Riggs Bank

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Riggs National Corporation
Founded1836; 187 years ago (1836)
FounderWilliam Wilson Corcoran
DefunctMay 13, 2005; 18 years ago (2005-05-13)
FateAcquired by PNC Financial Services
HeadquartersWashington, D.C., U.S.
Key people
Anthony P. Terracciano, Chairman
Steven T. Tamburo, CFO
Total assets$6.008 billion (2004)
Total equity$0.317 billion (2004)
Number of employees
1,307 (2004)
Footnotes / references
Former Riggs Bank building, now the Riggs Washington DC Hotel.

Riggs Bank was a bank headquartered in Washington, D.C. For most of its history, it was the largest bank headquartered in that city. On May 13, 2005, after the exposure of several money laundering scandals, the bank was acquired by PNC Financial Services.

The bank was known for handling the personal financial affairs of many U.S. Presidents and many embassies in Washington, D.C. Twenty-three U.S. Presidents or their families banked at Riggs, including Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Richard Nixon. Accounts were also held by Senators Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and Daniel Webster, Confederate president Jefferson Davis, American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, suffragist Susan B. Anthony, and generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Douglas MacArthur.

The bank billed itself as "the most important bank in the most important city in the world".[2] Its DC headquarters were pictured on the back of an old ten dollar bill.[3]

The bank was investigated for several money laundering scandals, including going to great lengths to allow former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to hide his fortune after his accounts were subjected to asset freezing and for unknowingly allowing the hijackers involved in the September 11 attacks to transfer money due to lax controls at the bank.


In 1836, William Wilson Corcoran opened a small brokerage house.[4] In 1840, Corcoran and George Washington Riggs, the son of Elisha Riggs, a neighbor, formed "Corcoran & Riggs", which offered checking and depositing services.[5]

In 1844, the U.S. government allowed Corcoran & Riggs to be the only federal depository in Washington, significantly increasing business.[5]

In 1845, Corcoran & Riggs financed Samuel Morse's invention of the telegraph and moved into a new headquarters at 1503–1505 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, directly across the street from the United States Department of the Treasury.[5]

In 1847, the bank lent $16 million to the U.S. government to pay for the Mexican–American War.[6]

In 1854, Corcoran retired and George Washington Riggs re-assumed leadership. The bank changed its name to "Riggs & Company".[5]

In 1868, the bank provided $7.2 million in gold towards the purchase of Alaska.[6]

In the 1860s, the bank financed Robert Peary's first expedition to the North Pole and the expansion of the United States Capitol.[5]

In 1881, George Washington Riggs died.[5]

In 1891, the new Riggs Bank building in Washington was opened, built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style.[7]

In 1896, after accepting a government charter, "Riggs National Bank" was formed and Charles C. Glover was named president. In 1898, Lawrason Riggs resigned from the board of directors, ending the involvement of the Riggs family in the bank.[5]

In 1909, the president of the bank presented to the United States Congress an economic plan that resulted in the establishment of the Federal Reserve in 1913.

During World War I, the bank participated in a Liberty bond drive. In the 1920s, the bank established a new savings deposit system as a result of the large deposit boom. During the Great Depression, Riggs director Robert V. Fleming acted as adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.[5]

In 1922, the bank acquired Hamilton Savings Bank and opened a branch in Dupont Circle.[5] The bank also constructed the Riggs-Tompkins Building, which was at the time the largest building in Columbia Heights.

In 1925, it acquired Northwest National Bank, in 1928, it acquired Farmers and Mechanics National Bank, which included William Marbury on its board of directors. In 1933, Riggs acquired a portion of the assets of Chevy Chase Savings Bank.[6]

Beginning in the early 20th century, the bank embarked on a successful project to attract embassies and diplomats as customers and by 1950 most embassies in Washington were customers of the bank.[5]

In the 1950s, the bank opened an office at Walter Reed Hospital.[5]

In 1954, Riggs acquired Washington Loan and Trust and in 1958, it acquired Lincoln National Bank.[5]

In 1981, Joe Allbritton acquired a controlling interest in the bank and became chairman.[5][8][9]

In 1983, as a result of the change in control, several executives, including chairman Vincent C. Burke, resigned.[10]

In 1986, the bank expanded into Northern Virginia with the acquisition of Guaranty Bank and Trust Company for $37.8 million.[11]

In 1990, the bank acquired The Bank of Washington.[5][12]

In 1993, Joe Allbritton resigned as chief executive officer of the bank after it suffered during the savings and loan crisis.[13]

On May 13, 2005, after the exposure of several money laundering scandals, the bank was acquired by PNC Financial Services.[14][15][16]


Saudi money transfers before the September 11 attacks[edit]

In 2000, Omar al-Bayoumi opened bank accounts for two of the hijackers involved with the September 11 attacks. Shortly thereafter, Al-Bayoumi's wife received payments totaling tens of thousands of dollars from Princess Haifa bint Faisal, the wife of Saudi Arabian ambassador Bandar bin Sultan through a Riggs bank account.[17][18]

