The Washington cocktail circuit is set to become a little more interesting come January, when Britain’s new ambassador to the U.S., Sir Peter Westmacott, takes up his post. Not that career diplomat Sir Peter, currently the UK’s ambassador to France, is a particularly colorful character himself — it’s his wife Susie who’ll be getting tongues wagging within the Beltway and stirring up unpleasant memories for Democrats.
Lady Westmacott is the sister of none other than Hassan Nemazee, the Iranian-American former bagman — sorry, “bundler” — for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and other prominent Democrats. Nemazee is currently serving 12 years in prison for defrauding banks out of almost $300 million.
Namazee, you may remember, was Bernie Madoff with a more impressive Rolodex of connections to top Democrats. He reportedly raised $100,000 for Clinton’s 2008 primary campaign, eventually being appointed its national finance chairman. He went on to raise $500,000 for Barack Obama after Clinton dropped out. He donated the maximum $50,000 to Obama’s Presidential Inaugural Committee, for which he was also a bundler.
Before that, he was a major contributor to John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, and ran Kerry’s New York fundraising operation. He also served as finance chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under Chuck Schumer.
Nemazee ran a Ponzi scheme from 1998 to 2009, obtaining $292 million in fraudulent loans from Bank of America, Citibank, and HSBC. The enterprise funded an extravagant lifestyle — as part of his plea agreement he forfeited two apartments in Manhattan, including one on Park Avenue, another apartment in Rome, and an estate in Bedford, north of New York City — as well as his largesse towards just about any Democrat running for office, going back at least to Dick Gephardt and Al Gore.
Much of the money Nemazee raised for Democrats was hastily donated to charity following his arrest, which seems a shame — it would appear entirely fitting that his ill-gotten gains should end up in the coffers of Democratic politicians, given their attachment to the various Ponzi schemes administered by the federal government.
It would, of course, be grossly unfair to hold against Lady Westmacott or her husband the actions of her brother. And, tempting though it may be, it would also be unfair to tar by association the Democrats to whom he donated and for whom he fundraised. The big-money world of politics will inevitably attract criminals, and anyway, Democratic politicians are perfectly capable of breaking the law without any help. As a wise man said when it emerged that Hillary’s 2008 campaign had received money from fugitive-from-justice (and another Ponzi schemer!) Norman Hsu:
The Clinton campaign has done as much if not more than any campaign to protect itself from situations such as this, and none of the other campaigns — other than hypocritically — can point a finger at the Clinton campaign on fundraising problems.
Actually, that wise man was, er, Hassan Nemazee.
With the Occupy movement still hogging the limelight and with Obama ramping up his class warfare rhetoric, the return of a Nemazee to Washington is a timely reminder of the extent to which Democrats court multi-millionaire financiers while demonizing them.
The Westmacott black sheep problem gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “diplomatic baggage,” and it’s likely to make for some uncomfortable encounters over the canapés on Embassy Row — although the topic could also prove to be a useful icebreaker (“So Lady Westmacott, how is your brother these days?”)
As it happens, Lady Westmacott and her husband have also enjoyed a reputation for being generous with other people’s money, although before their lawyers come knocking, it should be made clear that the money was the British taxpayers’, and the expenditures were entirely above board, if a little excessive.
With the Westmacotts in residence, Britain’s Paris embassy topped the so-called “Ferrero Rocher league” of hospitality spending by UK embassies, splashing out $550,000 on dinners and receptions in a single year.
(I’m not sure how well known the Ferrero Rocher confectionary brand is in the U.S., but it was popularized in Britain by a now legendary ad in which a stack of the chocolates were served at a glamorous party thrown by “the ambassador,” with one guest exclaiming “Monsieur, with these Rocher you are really spoiling us!” The unintended humor came from the fact that these “luxurious” chocolates could be bought for a couple of pounds from any corner grocery store, and Ferrero Rocher quickly become a byword for kitsch, tat, and low-budget displays of ostentatiousness, as in “Wow Dave, with this ersatz Jell-O dessert you are really spoiling us!”)
The great irony in Susie Nemazee’s becoming an ambassador’s wife is that her brother had long harbored ambitions of being made an ambassador of the United States. He came close to being appointed ambassador to Argentina by Bill Clinton, but Senate Republicans opposed his nomination, which was eventually withdrawn amid questions about his business practices. As The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove tells it (his piece is also a good round-up of the Nemazee affair in general), so confident had Nemazee been of getting the post that he was taking Spanish lessons, which hopefully are at least enabling him to broaden his circle of friends in the clink.
According to Grove, Nemazee’s ambitions were rekindled when Obama won the White House. He thought his close friendship with Joe Biden would be enough to secure him an ambassadorship, but the law caught up with him before his dream could be realized (how a perceptive and urbane individual as Biden failed to see through Nemazee remains a mystery).
It would be nice to think that as Nemazee contemplates his remaining years of incarceration, he can take some pleasure in the fact that, while he’ll never get to be an ambassador of the United States, his sister is, after a fashion, living the dream on his behalf and will soon be doing so on U.S. soil.
And you never know: between the new family connection in Washington, his own connections to the famously forgiving Clinton, and Obama’s coddling of assorted crooks and fraudsters, he might just find himself free in time to pay them a visit.