From Baghdad to Chicago: Rezko and the Auchi empire


“I first began to fathom the extent of Nadhmi Auchi's reach and corrupting influence when I was given responsibility for monitoring illegal transfers of technology and munitions to Iraq as well as overseeing all coalition transportation and communications reconstruction in Iraq. "

JOHN A. SHAW (Opinion: former senior official of US Defense, State, and Commerce departments)
 October 10, 2008

Barack Obama has been appropriately strident in his condemnation of the mortgage-based financial corruption which nearly led to the collapse of the investment banking system in the United States. But there are some strong smelling financial skeletons in his own closet. Obama has his own personal housing crisis that is tied not into Fanny Mae, but into a corrupt international financial combine headed by Nadhmi Auchi, the convicted Iraqi billionaire at the center of the Elf Aquitaine corruption trial in France. Auchi has been shown to be the fountainhead of a source of corruption flowing from Iraq, to France, Italy, and the United States. His financial network, under a Luxembourg company called General Mediterranean Holdings, spread from Baghdad and the Middle East to Paris, (where Auchi successfully posited Saddam's UN Oil for Food scheme), London, Washington, and Chicago, making very few ripples and raising no concerns.

Auchi is suave, cosmopolitan, brilliant, and ruthless, and he has bottomless pockets. His business is international banking, which is complexly organized and appropriately camouflaged to conceal any criminal activity. He is the Godfather, but speaks in an Iraqi, not a Sicilian, dialect. A British survey credits him with being toward the bottom of a list of the two hundred richest men in the world. But in such a rendering Auchi would both feign modesty and ensure that any such accounting show only the tip of his financial iceberg. Other sources credit him with being the fifth richest man in the world. His methodology, however, is straightforward: Under cover of seeking legitimate business, buy whoever is necessary in the political decision chain to control the process and the outcome. As his longtime telecommunications partner Ala al-Hawaja, candidly put it to a potential competitor in Cairo, "there is nothing that cannot be accomplished with a suitcase full of money". So far he has been proven correct.

Auchi has claimed to have been "a visitor to two White Houses", and his London web site flashes a picture of him at the Clinton White House between Bill Clinton and Al Gore (a long way from his early days with Saddam Hussein as part of a Baathist assassination squad.) Auchi is, however, also the shadowy puppet master to Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a Syrian American with whom he partnered for more than a decade in schemes from Baghdad all the way to Chicago. Their relationship began in the wake of the Iran-Iraq War, when the US was cultivating Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Rezko is now in federal prison awaiting sentencing for 16 counts of corruption involving Illinois officials. Buying influence is his métier, guided and financed by his master, Auchi. Rezko has also been a White House visitor, with his picture taken with Bill and Hillary Clinton for his contributions out of Chicago to the Clinton political war chest. Was Rezko then and now merely the main Chicago conduit for Auchi money? Or was he part of a larger Iraqi scheme dating back to Saddam to buy access to US government contracts and influence? What specifically was Auchi buying and where else did his money go? Was Obama, like the governor of Illinois, a recipient of Auchi's favors as part of Rezko's scheme to purchase government contracts through kickbacks from campaign contributions? There is no question that Obama, as a fledgling state senator, was a target of the Iraqi corruption combine, but did he become one of its pigeons? Was Rezko simply the front man for Auchi and Iraqi funding (whether it came from Saddam, Oil for Food, or General Mediterranean Holdings) over his entire Chicago career?

Rezko had identified Obama as a good political target before he graduated from Harvard Law School. He was both the source of Obama's employment and of his largest political donations during his short political career. Rezko had no financial source apart from Auchi, his partner of over a decade. Rezko was also the source of the financing for Obama's $2.3 million mansion despite his having no clear source of funding apart from Auchi. What did he get from Obama in return?

As the Wall Street Journal showed several weeks ago, Obama has been anything but forthcoming about his real relationship with Rezko and Auchi. And the public has no idea how extensive and how corrupt the network that Auchi has developed across the world is. Let me count the ways: Like organized crime, the network shows no public profile beyond legitimate business activities, and has a small army of lawyers threatening any critics with libel actions in Britain, Auchi's adopted residence where there is no First Amendment protection.