Upon discovery of these transactions, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began investigating the bank for possible money laundering and terrorist financing. Although the FBI and later the 9/11 Commission ultimately stated that the money was not intentionally being routed to fund terrorists, investigators were surprised at the lax safeguards at the bank. Several Saudi accounts were discovered to have financial improprieties, including a lack of required background checks. Regulators were not alerted to large transactions, in violation of federal banking laws.[19]

Many of these transactions involved Prince Bandar personally, often transferring over $1 million at a time. According to British investigations on the Al-Yamamah arms deal, Bandar received over $1.5 billion in bribery from BAE Systems, laundered through Riggs Bank.[20]

Hiding the fortune of Augusto Pinochet[edit]

Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile, was widely accused of corruption, illegal arms sales, and torture. In 1994, Riggs officials invited Pinochet to open an account at the bank. In 1998, Pinochet was arrested in the United Kingdom for possible extradition to Spain, and his accounts were subjected to asset freezing by court orders. By using a shell company and hiding accounts from federal regulators, Riggs illegally allowed Pinochet to hide and retain access to much of his fortune.[21]

Regulators were also found to be negligent in holding the bank accountable. The bank examiner from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency tasked with investigating Riggs in 2002, R. Ashley Lee, was later given an executive position at Riggs. In 2004, Lee was placed on paid leave by the bank pending a United States Department of Justice investigation on whether he violated government ethics rules.[22]

The disclosure of the Riggs accounts reignited the case against General Pinochet. A ruling that he was not mentally competent to stand trial was overturned when it was proven that the general himself had orchestrated some of the huge transactions. In 2004, Pinochet was ordered to stand trial for crimes against humanity, and additional claims of mental and physical incompetence were overruled. However, Pinochet died in December 2006 before being judged. In September 2007, Pinochet's widow and five children were indicted by a Chilean court on charges including embezzlement.[23]

In January 2005, the bank pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $16 million in fines for helping Pinochet.[24][25] The bank and the Albritton family, which controlled the bank, agreed to pay $9 million to victims of the regime of Pinochet.[26][27] The bank also paid $8 million to settle the legal case in Spain.[28]

Embezzlement of oil revenues from Equatorial Guinea[edit]

In July 2004, the United States Senate published a report that showed that at least $35 million was siphoned off by Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the long-time dictator of Equatorial Guinea, from the account held by the Embassy of Equatorial Guinea in Washington, D.C., at Riggs.[29][30]

Simon P. Kareri, the Riggs employee in charge of the Equatorial Guinea and other accounts, was accused of money-laundering in separate charges. As the account manager, he allegedly established a fake holding company in his wife's name, and diverted funds into this account. In a hearing by the United States Senate Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Kareri, under advisement from legal counsel, refused to answer any questions of the panel by invoking his rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[29][31]

In May 2004, the bank was fined $25 million by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network for violations of money-laundering laws.[32][33][34]

A long running Justice Department investigation was wrapped up quickly in February 2005 with Riggs pleading guilty and paying a $16 million fine for violations of the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act after a Wall Street Journal article reported December 31, 2004, that Riggs had extensive ties to the CIA, including that several bank officials held security clearances. Also in February 2005, the bank and Albritton family agreed to pay $9 million to Pinochet victims for concealing and illegally facilitating movement of Pinochet money out of Britain.[35] No similar payment has been made with regard to Equatorial Guinea, as reported in this weekly Anti-Money Laundering Report from the Fair Finance Watch. The abuses at Riggs led Congress to consider forming a single agency with greater authority to enforce money laundering and currency control laws. Daniel E. Stipano, deputy chief counsel for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, said, "What happened with Riggs is unacceptable. It cannot be repeated."[36] Riggs admitted criminal liability for failing to prevent money laundering.[37]

Acquisition by PNC[edit]

In the wake of the money laundering scandals, members of the Albritton family resigned from the bank board. On February 10, 2005, PNC Financial Services agreed to acquire Riggs,[38] and the merger was completed on May 13, 2005.[39] The Riggs name was retired and all Riggs branches became PNC Bank branches three days later.[40] Soon after the merger's completion, PNC phased out the scandal-plagued embassy business.[38]


