- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

BERN, Switzerland — The United States thinks it has found at least $300 million that Saddam Hussein hid in banks, yet it doesn’t have enough evidence to get countries such as Syria and Switzerland to hand over the money, U.S. and European officials said.

The funds at stake could go to the Iraqi insurgency or the country’s reconstruction — depending on who gets to them first. What troubles investigators more is that much of Saddam’s cash already might be gone.

The weak U.S. intelligence and the slow-moving investigation, in its 11th month, have given suspects more than enough time to empty accounts and transfer some funds to Iraq’s insurgency, which has cost hundreds of American lives, officials involved in the search said.

Treasury investigators have been quick to identify leads in the hunt but have been scrambling to come up with solid evidence that could hold up in a court or get the approval of a U.N. sanctions committee.

Much to the frustration of the Bush administration, countries that acted quickly on relatively weak evidence involving al Qaeda funds have been unwilling to do the same on Iraq, partly because of growing doubts about the quality of U.S. intelligence.

For months, Swiss officials have asked Washington to provide more information on an account belonging to a Panamanian-registered front company that U.S. officials think is tied to the former Iraqi regime. The account contains the equivalent of $80 million, and U.S. officials still are trying to gather enough information for the Swiss to act.

If the account were held in a U.S. bank, federal authorities wouldn’t need any more evidence than they already have because the USA Patriot Act, passed after the September 11 terror attacks, gives them expanded powers of search and seizure.

“We know a lot of countries cannot use intelligence information the way we can use it now after September 11,” said Juan Zarate, the Treasury Department’s deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes. “It’s not a complete hindrance, but we have to provide the right information.”

Swiss officials put a temporary hold on the Montana Management account but won’t hand over the money to an Iraq reconstruction fund, as the Bush administration wants, unless it gets more details. No details were forthcoming during a recent meeting between U.S. and Swiss treasury officials in Washington.

Mr. Zarate said his office would target new individuals “in the next few weeks,” and submit the names to the U.N. sanctions committee, where approval is assured, giving European countries a legal basis to act.

So far, Mr. Zarate’s office has given the United Nations the names of five Iraqi entities — the Central Bank of Iraq, Iraq Reinsurance Co., Rafidain Bank, Rasheed Bank and Iraqi Airways Co. — plus the list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis that the military presented as a deck of cards in the early days of last year’s war.

European and Middle Eastern officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they had peeked into accounts held by children of the 55 and found almost no money. Saddam’s daughters, who are living comfortably in Jordan, remain under scrutiny, officials said.

So far, the amount of money identified by U.S. investigators is nowhere near prewar estimates of $40 billion stashed away by Saddam.

The largest sums uncovered so far are in Middle Eastern banks. U.S. officials are hoping Syrian officials will be encouraged to hand over money once the Swiss do.

In October, U.S. investigators went to the Syrian capital, Damascus, and Amman, Jordan, looking for hidden Iraqi accounts. Syria has frozen about $250 million but won’t give the money to the Iraq fund because it can’t be sure it belonged to the regime.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide