15 May, 2008
Republicans have enough damaging information against Barack Obama to knock him off the ballot before the November election. Those at the top of the Democratic Party know this by now and voters need to recognize that if they nominate him they are throwing the election. Nothing else can explain why they would allow this disaster to happen.
The investigation called “Operation Board Games” will lead to Obama’s downfall and it will begin with what he claims was a “boneheaded” mistake in entering into real estate deal with the Syrian-born immigrant, Antoin ‘Tony’ Rezko, less than a month after Rezko received a $3.5 million loan from the Iraqi-born billionaire, Nadhmi Auchi, who ended up with Riverside Park, a $2.5 billion 62-acre development project in the Chicago Loop.
Obama set his sights on a $2 million mansion the month after he was elected to the US Senate. It’s now known that Rezko got involved in the house-buying endeavor early on, although his involvement would not known until November 2006, the month after Rezko’s indictment was unsealed in the Operation Board Games case.
Nadhmi Auchi owns General Mediterranean Holdings, a Luxemburg-based conglomerate with investments all over the world in everything from Iraq reconstruction contracts to pharmaceuticals to pizza parlors.
More than two solid months of investigation leads to the conclusion that following the names linked to Riverside Park is the key to understanding Operation Board Games.
Auchi ended up with the grand prize but the new owner can not set foot on the development site in downtown Chicago because he is not allowed in this country. In a January 26, 2008 Affidavit, filed by an FBI Agent, the following description of Auchi and his company was given:
“General Mediterranean is owned by Nadhmi Auchi, who public source documents describe as a British-based Iraqi billionaire who was convicted several years ago in France on fraud charges. Auchi was sentenced to 15 months in prison and fined $2 million euros, but the sentence was suspended as long as Auchi committed no new crimes.
“Thereafter, in November 2005, after Auchi was unable to enter the United States, Rezko directly appealed to the State Department to permit Auchi to enter the United States and, it appears, asked certain Illinois government officials to do the same.”
Auchi’s conviction was a part of the gigantic investigation into the corruption of the Elf oil company, “the biggest fraud inquiry in Europe since the Second World War. Elf became a private bank for its executives who spent £200 million on political favours, mistresses, jewellery, fine art, villas and apartments,” according to the November 16, 2003 Guardian.
At the time, Elf was a public company owned by the citizens of France making them the victims of the fraud. Auchi, with all his billions of dollars, claims he is appealing the conviction but obviously with little success being it occurred five years ago.
However, more recent revelations about his funding the defense of Rezko and others in the Board Game cases, as well allegations of bid rigging in Iraq, have no doubt to the dilemma of his not being welcome here.
Most important for connecting the dots in the Board Games investigation, is the clarification that it is not the Rezko case. The only reason it’s always referred to as the “Rezko” case is because he happens to be the first defendant to be brought to trial.
Also, the first trial is focused on the corruption of two Illinois boards, the panel that approves investments from the $40 billion pension fund of the Teachers Retirement System, and the Health Facilities Planning Board, which approves all medical facility construction projects in Illinois.
But the Operation Board Games cases involve corruption with officials and employees in many other state agencies and real estate deals are at the heart of most with Riverside Park front and center.
Confidential informant, John Thomas, began working undercover for the Feds in 2003, when he pleaded guilty in federal court in New York, to fraud charges involving a client of his former billboard leasing company, according to an October 3, 2007 report by Thomas Corfman in Crain’s Chicago Business News.
Thomas began cooperating in the probe “with a focus” on Rezko’s financing deals “on 62 acres at Roosevelt and Clark and vacant land at the southwest corner of Chicago and Hudson,” according to the February 10, 2008 Chicago Sun-Times.
In other words, “financing deals” with a “focus” on Riverside Park.
Corfman found that Thomas’ cooperation was revealed in court on October 2003, when he entered a guilty plea in New York. He published a portion of a transcript from an October 27, 2003 hearing in Crain’s on May 4, 2007, in which prosecutors state:
“We just want to put on the record that the defendant has approached the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago to cooperate with the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago.”
“Should he provide substantial cooperation to another U.S. attorney’s office, we will consider that at the time of sentencing . . . or if the Chicago U.S. attorney’s office wants the case transferred there, we’d be happy to transfer the case there,” prosecutors said in the hearing.
At the request of prosecutors, as a part of a plea agreement Thomas was given permission by a federal judge to “engage in authorized criminal activity at the direction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Corfman reports.
The former New Yorker, he wrote, “has been conducting an undercover sting investigation for federal prosecutors while working in the Chicago commercial real estate industry.”
On May 4, 2007, the Chicago Sun-Times said Thomas was an informant in the federal investigation into Rezko, his partner in the Rezmar development company, Daniel Mahru and “other political corruption cases.”
The Chicago Tribune said it was aware of Thomas’ role in May 2006, but did not publish the story after US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald asked editors to withhold the information because it would derail the investigation and put people in danger.
This reporter is confident about the identities of all confidential informants referred to in the documents filed thus far in the Board Games cases but will not reveal the names in this report due to an inability to determine whether the names are in fact known to the many persons still under investigation.
Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to be president in 2008
Operation Board Games must be viewed with a full understanding that Governor Rod Blagojevich was supposed to be the candidate running for president during this election cycle in order for the subplots involving Obama to become clear.
The Illinois political mob already had a major fundraising operation in place for Blagojevich by 2004, and its safe to assume that when Obama and Rezko first started setting up the real estate deal for the mansion and lot in December 2004, Obama never thought about any repercussions on his run for president.
This report will show that the same political mob raising money to make Blagojevich president in 2008, also funded Obama’s election to the US senate in 2004, which is also discussed further in the earlier articles in this series including:
Barack Obama – The Wizard of Oz
Barack Obama – Operation Board Games for Slumlords, and
Barack Obama – Subplots of Operation Board Games Part I
When announcing Rezko’s indictment, the government made clear that Rezko “was added as a new defendant in a pending federal corruption case” that was brought against other co-schemers in 2005. The government’s star witness in the trial, Chicago businessman, Stuart Levine, pleaded guilty and testified to avoid a life sentence.
After jury selection began, the questionnaire for screening potential jurors included a list of more than 230 “possible witnesses or persons whose names might be mentioned,” and included Barack Obama.
Reporters, Bob Sector and Jeff Coen, provided outstanding coverage of the trial on a bog called, “Gavel-to-Gavel,” on the Tribune website. After nearly two months, on April 24, 2008, they wrote: “Maybe it would be simpler to ask for a show of hands from political heavyweights who haven’t been mentioned in the Antoin “Tony” Rezko corruption trial.”
Understanding what Tribune columnist, John Kass, has been referring to for years as the “Illinois Combine,” are also crucial to understanding the Board Game cases. In his March 28, 2008, column, Kass invited basically anyone to start using the term Combine, particularly “if they’re having difficulty explaining how two parties can be as one when there’s money on the table,” he said.
In gathering comments for his column, Kass called former US Senator, Peter Fitzgerald, who Kass describes as “the Republican maverick from Illinois who tried to fight political corruption and paid for it. For this sin, he was driven out of Illinois politics by political bosses, by their spinners and media mouthpieces, who ridiculed him mercilessly.”
He asked the Senator, “what do you call that connection that Stuart Levine describes from the witness stand, you know that arrangement across party lines, with politically powerful men leveraging government to make money—what do you call it?”
“The Illinois Combine,” he said. “The bipartisan Illinois political combine.”
“And all these guys being mentioned, they’re part of it,” he told Kass.
“In the final analysis,” the Senator said, “The Combine’s allegiance is not to a party, but to their pocketbooks.”
“They’re about making money off the taxpayers,” he added.
According to Kass, “the Rezko trial is part of the U.S. Justice Department’s attack on The Combine.”
“The “Operation Board Games” investigation is about how appointments to state boards and commissions overseeing state pension fund investments and hospital construction were leveraged into paydays for the insiders,” he explains.
“And what is playing out in the federal building is The Combine on trial,” he says.
Levine served as finance chairman for Republican Jim Ryan in the campaign for governor against Blagojevich. But an April 18, 2004, phone conversation caught on tape by the FBI between Levine and Republican insider and co-schemer, Robert Kjellander, shows the Republicans were very satisfied with new leaders of the “Combine.”
“I am telling you that I have never been in a better position than I am right now,” Levine said. “Part of the reason is there’s never been such a tight control of the central apparatus.”
“This guy is making decisions and can get anything done that he wants done . . . and I have a superb relationship” with him.
During the trial, Assistant US Attorney, Chris Niewoehner, asked Levine what he meant by that. The “central apparatus,” Levine said, was Blagojevich’s office and the guy “making decisions” was Rezko. He told the jury he’d never seen anything like this.
One co-schemer testified that Rezko told him Republican insider and co-schemer, William Cellini, had committed to raising $1 million for Blagojevich’s campaign.
Levine even footed the bill for a private jet to fly Blagojevich and several other co-schemers to New York in October 2003 and December 2003, where Blagojevich met lawyers, investment bankers and media executives, “many of whom wrote checks to his campaign fund,” according to the September 22, 2006 Chicago Sun-Times.
For instance, HealthPoint Partners, a New York investment firm, held a fund-raiser and 2 days later, the Teacher’s pension board voted to invest $15 million with HealthPoint, “following up on a $20 million investment it made with the firm in April 2003,” the Times noted.
Rezko, Levine, Cellini and Kjellander were all major fundraisers for Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004, at the same time they were scheming to raise money for Blagojevich’s presidential fund for 2008.
On March 31, 2008, Niewoehner asked Levine, “What is your understanding of why Mr. Rezko and Mr. Kelly would recommend investment firms?”
“In order to reward campaign contributors” to Blagojevich, Levine answered.
He also told the jury that he used to funnel campaign money to other Democratic candidates through straw donors at the request of Chicago Alderman Edward Vrdolyak.
Levine testified that from 2000 to 2004, he made a combined $9 to $10 million.
When the indictment against the Syrian-born immigrant, Rezko, was unsealed in October 2006, Fitzgerald said, “The amounts of money that were being shaken down in one . . . eight-week span was in the millions.”
“But Rezko and Levine collected only about $250,000 because federal investigators tripped up their plans,” according to the October 12, 2006 Sun-Times.
In the article, Chicago FBI chief Robert Grant called those named in the indictment “parasites that have plagued our public institutions.”
Rezko was not available for arrest when the indictment was announced because he was off on a trip to the Middle East.
Illinois Combine corruption leads to Iraq
The “Illinois Combine,” now includes many members living in the Chicago area of Middle Eastern descent and the trail of corruption leads straight to the killing fields in Iraq. The front-page of the April 26, 2008, Sun-Times provided the lead-in to the final subplot found at the end of the Board Games investigation when it reports:
“An ex-international fugitive helped spring Tony Rezko from jail earlier this month, putting up homes that comprise nearly one-third of the $8.5 million in property and cash securing Rezko’s bail.”
“The three homes belonging to former Iraqi Electricity Minister Aiham Alsammarae — a dual U.S.-Iraqi citizen who broke out of a Baghdad jail in 2006 — are part of a long list made public … following a Sun-Times request.”
Shortly after he escaped from a jail inside the Green Zone in December 2006, Alsammarae called New York Times reporter James Glatz, and said he did it the “Chicago way.”
Alsammarae is now living about a half-hour west of Chicago in a subdivision, “where homes range in price from $1.5 million to $4 million,” according to the December 21, 2006 New York Times.
The indictment against Rezko was unsealed in October 2006 in Chicago, the same month that Alsammarae was found guilty in Bagdad of the first charge in what would become a dozen convictions for corruption related to deals he made as electricity minister between August 2003 and May 2005.
In his call right after he broke out of jail, Glatz says, Alsammarea ridiculed American and Iraqi officials and claimed he fled because he did not trust the police and received a tip that he would be assassinated within days.
Alsammarae told Glatz that he was already outside Iraq after finagling his way aboard a flight at the Baghdad Airport. However, Iraqi security and justice officials disputed parts of his account, telling Glatz that a figure as recognizable as Alsammarae could not possibly have slipped onto a flight when he was the subject of a manhunt.
Alsammarae told Glatz those assertions were made by officials who spent too much time inside the protected Green Zone and did not understand how the country worked.
“Those suckers who are sitting in the Green Zone, they cannot go out and see the people they are governing?” Alsammarae said. “This is a joke.” According to Glatz, Alsammarae stated:
“So why I cannot take the airport? It’s not because I am a smart cookie. Any Iraqi can do it, even if they have 10,000 court orders against him. This is Iraq.”
His escape was an embarrassment for the Interior Ministry and the American-led forces that are guarding the Green Zone, Glatz said, “Iraqi officials expressed consternation when informed that Mr. Alsammarae had telephoned a reporter while on the lam.”
Despite the charges against him, Alsammarae told Glatz he did not believe American authorities would arrest him when he arrived in Chicago. “I hope they are smarter than that,” he said.
Apparently he was right because he flew right back into Chicago without a hitch. In fact, a month later he gave an interview on PBS on January 17, 2007, and explained how easy it was to escape, stating:
“I called my friends, and the friends, they come. They brought the car close to the police station, and I walk out to the car, and I move out from the Green Zone. From the Green Zone, we change cars many times.
“And after that, we reached the airport, Iraqi international airport, and I just flew over the private jet to Amman. Simple. Two-hours-and-a-half, I’d be in Amman.”
Although his Iraqi passport was confiscated in jail, Alsammarae says he hid a second one and renewed his American passport in Jordan. Those who helped him, he claimed, were mostly Iraqi friends and supporters, including the owner of the private jet.
According John Batchelor, in a March 3, 2008 Human Events report, an Iraqi official in Baghdad says they want Alsammarae back and the case against him is rock solid. “We have a four-inch-thick file of his crimes,” the official said.
He also said it has “Dates, bank accounts, dummy companies, a lot of them in the States.”
“We want him,” he told Batchelor, “and we want the money back.”
An Iraqi politician, who Batchelor says has “extensive knowledge of the Iraqi diaspora before and after the fall of Baghdad,” told him:
“Alsammarae is the weakest link in the chain of people who stole money from the CPA and the Iraqi people since 2003. The evidence against him is strong and convincing. His conviction is a problem for the people in his gang. The Baathists.”
Auchi was reportedly involved in the power plant contract. Batchelor says Iraqi officials in Baghdad speak bluntly of Auchi as a “Saddam guy,” and a member of the Baathist gang who has “beggared Iraq for 50 years.”
The first allegations of Auchi’s bid rigging date back to the first telecommunications contracts awarded in 2003. On November 9, 2003, Time Magazine reported that the US was reviewing a decision to grant the mobile license for Baghdad and central Iraq to a consortium led by Egyptian telecom giant Orascom because of its ties to Auchi, described as “an Iraqi-born billionaire who built his fortune partly through arms deals with the Iraqi regime in the 1980s.”