  1. ^ "Riggs National Corporation 2004 Form 10-K Annual Report". U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
  2. ^ O'Brien, Timothy L. (2004-07-19). "At Riggs Bank, A Tangled Path Led to Scandal". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-11-29.
  3. ^ "Riggs Bank Was "The Bank of Presidents"". Architect of the Capital. Retrieved 2022-11-29.
  4. ^ Ryscavage, Paul (August 25, 2017). The Riggs War, 1913 to 1916: Reform and Revenge. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781683930778.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "INVENTORY OF THE PNC-RIGGS BANK RECORDS, 1809–2004 COLLECTION NUMBER MS2213". George Washington University.
  6. ^ a b c Sidel, Robin; Simpson, Glenn R. (July 19, 2004). "PNC's Acquisition of Riggs Bank Is Expected to Get Easy Approval". The Wall Street Journal.(subscription required)
  7. ^ "Welcome to Riggs Washington DC". Lore Group. Retrieved 2020-05-28.
  8. ^ WAYNE, LESLIE (February 10, 1981). "ALLBRITTON BIDS FOR RIGGS BANK". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Hamilton, Martha M. (April 12, 1981). "Allbritton Era Comes to Riggs". The Washington Post.
  10. ^ Cuff, Daniel F. (January 12, 1983). "RIGGS BANK CHAIRMAN LEAVES TO PRACTICE LAW". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Warren Walsh, Sharon (June 12, 1986). "Riggs to Buy Guaranty B&T". The Washington Post.
  12. ^ Knight, Jerry (January 13, 1992). "TOUGH TIMES RENEW BANKS' URGE TO MERGE". The Washington Post.
  13. ^ Powers, William F. (February 10, 1993). "ALLBRITTON TO STEP DOWN AS CEO OF RIGGS BANK". The Washington Post.
  14. ^ "PNC Reaches Revised Deal to Buy Riggs Bank". The New York Times. February 10, 2005.(subscription required)
  15. ^ O'Hara, Terence (May 14, 2005). "For Riggs Customers, An Uneven Transaction". The Washington Post.
  16. ^ Gordon, Marcy (May 16, 2005). "Riggs eagle comes down at branches as bank is absorbed in merger with PNC". Deseret News.
  17. ^ ISIKOFF, MICHAEL (December 2, 2002). "The Saudi Money Trail". Newsweek.
  18. ^ FEINSTEIN, ANDREW (April 15, 2016). "Before the Panama Papers: The Low Point in the History of Offshore Accounts". Time.
  19. ^ O'BRIEN, TIMOTHY L. (July 19, 2004). "At Riggs Bank, A Tangled Path Led to Scandal". The New York Times.
  20. ^ Leigh, David; Evans, Rob (June 7, 2007). "BAE accused of secretly paying £1bn to Saudi prince". The Guardian.
  21. ^ O'Hara, Terence (November 19, 2004). "Riggs Uncovers Deep Ties to Pinochet". The Washington Post.
  22. ^ Day, Kathleen; O'Hara, Terence (September 11, 2004). "Riggs Bank Suspends 2nd Senior Executive". The Washington Post.
  23. ^ "Pinochet family arrested in Chile". BBC News. October 4, 2007.
  24. ^ O'Hara, Terence (January 28, 2005). "Riggs Bank Agrees to Guilty Plea And Fine". The Washington Post.
  25. ^ Dash, Eric (January 28, 2005). "Riggs Pleads Guilty in Money-Laundering Case". The New York Times.(subscription required)
  26. ^ O'Hara, Terence (February 26, 2005). "Allbrittons, Riggs to Pay Victims Of Pinochet". The Washington Post.
  27. ^ "Bank payout to Pinochet victims". BBC News. February 26, 2005.
  28. ^ Hansell, Saul (February 26, 2005). "Riggs National Will Settle Spanish Suit Linked to Pinochet". The New York Times.(subscription required)
  29. ^ a b MAASS, PETER (January 2005). "A Touch of Crude". Mother Jones.
  30. ^ Birrell, Ian (August 17, 2009). "Big men, bankers and the stench of corruption". The Independent.
  31. ^ "KEEPING FOREIGN CORRUPTION OUT OF THE UNITED STATES: FOUR CASE HISTORIES" (PDF). United States Senate Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. February 4, 2010.
  32. ^ "OCC Assesses $25 Million Penalty Against Riggs Bank N.A." (PDF) (Press release). Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. May 13, 2004.
  33. ^ O'BRIEN, TIMOTHY L. (May 14, 2004). "Regulators Fine Riggs $25 Million". The New York Times.(subscription required)
  34. ^ Simpson, Glenn R. (May 14, 2004). "Riggs Bank to Pay $25 Million Fine In Diplomat Case". The Wall Street Journal.(subscription required)
  35. ^ O'Hara, Terence (February 26, 2005). "Allbrittons, Riggs to Pay Victims Of Pinochet". The Washington Post.
  36. ^ O'Brien, Timothy (July 19, 2004). "At Riggs Bank, a Tangled Path Led to Scandal". The New York Times.
  37. ^ O'Hara, Terence (January 28, 2005). "Riggs Bank Agrees to Guilty Plea And Fine". The Washington Post.
  38. ^ a b "PNC Reaches Revised Deal to Buy Riggs Bank". New York Times. February 10, 2005.
  39. ^ O'Hara, Terence (May 14, 2005). "For Riggs Customers, An Uneven Transaction". Washington Post.
  40. ^ Gordon, Marcy (May 16, 2005). "Riggs eagle comes down at branches as bank is absorbed in merger with PNC". Deseret News.