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Family clues to Iraq's missing oil billions
The dictator is dead, and now the hunt for his illicit fortune is intensifying. Officials from the FBI and US Treasury are focusing their inquiries on £2.2bn of illegal oil profits
Sunday December 31, 2006
American and Iraqi government investigators tracing hundreds of millions of pounds missing from Saddam Hussein's illicit fortune are hoping to question members of the former dictator's close family.
Officials from the FBI, the American Treasury and the State Department particularly want to find £2.2bn in illegal profits that Saddam's regime is alleged to have earned from 2000-2003 from an oil-for-trade pact signed with Syria that was outside the official United Nations administered oil-for-food programme, according to official documents released to a US congressional sub-committee.
State Department and Treasury officials claim that Syria has failed to account properly for more than $500m in Iraqi oil profits. The cash, deposited in Syria's central bank, was paid to Syrian 'businessmen' after Saddam's fall, sources say. Syrian officials deny the allegations, saying that visits by American officials to Damascus in the autumn of 2003 failed to uncover any evidence of the missing cash apart from $300m that has already been frozen.
The United Nations imposed economic sanctions, including a ban on oil sales, on Iraq in 1990 after Saddam invaded Kuwait. The oil-for-food program was launched in December 1996 to ease the impact of the sanctions on ordinary Iraqis.
The programme, supervised by the 15-nation UN Security Council, authorised the government to sell oil and use the proceeds to buy civilian goods.
In a report submitted to the CIA last year Charles Duelfer, a former UN arms inspectors, estimated that Saddam had amassed $10.9bn 'through illicit means' between 1990, when sanctions were imposed, and 2003. The dictator is also believed to have hidden cash in accounts in Switzerland, Japan, Germany and other countries and to have invested in precious stones, possibly diamonds purchased in the Far East.
Immediately before the war of 2003, $1.7bn in assets in accounts held in the US in the name of the government of Iraq, the central bank of Iraq, the state organisation for marketing oil, the Rafidain bank and the Rasheed bank was seized. The Bank of England froze £400m in British banks. An additional $495m of previously unknown assets were secured in accounts in Lebanon.
In the immediate aftermath of his capture Saddam was said to have given his US interrogators information on the whereabouts of the billions he siphoned from Iraq's coffers and salted away abroad. Iyad Allawi, then a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, said that the Iraqis were searching for £23bn 'deposited in Switzerland, Japan, Germany and other countries under the names of fictitious companies'.