“Industry sources say Auchi provided Orascom with a $20 million loan to help pay down its $500 million debt,” Time wrote. “The sources say the loan gave Auchi, who faced French prosecutors earlier this year for his role in a corruption and embezzlement scandal, a controlling stake in Orascom.”
On February 25, 2005, a report by Charles Smith for NewsMax said, “Newly released documents from the Bush administration show that a former member of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle has resurfaced inside the new Iraqi government, bringing charges of corruption, bribery and bid-rigging.”
“As a result,” he wrote, “millions of U.S. aid dollars and billions in Iraqi government funds have disappeared in an ongoing scandal that is poised to engulf Baghdad and Washington.”
Citing a May 2004 Department of Defense report, Smith said, Auchi has organized “an elaborate scheme to take over and control the post-war cellular phone system in Iraq.”
“Auchi,” the report stated, “is widely regarded as a corrupt supporter of Saddam Hussein’s regime who got his money from doing deals, especially illegal arms transfers for Saddam.”
Bribes of between $18 and $21 million were allocated among six people including the Minister of Communications, an Iraqi Governing Council member, two American advisers from the Coalition Provisional Authority, and two British officials, according to the report.
Alsammarae moved to Chicago in the 1970s and met Rezko while attending engineering school. Reports indicating the Combine’s corruption extended to the electricity minister in Iraq began in mid-summer 2005. On July 29, 2005, Sandra Jones reported in Crain’s:
“Rezmar … controlled by Tony Rezko, a controversial confidant of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, entered into a joint venture with a British firm in a $150-million deal to build a power plant in Iraq.”
She noted that the project would be managed by one of Blagojevich’s previous top administration officials, Michael Rumman, “former director of the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, the state’s internal operations real estate agency.”
“The contract signed with Iraq’s ministry of electricity, calls for the soon-to-be named joint venture to supply power to Iraq for 10 years,” Jones reported.
“Rumman, who speaks Arabic, says the project is slated to be built in northern Iraq,” she wrote.
During a Sun-Times interview in the summer of 2005, Rumman said Rezko used his “formidable overseas network of business relationships” to join energy consulting companies to win the contract and up to 30 companies were to be involved.
Rumman was also a major investor with Auchi in Riverside Park. In fact, he was CEO of a company that was said to be managing the project until he unexpectedly resigned five months before the start of Rezko’s trial. On October 5, 2007, Crain’s reported, “Rumman has quietly resigned as CEO of a mixed-use project proposed for a sprawling site on the Near South Side.”
Crain’s noted that “his resignation is another odd twist in the long-delayed project, which has been mired in controversy because of its ties to Mr. Rezko, who is awaiting trial on federal criminal charges of influence peddling and bank fraud.”
The report stated sources said, “Rumman resigned several months ago, although the exact timing could not be determined.”
Rezko would later tell the court that he obtained the power plant contract through Rezmar International. In advertising on the internet, Rezmar International claims it is a firm specializing in strategic partnerships between the US and the Middle East. “We leverage strong skills, knowledge and relationships to make money for our investors and partners,” Rezmar states.
After Rezko’s arrest, in a January 16, 2007 hearing to review his assets, Rezko told the judge, “Rezmar International entered into contract with the Ministry of Electricity in — of — Iraq, to build a power plant and sell power to the government. And we were negotiating for over, now, I guess, almost two years.”
His attorney explained how Rezmar “won” the bid. “Mr. Rezko and an engineering firm here in the State of Illinois put together a bid, along with other entities; and, then, they won this bid for the contract,” he said.
“The company has no assets,” he told the judge.
“They were just going to — if the contract was given, as I understand the financing was going to be a Letter of Credit from the Iraqi government and other financing; and, then, they were going to put together someone to build or supply the electricity,” he said.
Rezko told the judge the contract had no value and was canceled in November 2006. The attorney told the court that Rezko had debts in excess of “$50 million.”
The US Army Corps of Engineers confirmed the contract for the power plant was no longer in effect in Iraq, according to the December 3, 2006, Sun-Times.
However, when reached, the Times said, “Rumman declined to discuss the plant or Alsammarae.”
In addition to the power plant, the month before Alsammarae left office, on April 18, 2005, he signed another $50 million contract with the Illinois-based firm called Companion Security, to train Iraqis as power plant security guards.
Companion is another firm with no assets that was thrown together by Rezko and ex-Chicago cop, Daniel Frawley, with an address that turned out to be a small house in La Grange, Illinois owned by Frawley’s sister, Maureen Frawley, who was a cop at the time.
The Sun-Times first reported that investigators were looking into the relationship of Alsammarae and Rezko while Alsammarae was still in jail in Iraq in December 2006.
But on March 5, 2008, the Times wrote “a new accusation has surfaced that Rezko paid a $1.5 million bribe in an effort to win a $50 million business deal in Iraq.”
“In a court filing,” the Times said, “Rezko’s lawyers say that prosecutors accused him … of paying the bribe to Aiham Alsammarae, Iraq’s former minister of electricity.”
