Billy Carter and Libya: Carter election snag?

First Bert Lance, now brother Billy. Some two years after the height of the furor over the financial affairs of former federal budget director T. Bertram Lance, another Georgian close to the President has enmeshed himself -- and Mr. Carter -- in controversy.

The revelations about Billy Carter's ties to the radical Arab nation of Libya arise at the outset of his brother's re-election campaign. For the President, the timing could hardly be worse politically.

The presidential race is shaping up as a close one in which an ethics issue -- or the Jewish vote -- could loom crucial. Republicans, scenting a potentially embarrassing election-year scandal for Democrats, are calling for investigations by congressional committees and a special prosecutor.

It all erupted earliers this month with the deceptively routine filing of a set of government forms with the US Justice Department registering the President's brother as a Libyan agent. In the documents, he reported having been paid $220,000. Billy Carter now denies being an agent for Libya, despite registering as one. He describes the money as a "loan" proffered as "a favor to me," but with no written loan agreement.

Going public with the matter ends months of speculation about the younger Mr. Carter's relationship with the Libyans, spawned by at least four expenses-paid trips to the North African country and public appearances here with its representatives. It also ends an 18-month investigation by the Justice Department, which agreed not to charge him with violating the foreign-agents law if he would stop representing Libya until filing the required registration documents.

But his registration leaves unresolved any involvement Billy Carter might have had in allegations, now being investigated by a federal grand jury in New York, that fugitive financier Robert Vesco and others tried to bribe American officials to gain the release of eight Lockheed C-130 transport airplanes bought by Libya in 1973 but held up the the State Department.

The younger Mr. Carter says he was offered a commission of up to 55 cents a barrel for his help in obtaining Libyan oil for the Charter Oil Company of Jacksonville, Fla. -- with no mention of airplanes. The deal never materialized , and he denies any wrongdoing.

Also under question is the role played by White House officials, including the President himself. White House involvement has been clarified somewhat by the disclosure that Mr. Brzezinski used the President's brother as an intermediary last November to solicit Libyan help in freeing the American hostages in Iran.

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