Measures Proposed to Regulate Bank Examiners

House and Senate members are proposing legislation to slow the revolving door carrying federal regulators into private banks, following revelations of the role played by a former U.S. examiner in the Riggs Bank (search) affair.

The measures would mandate a one-year "cooling-off" period before a senior federal bank examiner could take a job with a bank or other financial institution he or she was overseeing.

The Justice Department (search) is investigating Riggs' chief risk officer, R. Ashley Lee (search), a former bank examiner in the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency who oversaw Riggs during a period of deficient money-laundering controls.

Lee worked in the comptroller's office, a Treasury Department agency that oversees nationally chartered banks, from 1998 until he retired in October 2002 and went to work for Riggs two weeks later.

Riggs, a Washington institution with deep roots in the diplomatic community, was fined a record $25 million in May by the comptroller's office after the agency concluded the bank had failed to report suspicious transactions in accounts controlled by Saudi diplomats and government officials of Equatorial Guinea.

In July, Senate investigators said senior Riggs managers helped former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (search) hide millions of dollars in assets from international prosecutors and U.S. regulators. The investigators' report said that while overseeing Riggs as an examiner, Lee told agency staff who had looked into the Pinochet accounts not to put their examination memos or supporting paperwork into the electronic files of the comptroller's office.

Lee, appearing at a July 15 Senate hearing, denied having done so.

Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, senior Democrat on the Senate Governmental Affairs investigative subcommittee, told Lee at the hearing that his testimony under oath concerning Pinochet's accounts conflicted with sworn written statements by federal examiners whom he formerly supervised.

Levin and Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., the panel's chairman, said Thursday that they plan to formally propose the legislation Monday. Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Sue Kelly, R-N.Y., have introduced a similar House measure.