“The prosecution is reportedly relying on information from Daniel Mahru,” the report wrote, “who was cooperating with the Federal investigation for ten months before Rezko was indicted.”
Mahru was an attorney for Companion when it got the Iraqi contract, according to the Times. Prosecutors allege the $1.5 million bribe was paid through an escrow account held by the Chicago-based Bryan Cave law firm.
The names of Obama and Blagojevich became tied to the bid rigging scandal when reports surfaced that Companion had sought their help in carrying out the contract a year after Alsammarae left office, and around the same time he was thrown in jail in Iraq.
In April 2006, Frawley began working with Blagojevich’s office to get Iraqi officials to lease a military facility in Illinois for the training camp.
On June 12, 2006, a letter marked “CONFIDENTIAL BUSINESS CORRESPONENCE,” from Jill Morgenthaler, “Homeland Security Advisor to the Governor,” was sent to the Iraqi Minister of Electrical Power Grid, City of Iraq, the Minister of Finance, and the Minister of Defense, stating:
“The state of Illinois is greatly interested in assisting to facilitate the training, within Illinois, of Iraqi Police Recruits charged with the security of the Power Grid generation facilities within the City of Bagdad.”
The letter suggested facilities at the Savanna Army Depot in Western Illinois as “an ideal potential training location.”
“It would be helpful if an itinerary could be arranged for your inspection of the proposed location and a review of its attributes,” Morgenthaler wrote.
After the inspection has been completed and a decision made, she noted, a letter of intent of the Training Contract that you provide “should be received by the State of Illinois.”
“The source of this letter of intent,” she wrote, “should be from any one of the three separate Iraqi Governmental Ministries indicated above (or one of similar authority), together with an indication of the number of trainees to be included in each training cycle and the funding available to insure that your training goals can be met.”
The letter concluded with the statement: “Looking forward to seeing this worthy project’s beginning within Illinois.”
“Since then, Companion has been lobbying officials from Washington to Baghdad about its Iraqi deal,” the Sun-Times reported on August 7, 2007.
Companion “beefed up its lobbying efforts” in March in 2006, the Times said, “hiring a Washington attorney who has contacted the U.S. State and Commerce departments.”
After the state found a proposed training site, Frawley met with Seamus Ahern, who runs Obama’s senate office in Moline, Illinois. “Frawley and Ahern discussed the proposal over a period of about six months,” the Times notes.
According to the report, “Obama and Blagojevich viewed Frawley’s efforts as a chance to create jobs in the Quad Cities area.”
Blagojevich’s spokeswoman told the Times that state officials assumed Frawley’s contract has “gone away” because they had not heard from Companion since last year.
On August 14, 2007, the Forest Park Review reported: “Almost 16 months ago Sgt. Maureen Frawley’s home in nearby La Grange was the site of a bizarre burglary in which more than $100,000 in cash and several guns were allegedly stolen.”
“Four days later, though,” the Review noted, “the missing items were left on Frawley’s doorstep with no apparent explanation.”
Frawley told the Review the cash stolen, and returned, had nothing to do with Companion Security and that Daniel was no longer a partner with Rezko. The funds belonged solely to her brother, she told the newspaper.
Citing a La Grange police report, the Sun-Times said Daniel Frawley “became defensive about questions relating to when, where and how he obtained the money.”
“He told police he had withdrawn the money — $100 bills in bundles of $5,000 — from a Chicago bank, and his sister was supposed to have put the cash in a safe-deposit box,” according to the Times.
His lawyer, George Weaver, told police the money had been “legally obtained by Daniel Frawley through real-estate transactions.”
At the time of the report in August 2007, the village administrator told the Review that Maureen was no longer receiving a paycheck from the police department but declined to confirm or deny her employment status.
Both Blagojevich’s office and Obama’s office now claim they never knew Rezko was partnered with Frawley in the Iraq contract.
Prosecution of corrupt officials halted in Iraq
On October 4, 2007, the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held its first hearing on “Assessing the State of Iraqi Corruption.”
The major topic of discussion was a secret order issued by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s office in April 2007, that bars the investigation and referral for prosecution of corruption cases involving the Iraqi president, the Council of Ministers, or any current or former ministers without Maliki’s consent, which effectively grants immunity to all high level officials.
The committee also was informed that Maliki’s office had issued other orders to prevent further investigation or referrals of specific cases for prosecution, including two instructing authorities to close corruption cases against Maliki’s own cousin.
The Bush administration’s witness at the hearing was Lawrence Butler from the State Department. When asked whether “the Government of Iraq currently has the political will or the capability to root out corruption within its Government,” whether “the Maliki Government is working hard to improve the corruption situation so that he can unite his country” and whether Maliki “obstructed any anticorruption investigations in Iraq to protect his political allies,” he refused to answer.
Butler told the lawmakers that, “questions which go to the broad nature of our bilateral relationship with Iraq are best answered in a classified setting.”
When asked about the secret order issued by Maliki’s office, he claimed the State Department had concluded that the matter was too sensitive to address in public.
