Following the money from Iraq

Susan Schmidt:

"U.S. authorities have identified more than a billion dollars in Iraqi assets in banks in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan and are pursuing hundreds of leads in the United States concerning possible illicit financial transactions with the former Iraqi government.

"Treasury, Internal Revenue Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have spent nine months poring over financial records recovered from the vault of the Central Bank of Iraq, including records they say show how Saddam Hussein's government diverted at least $1.8 billion from the United Nations' humanitarian oil-for-food program and moved some of that money to foreign banks or used it to buy weapons components.

"Officials are pressing the hunt for many billions more Hussein is believed to have moved out of Iraq, worried that those funds are going to terrorist groups or are financing Hussein loyalists' attacks on U.S. troops. 'There was a staggering amount of plunder as a result of the oil-for-food program and other schemes,' said the Treasury Department's recently departed general counsel, David Aufhauser, who until this month helped direct the search. 'While some was spent on ostentatious palaces, most is unaccounted for.'


"...investigators have launched about 40 ongoing probes of U.S. entities or individuals suspected of exporting weapon components or dual-use technology, as U.S. News reported Thursday, in violation of export laws and U.N. sanctions barring trade with Iraq.


"U.S. officials believe the biggest cache, $2 billion, was socked away in banks in Syria, which remains on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. In October, Syria allowed a team of Iraqi and U.S. investigators to examine records in Damascus, where they found $260 million. Syrian officials have maintained the Iraqi funds there totaled $175 million, and have not agreed to return the funds to Iraq.

"But some in the United States involved in the hunt said they believe that individuals close to the Syrian government have plundered much of the $2 billion. Syria did a large amount of unsanctioned commerce with Iraq and is suspected of having controlled billions of Iraqi funds banked in Lebanon, according to a source familiar with U.S. investigative efforts."


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