Saddam's Missing Billions: Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein Is Believed to Have Salted Away Billions of US Dollars in Banks around the World during His Reign of Terror. Finding the Cash Is Tricky Enough but Then Proving Its Provenance Is Virtually Impossible

By Vesely, Milan | The Middle East, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Saddam's Missing Billions: Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein Is Believed to Have Salted Away Billions of US Dollars in Banks around the World during His Reign of Terror. Finding the Cash Is Tricky Enough but Then Proving Its Provenance Is Virtually Impossible


Vesely, Milan, The Middle East


The US military got their man in a relatively short period but getting their hands on Saddam Hussein's money has proved a more difficult task. As countries such as Switzerland and Syria block Washington's efforts to retrieve the ex-dictator's elusive funds, the chances are that even such monies that have been traced could still disappear altogether.

US intelligence agencies are apparently unable to come up with hard evidence to prove unequivocal ownership of much of the so-far traced $300m of the billions of US dollars stashed away by Saddam Hussein. Much to the administration's chagrin, countries that moved relatively quickly on little or no evidence involving Al Qaeda are stalling over releasing Saddam Hussein's alleged monies. The inaccuracy of the WMD intelligence, which led to the war on Iraq, has cast doubt on the veracity of any other American "evidence". And several foreign governments and sceptical foreign banks are questioning the authenticity of evidence presented by Washington in its attempt to regain control of what it claims is Iraqi money.

"Solid evidence that would bold up in a court or get the approval of the UN sanctions committee is simply not there," officials state. Meanwhile, their boards of governors prefer to stall on a decision on official US insistence that the monies deposited by the Hussein regime now belong to the new Iraqi Governing Council. Facing the reality, US deputy assistant secretary Juan Zarate has turned his attention to targeting suspected individuals he accuses of fronting fin the ex-dictator, via the UN sanctions committee where it is felt US pressure may prove more effective.

"The reality is that we want to be sure about cases when we go to the UN since we are basically marking an individual, or a company, or an entity. We have to present some sort of credible basis for our request," Mr. Zarate admitted in February, his comments raising more questions than answers over whether the administration had any hard evidence to back up their previous requests to Swiss and Syrian banks.

For months Swiss officials have been asking Washington to prove its claim that an account belonging to a Panamanian registered company is a front for former Baath Party officials. Containing the equivalent of $80m in Euros and other convertible currencies, the Montana Management account has been temporarily frozen. Despite repeated requests by Swiss Treasury officials however, their US counterparts have yet to provide any real evidence to back up their claim tire Montana Company is simply a front for Saddam Hussein's former government officials. Until they do, the Swiss are disinclined to release the money.

Initial leads to Saddam Hussein's hidden money were obtained solely in Iraq. Gleaned from interrogations and volunteered information, few of the leads have yet to pan out. Of those that have, most have pointed to funds being stashed in Middle Eastern Banks, the $250m in Syrian banks by far the largest amount so far identified. However, pressuring the Syrians without sufficient evidence has proved unrewarding; the Damascus government still refuses to band over the funds because of a lack of conclusive evidence that they ever belonged to the former regime.

Other European and Middle Eastern officials are even blunter in their response. "We have pecked into accounts held by some of the children of the top 55 former Iraqi officials and there is hardly anything there," these officials claim. This stonewalling is frustrating the combined US Treasury, FBI, CIA, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement interagency group, tasked with finding Saddam Hussein's money.

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Saddam's Missing Billions: Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein Is Believed to Have Salted Away Billions of US Dollars in Banks around the World during His Reign of Terror. Finding the Cash Is Tricky Enough but Then Proving Its Provenance Is Virtually Impossible
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