Prior to the hearing, the committee reviewed reports prepared by a team of American investigators working out of the Office of Accountability and Transparency at the US Embassy in Iraq in what could be likened to a Board Game investigation of Iraqi officials.
The Iraqi ministers are the equivalent of Secretaries appointed by the President to head federal agencies in the US government. For example, Alsammarae’s title might be the Secretary of Energy here, or the minister of defense would be the Secretary of Defense.
The Commission of Public Integrity in Iraq is the agency in charge of investigating corruption and is the equivalent of the FBI.
During their investigation, the Embassy team assessed the cases of corruption in the individual ministries and the ability of the CPI to investigate and prepare cases for prosecution with only 120 investigators.
“Currently, Iraq is not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anticorruption laws,” according to the Embassy report.
A review of cases of corruption for the Ministry of Electricity shows there were a total of 175 investigations but the only high level Iraqi official ever convicted in Bagdad is the former minister who is now living in Chicago.
In the Ministry of Interior, the team reported: “There is a general impression in the public and within the anticorruption enforcement establishment that MOI is immune from prosecution of corruption charges unless the subject falls out of favor within MOI.”
“The pattern of criminality endemic at MOI is beyond CPI’s capability and charter,” the report concludes.
Contract fraud is the greatest violation but according to the Embassy team, CPI investigators assigned to the Ministry of Interior “have unanimously expressed their fear of being assassinated should they aggressively pursue their duties at MOI.”
“Groups within MOI function similarly to a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) in the classic sense. MOI is a “legal enterprise” which has been co-opted by organized criminals who act through the “legal enterprise” to commit crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, bribery, etc.”
“Unlike CPI officers,” they report, “MOI officers carry guns and are extremely dangerous.”
Therefore, CPI investigators are too intimidated to conduct serious investigations and the “lack of support from the administration has had a clear negative affect on the morale of the investigators themselves,” the study found.
The combined security situation and “the violent character of the criminal elements within the ministries make investigation of corruption too hazardous, unless performed by a tactically robust police force with the support of the Iraqi government.”
“Currently this support is lacking,” they wrote. Each ministry has an Inspector General’s office to investigate corruption within the agency and the Embassy staff reports that:
“Each of the dangers described for the CPI investigators is compounded for the IG investigators. The general level of violence in Baghdad multiplies the intimidation factor in that murders are so common that tying them back to the work place would be difficult even for an accomplished police force.
“Knowing this, those confronted with criminal activity are fully aware of the near immunity available to violent criminals. So great is the danger in the ministries as to make nearly all of the IG actions suspect.”
In Iraq, criminal cases are resolved in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. CCCI employs both Trial Judges, who hear cases similar to Judges in the US, and Investigative Judges (IJ), who function more as investigators but can demand the production of documents and compel testimony.
Investigative Judges can be likened “to a hybrid, Federal Agent – Assistant US Attorney,” the report notes. A panel of three IJs reviews all CPI investigations, and they determine whether a case is advanced to a criminal proceeding before a Trial Judge.
“Judges are regularly subject to intimidation throughout Iraq,” according to the report.
In their assessment, the team interviewed the Supreme Investigative Judge who identified issues including: (1) Interference – history of political pressure being placed upon the judiciary from both Iraq and American interests; and (2) Security – day before the advisors meeting with the IJ, another Judge was assassinated.
“Literally hundreds of arrest warrants remain outstanding,” the reports states, “as do court orders to produce evidence, witnesses and documents, all of which remain outstanding and ignored by government officials.”
“Currently,” the team reports, “anticorruption enforcement forces are so vulnerable as to provide those involved in corruption immunity.”
“The acceptance of militia, organized crime and/or common gang infiltration of Iraq Government Ministries must be confronted,” the Embassy team concluded.
“The US Embassy should articulate as a matter of policy that the fair and independent prosecutions should be a condition for continued assistance to the Iraqis in anticorruption enforcement,” the team recommends.
In his opening statement at the hearing, committee chairman, Rep Henry Waxman (D-CA), stated:
“Whether one supports or opposes the President’s policy, we can’t ignore the reality of corruption in Iraq. And we can’t ignore the reality that corruption is undermining the political progress our troops are fighting and dying for.”
The committee heard testimony from Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, the former commissioner of the CPI, who told the panel corruption in Iraq “is getting worse” and “has stopped the process of reconstruction in Iraq.”
The cost of corruption uncovered so far across all ministries in Iraq, Radhi said, “has been estimated to be as high as $18 billion.”
The CPI has lost the ability to fight corruption after implicating Iraqi officials, he says, due to “violence, intimidation and personal attacks.”
“Since the establishment of the Commission,” he told the committee, “31 employees have been assassinated as well as at least an additional 12 family members.”
“In a number of cases,” Radhi said, “my staff and their relatives have been kidnapped or detained and tortured prior to being killed.”
“Many of these people were gunned down at close range,” he stated. Radhi fled Iraq in August 2007, and is seeking asylum in the US.
