March 6, 2008
Obama's Iraqi Oil for Food connectionBy Andrew Walden
Out on bail awaiting trial, dual US-Syrian citizen, Antoin ‘Tony' Rezko, was rousted out of bed by police pounding on the doors of his Chicago mansion the morning of Monday, January 28. According to the Associated Press:
Funds from Auchi's loan may have helped finance a complex series of transactions between Rezko and Democratic Presidential candidate Illinois Senator Barack Obama involving the 2005 purchase of Obama's Chicago mansion and Rezko's purchase of an adjoining landlocked parcel.
The Times of London reports:
Rezko's relationship with Barack Obama goes back to at least 1990, when Obama's law firm did work relating to a Rezko housing development. Rezko was a key early-money fund raiser in Obama's state Senate campaigns and his failed run at the US Congress. In June 2005, when the mansion was purchased, Rezko was widely known to be under federal investigation. Rezko also is a key fundraiser for Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich.
The sudden emergence of Auchi into this story indicates Rezko's deals may include a money trail leading back to dead Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Auchi's Saddam links trace back to a failed 1959 assassination attempt on the life of then-Iraqi-prime-minister Abdul Karim Qasim.
Auchi's General Mediterranean Holdings company was also the largest private shareholder in Banque Nationale de Paris which later merged with Paribas to become BNP Paribas. At Saddam's insistence, billions of dollars of Oil for Food transactions passed through BNP from its 1995 inception until 2001.
In January 2004, Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada published a list of 270 Oil for Food beneficiaries. The list was translated and published on line by The Middle East Media Research Institute. Hundreds of millions of dollars of Oil for Food money was illegally diverted to buy Saddam favor from the United Nations, possibly reaching as high as Secretary general Kofi Annan's son. Also receiving million's from Saddam's slush fund were heads of state and their associates from Russia, France, China, and numerous Islamic countries.
The Auchi-Obama links go beyond the mansion deal. The Times of London February 1 reports uncovering, "state documents in Illinois recording that Fintrade Services, a Panamanian company, lent money to (an) Obama fundraiser in May 2005. Fintrade's directors include Ibtisam Auchi, the name of Mr. Auchi's wife."
Auchi, a Chaldean Christian, was later pardoned by Qasim. As Saddam's Baath party took power, Auchi prospered. He went to work for the Iraqi Ministry of Oil in 1967. He rose to be Oil Ministry Director of Planning and Development before leaving Iraq in 1979. His brother was apparently killed by Saddam's regime as were family of many high-ranking Baathists. But there are also claims that Auchi continued secretly working for Saddam's intelligence services, a kind of dual reality not uncommon in the twisted world of Saddam's upper echelons.
What is certain is that Auchi prospered mightily collecting "commissions" on sale of weapons and other goods to Iraq in the 1980s and 1990s. Living in the UK, he is now listed as Britain's 18th-richest man. The Times of London reports, "On the 20th anniversary of his business in 1999, Mr. Auchi received a greeting card signed by 130 politicians, including (Prime Minister) Tony Blair, (Conservative Party leader) William Hague and (Liberal-Democratic Party leader) Charles Kennedy...."
In spite of his British connections and an earlier 2004 US visit, Auchi was denied entry into the US in 2005. It is believed that he was attempting in 2005 to win a US visa with the help of Rezko several as-yet-unnamed Illinois political figures. Among Auchi's many international awards is a 2005 election as an "Honorary Member in the International College of Surgeons in Chicago, Illinois." Obama has denied trying to help Auchi.
Auchi has played a role in BNP since the late 1970s. When BNP was privatized by the French government in 1993, Auchi acquired stock in the banking giant through his Luxembourg-based company, General Mediterranean Holdings. Auchi played a key role in BNP's 2000 merger with Paribas. According to the New York Times, "As recently as 2001, General Mediterranean Holdings described itself in an annual report as one of largest single shareholders in BNP Paribas." Saddam used Oil for Food fraud to channel millions of dollars to heads of state, activists, terrorists, and journalists--many of whom returned the favor by backing Saddam in 2003 when the US finally invaded.
In 2003 Auchi was convicted in France for receiving about $100 million in illegal commissions as part of a scandal involving the French oil giant Elf Aquitane. The UK Guardian wrote:
Auchi's General Mediterranean Holdings also has connections to the new Iraq-connections which lead right back to Tony Rezko. Auchi's company helped finance a 250 megawatt power plant in the Kurdish town of Chamchamal, Iraq, teaming up with Rezko and Iraq's former Minister of Electricity, Aiham Alsamarrae. Alsamarrae, a Chicago resident with dual US-Iraqi citizenship is accused of graft involving Iraq reconstruction projects-an embarrassing connection for the war critic Obama.
Returning in 2003 to post-Saddam Iraq, Alsamarrae had been made Minister of Electricity under the occupation government of Paul Bremer. Alsamarrae escaped in what he called "the Chicago way" from the Green Zone in December, 2006 after being held for four months in relation to a $2 billion Iraqi reconstruction corruption case. He is now living in his Chicago mansion.
Writing in Human Events, March 3, 2008, John Batchelor reports on an Alsammarae-Obama-Rezko connection:
Most politicians try to keep their financial backers out of trouble until after the election. But Rezko, is already indicted by a federal grand jury. And now his trial has begun in a Chicago federal court.
Rezko, along with Ali Ata and Abdelhamid Chaib, face federal grand jury charges presented in October 2006 by U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald. The case revolves around allegations of fraud between 2000 and 2004 in the sale of 17 Papa Johns' Pizza parlors in Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee. The case may begin with pizza but it could easily lead back to Europe, Syria, Iraq, and the UN Oil for Food program.
Fitzgerald is the prosecutor who won perjury convictions against Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, Scooter Libby, in March, 2007. Chaib is an officer of several of Rezko's restaurant chains including Chicagoland Panda Express franchises. Ata was appointed Executive Director of the Illinois Finance Authority by Governor Blagojevich. Ata was also a former president of the Chicago Chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and had a financial interest in Rezko's restaurants. Ata reportedly donated as much as $60,000 to Blagojevich and $5,000 to Obama. Rezko reportedly raised as much as $500,000 for Blagojevich and at least $70,000 for Obama's various campaigns. Obama has redirected as much as $150,000 in donations "bundled" by Rezko.
Rezko has other unsavory financial ties. Arab American Media Services reports:
Elijah Mohammad led the Nation of Islam until his death in 1975. Jabir Herbert Muhammad was sued in 1999 by boxer Muhammad Ali for unauthorized use of his name in connection with the so-called Muhammad Ali Foundation. Rezko served as Executive Director of the Foundation.
Jay Stewart of the Better Government Assn. in Chicago told the LA Times:
At a March 3 news conference in San Antonio, Texas, Chicago-based reporters peppered Obama with some of the questions the national news corps has avoided for over a year. Obama claims he had already answered the questions in the Chicago media. He said: "These requests, I think, could just go on forever. At some point, what we need to try to do is respond to what's pertinent."
Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote:
Obama has refused to sit down at length with the Chicago reporters who have worked this story for years. But as Milbank pointed out, "The questioning...has only just begun." With old-time Chicago corruption now going international-and Presidential--finding those answers is more urgent than ever.