Billionaires can buy anonymity at the same time they buy influence and politicians. In 2000, although Nadhmi Auchi had spent two decades as Saddam Hussein's broker in the international oil and armament worlds, he was seen from the United States as essentially a European go-between, who worked the highest levels of the Italian and particularly the French and British governments. He had bought an aura of respectability by buying senior politicians and favorable press, and threatening any critics, a pattern he had begun to introduce in the United States with British assistance a decade earlier. I first began to fathom the extent of Nadhmi Auchi's reach and corrupting influence when I was given responsibility for monitoring illegal transfers of technology and munitions to Iraq as well as overseeing all coalition transportation and communications reconstruction in Iraq.

My office had two key responsibilities, international technology security and international arms and technology trade (essentially keeping good things out of the hands of bad people), with the latter function given the reach of the DoD Inspector General's office. Our investigations surfaced some salient facts about Nadhmi Auchi and his underreported activities: that Auchi had been Saddam Hussein's senior arms dealer and had morphed into his principal international financial bagman, and had become the Godfather of the UN Oil for Food scheme. (As a former State Department Inspector General overseeing all US foreign assistance and foreign military sales, I had had thirty years experience dealing with technology and armament sales, most of it in the Middle East.). I was therefore startled to also discover in addition that Auchi had surfaced as the financier and a principal beneficiary of the entire Iraqi cellular telecommunications tender, worth some $3 billion.

Through the customary combination of facilitating payments spread among political figures in Iraq and elsewhere, Auchi was able to fix the three contracts for three companies which in turn benefitted three of the most senior Iraqi politicians. $435 million was found missing from the Coalition Provisional Authority communications account along with all records. Multimillion dollar bribes were paid to various Brits and Americans to facilitate both the fix and its cover up.

The official DoD report of May 11, 2004, which Auchi has spent four and a half years trying to discredit, encountered cover up efforts within the DoD. These in turn prompted Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on December 10, 2004 to transfer the case to the Department of Justice to assure the integrity of the continuing investigation. The FBI is still working on the case with the continuing assistance of my office, and Auchi's US visa to come to the United States was cancelled.

The Rezko trial in Chicago, moreover, has highlighted Auchi's reach into other ministries to provide bribes for contracts. In the Ministry of Electricity the Rezko-Auchi combine was seen in action offering million dollar bribes for multi-million dollar contracts to Ayham al-Samarra'i, an Iraqi American who had become Electricity Minister. In addition, recent evidence has surfaced that an Auchi subsidiary, the Iraqi German Hospital (IG Hospital), has been awarded a billion dollar contract at the Ministry of Health thru the influence of Dr. Adel Mohsen, the notoriously corrupt arbiter of health ministry contracting. "Dr. Adel" is close to Prime Minister Maliki and is his point man on the appropriately named Iraqi Committee on Public Integrity. While Auchi was a frequent visitor to the Green Zone in Baghdad during the CPA era, and, according to reliable Iraqi sources, met numerous times with CPA viceroy L. Paul Bremer, that was a useful but temporary expedient. Auchi is now said to be an advisor to Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki as well as being the representative of major oil and commercial interests seeking contracts in Iraq. If Auchi now owns Maliki, he now owns everything.

As the above shows, Auchi has parlayed his long time presence on the Iraqi scene into a position of even greater wealth and influence than he enjoyed under Saddam. But it is his skill in buying his way to foreign leaders and funneling that advantage into a position of paramount influence into Iraq that is truly impressive. He simultaneously developed access to the nascent Iraqi leadership in London while he was buying access to the British leadership, and through that got access to US leadership and the Coalition Provisional Authority. It was done largely through lavish donations and largesse to the British establishment over several decades, and to the Labour party in particular. Auchi's purchase of respectability included the grant of a coat of arms from the Queen, and the support of very senior members of the cabinet, some of whom sat on his GMH board. On the 20th anniversary of GMH activities in Britain, Auchi was given a print of the Houses of Parliament signed by virtually everyone with any political pretentions in the House of Commons. His London sponsors then opened the doors to Washington, to the Pentagon and ultimately, to the White House.