The committee also heard testimony from Stewart Bowen, US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. “Over the past year,” he told panel, “the number of corruption cases under investigation by the CPI increased by almost 70 percent, from 1861 cases in 2006 to 3158 cases thus far in 2007.”
“Similarly,” he said, “individual Iraqi ministries have reported dramatic increases in the number of corruption cases initiated.”
“Thus far in 2007,” Bowen reported, “the Ministry of Defense has seen a 57% increase in reported cases, the Ministry of Health a 400% increase, and the Ministry of Trade a 728% increase.”
“Political influence recently reached into CPI’s operations,” he said, “as evidenced by the presence at this hearing today of Judge Radhi al-Radhi, the recently departed Commissioner of the CPI.”
“I have worked with Judge Radhi throughout my tenure,” Bowen told lawmakers, “and consistently observed his courage and commitment to accomplish what is perhaps the most dangerous law enforcement job in the world.”
He also said Article 136(b) of Iraq’s Criminal Code is a “notorious structural obstacle” impeding anti-corruption efforts. “This provision,” he explained, “allows any Iraqi minister to grant by fiat complete immunity from prosecution to any ministry employee accused of wrongdoing.”
“In addition,” he stated, “an order issued by the Prime Minister this past spring requires Iraqi law enforcement authorities to obtain permission from the Prime Minister’s Office before investigating current or former ministers.”
Bowen said an Iraqi council chairman from Baghdad recently told his office that Iraq “had corruption under the regime of Saddam Hussein, but we also had law.”
The US Comptroller General, David Walker, testified that “widespread corruption undermines efforts to develop the government’s capacity by robbing it of needed resources, some of which are used to fund the insurgency.”
During the hearing, Alsammarae’s convictions and escape became a hot topic of debate when Massachusetts Congressman, Stephen Lynch, questioned witnesses about the case.
Radhi told Lynch the amount attributed to Alsammarae’s corruption while serving two years as minister was $2 billion.
Lynch quizzed Radhi about his escape. “Mr. Alsammarae, I understand,” he said, was arrested and held in prison inside the Green Zone, but he somehow escaped.”
“Do you know the facts surrounding that?” he asked.
“I know some of the facts that surround this case,” Radhi replied, “and I know that a U.S- protection company has helped him get away.”
“Do you know what the name of that U.S. protection agency might have been?” Lynch asked.
“If believe it is DynCorp,” the Judge stated.
He said Alsammarae had a three year sentence awaiting him in Iraq and “l1 other charges against him fielded through the Interpol.”
Lynch also tried to question Bowen about the case. “I have tried to establish that the former Iraqi Electricity Minister was accused of corruption of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, and further stated:
“He was arrested. He was brought to the Green zone. I believe it was a DOD facility. We are talking the Unites States Military.
“He was then broken out of that jail or removed from that jail by a U.S. contractor.
“We have evidence or testimony that it was DynCorp.”
“Mr. Bowen,” Lynch asked, “is that your understanding of the facts of this case?”
“Yes,” Bowen said, “but with the one additional fact that he was convicted by that Iraqi court and was awaiting sentencing.”
“Is there an investigation ongoing relative to the handling of this case?” Lynch asked.
“I can’t comment on our ongoing investigations,” Bowen replied.
“Okay,” Lynch said, “so if it is an ongoing investigation, it must be ongoing …”
“Can you tell me,” he asked Bowen, “the allegation that this gentleman is in Chicago, is that correct?”
“Is that your understanding?” Lynch asked.
“That is what I have heard, yes,” Bowen replied.
The committee later learned that on September 25, 2007, or about two weeks before the hearing, the State Department instructed officials not to answer questions that ask for:
“Broad statements/assessments which judge or characterize the quality of Iraqi governance or the ability or determination of the Iraqi government to deal with corruption, including allegations that investigations were thwarted/stifled for political reasons.”
The Department also retroactively classified the Embassy reports on corruption that had been distributed as “sensitive but unclassified,” and even went so far as to retroactively classify portions of the previously cleared report that Comptroller General Walker released at the hearing.
On October 12, 2007, Waxman, along with the chairmen of three other House committees, wrote to Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, with concerns that Congress and the American people were not getting “honest answers about the extent of corruption in the Maliki government.”
The letter asked for information about whether Maliki “obstructed any anticorruption investigations in Iraq to protect his political allies” or “protected some of his relatives that were involved in corruption.”
In response, Rice’s office sent an October 15, 2007 letter acknowledging that “corruption in Iraq is a very serious challenge” and that “not all information” sought by the Committee “is necessarily classified,” but failed to provide any information about the secret order issued by Maliki.
On October 15, 2007, the House voted to pass Resolution 734, which concluded “it was wrong” for the State Department “to retroactively classify … statements that are embarrassing but do not meet the criteria for classification.”
The resolution also said, “it is an abuse of the classification process to withhold from Congress and the people of the United States broad assessments of the extent of corruption in the Iraqi Government.”
In his opening statement before the vote, Waxman stated: “Five years ago, abuse of classified information got us into the war.”
“It is time for these abuses to end,” he said.
On October 25, 2007, the committee called Rice to testify at another hearing and Waxman asked her if she was aware of the secret order issued by Maliki’s office.
