersued, alleging breach of contract. He said on Thursday: "There was nothing secretive about it at all. It was all public information." He also said he did not know what had happened to a $12m letter of credit that was used up while he was running the Saudi company.

The case, in which Mr Daniel's role also came under question, was settled in 1998 with payments to Mr Jaber understood to have exceeded $3.5m. A lawyer for Mr Howland on Thursday said the suit had been "frivolous" and the claims "unsubstantiated". Mr Bush and Mr Daniel did not respond to interview requests.

New Bridge was established in May and came to public attention because of the Republican heavyweights on its board - most linked to one or other Bush administration or the to family itself. Those include Joe Allbaugh, George W. Bush's presidential campaign manager, and Ed Rogers and Lanny Griffith, former George H.W. Bush aides.

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