But he had bought his way into France as well: As a major arms dealer for Saddam he had cultivated President Mitterand and President Chirac, as well as key members of their cabinets. In September 2003, however, a French court had found him guilty of corruption and of receiving improper commissions of $100 million in the Elf Aquitaine scandal. The trial showed that Auchi had developed direct relationships with the key players in the French political and business establishment, and was the largest single stockholder in the bank BNP Parisbas. He received a slap on the wrist in the form of a multimillion dollar fine and a suspended jail sentence.

By that time, however, he had moved to the US market. Thanks to his British network, he established relationships with Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis I. "Scooter" Libby, and others in the Bush I Department of Defense at the time of the first Gulf War, and deftly carried his insider utility and his reputation of being helpful in Iraq over to the Clinton administration in 1993. He arrived with a laying on of hands from Lord Cavendish, the former head of British intelligence, and soon was a member of the Kennedy School board of Advisors at Harvard. He became, thru charitable donations and investments in the US, largely in the Chicago and Detroit areas, the embodiment of the Good Iraqi and the Good Arab. He established an Auchi chair at the American University of Cairo, and there have been reports that he was a large donor to the Clinton library.

His seemingly innocent investments with Rezko in the Middle West, however, went hand in hand with Rezko's extensive scheme to trade off campaign donations to Illinois politicians for jobs and multimillion dollar state and city contracts. That strategy appears to have tied in as well to Joseph A. Cari, Jr., a Clinton administration official who served as Democratic National Committee Finance Chairman in 1993-94, and who, like Rezko, was found guilty of extortion of Illinois officials in 2006, and similarly is awaiting sentencing. Cari was Clinton's national finance chairman when Rezko and Auchi made their White House visits. Cari is now managing director of a Middle East trade and investment fund in New York. How many of Rezko's donations and US investments originated with and were dependent on Auchi? Is there any evidence that Rezko had any other major source of funding? How long had the Auchi network been in place in Chicago? And what were Auchi's connections to the Iraqi spy ring about to go to trial in Detroit, who in late 2002 paid two Democratic congressmen to go to Iraq and oppose the war, and which flourished on UN Oil for Food vouchers?

So we have a pattern of buying influence which tied directly into the Illinois Democratic Party, the Daley machine, and the Democratic National Finance Committee. It is no wonder that Barack Obama "has no recollection" of being at a welcoming dinner feting Auchi at Rezko's house in April 2004. At that moment Auchi was flying high despite his corruption conviction in France: He was then still the darling of the neocon cabal at the defense department, which was so heavily invested in Iraq. He had been a welcomed guest at two White Houses, and appeared to own the entire Illinois government. We still do not have any sense of the full extent of his influence.

A month later, however, his five year visa to the United States was revoked because of the findings of the DoD report on his central role in fixing the contracts for the entire Iraqi telecommunications system. In the ensuring four and a half years the outlines of his role as an ongoing arms dealer responsible for importing and exporting munitions into and out of Iraq, and as the financial ringmaster of reconstruction corruption in Iraq, have become increasingly evident, despite extensive efforts to cover up his role by Iraq reconstruction authorities and a submissive and buyable media. Auchi simply bought everyone he needed to buy in Iraq and the United States to carry out his Iraq agenda. Before his sentencing at the end of this month, however, Rezko may broaden our understanding of Auchi's larger agenda.

But his underwriting of the purchase of Obama's multimillion dollar Chicago mansion may have been the step too far which finally brought down Auchi's grand scheme of empire and intrigue. It was, however, cheap at the price to buy a putative United States Senator. Nothing boneheaded about that decision at all. What is a candidate worth? This was Chicago, after all. On the other hand, however, if Barack Obama becomes President of the United States, the sky may be the limit for Nadhmi Auchi.

John A. Shaw is a former senior official of the Defense, State, and Commerce departments, and served on several White House staffs. He is a specialist in international technology transfer and arms sales, and in the economic development of the Middle East.