“I believe that you are referring to something that is – because there’s an executive branch and a legislative branch that are treated differently.” she said.
“Is that the point?” Rice asked.
“No,” Waxman said. “The point of the order is that Prime Minister Maliki has issued an order saying that he may not be investigated, nor may his ministers be investigated for corruption, which means they’re immunized from anything -“
“I will have to get back to you,” Rice said, “I don’t know precisely what you are referring to.”
“It is our understanding,” she stated, “that the Iraqi leadership is not, indeed, immune from investigation.”
“Well,” Waxman said, “this order that was shown to us by Judge Radhi, it was
discussed at our October 4th hearing.”
“We even asked Ambassador Butler from the State Department about it,” he said, “And we expected you would come in and give us your view of such an order.”
“I think you ought to tell us that you are as outraged as we are,” Waxman stated, “because we want corruption investigated and not just left for you to get back to us another time.”
“I have just stated,” Rice said, “that it would not be the intention of the United States of America that any official in Iraq, including the Prime Minister, the President or members of the Council of Representatives, would be immune from investigation for corruption.”
But she again told Waxman; “I must get back to you on the specifics of the order that you are talking about, because I don’t know whether there are other bases on which people can be investigated.”
Following the hearing, Waxman published a commentary in the November 5, 2007, LA Times with the heading: “The Iraqi prime minister is presiding over a government that is stealing us blind.”
“Two truths have emerged from Iraq in recent months,” he stated.
“First, corruption is so pervasive in Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s government that political progress in Iraq may be impossible.
“Second, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and our embassy in Baghdad are inexplicably neglecting this corrosive threat.”
Confronting these facts is difficult, Waxman wrote, when:
“Nearly 4,000 American soldiers have been killed and another 28,000 wounded in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. No one wants to believe that these sacrifices were made to establish and support a regime riddled with fraud and graft.”
“Is Maliki’s corruption worth American lives?” Waxman asked.
Rice never bothered to get back to the committee and on March 3, 2008 chairman Waxman sent her a letter stating:
“It is now more than four months since the October 25 hearing. The Committee still has received no communications from you regarding this issue. Despite your promises to follow-up with the Committee, we still do not know what your views are about the order.”
“For these reasons,” the letter states, “I ask that you provide the Committee with copies of all documents relating to the February 4, April 1, and April 2, 2007, orders issued by the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.”
All responsive documents were to be provided by March 28, 2008 and April 11, 2008. As of May 11, 2008, there was no sign that Rice provided any of the information requested on the committee’s web site.
Alsammarae was recruited by the Bush administration in the fall of 2002 for a project called the “Future of Iraq,” to plot the take-over of Iraq months before Americans were told of Bush’s plan to take the country to war.
Paul Bremer, the leader of the notoriously corrupt Coalition Provisional Authority, appointed him minister of electricity in August 2003. Alsammarae was photographed at a White House ceremony in the Oval Office on September 22, 2003, at which Bush called him a “good soul,” who “inherited a system of a corrupt tyrant.”
In a brief speech, Alsammarae told the audience: “If the Iraqi people and the American help us for the next year-and-a-half, I almost guarantee — I guarantee it to the President but I almost guarantee it to the American people that we will have different Iraq.”
“We need the help of the Americans right now,” he said, “to build Iraq so you have a secure country here and you have a secure world and we have a secure Iraq.”
Less then three months later, other members of the “Combine” flew to Washington on a private jet to attend a White House Christmas party on December 3, 2003, including Rezko, Levine, Cellini, and Kjellander, along with their wives, with an invitation obtained from the White House by Kjellander.
During a March 14, 2008 interview with the Sun-Times, Obama was asked: “Did you ever meet Nadhmi Auchi or Dr. Aiham Alsammarae?”
“I have to say I do not recall meeting them. It’s been reported that a dinner Tony hosted at the four seasons, I don’t have the exact date, so I don’t know whether it was the before November ’04 when I hadn’t been elected but had already won the primary or whether it was after the election, in which I was . . .
“Tony called and asked if I could stop by because he had a number of friends that he had invited to dinner and he wanted mew to meet them.
“I told him that I would be happy to come by if my schedule allowed it. And it did. Although I couldn’t, I think, stay for dinner, so I remember meeting a bunch of people who I had not met before. I frankly don’t remember what their names were.
“Business was not discussed at the meeting. It was more of a social meeting and they asked me questions about the senate race and so fourth and so on.
“I have no specific recollection. They may have been there. I can’t say unequivocally that I did not meet them, but I just don’t recall.”
Combine plots to shut down Operation Board Games
Testimony during the Rezko trial in late April, shows the “Combine,” was working with the Bush administration for years to pull a stunt with Fitzgerald similar to what Maliki pulled with Judge Radhi in Iraq.
On April 22, 2008, prosecutors dropped a bombshell by informing the judge that co-schemer, Steve Loren, who already pled guilty, was ready to testify that he was told by Cellini, that Kjellander had worked with Karl Rove to get the leader of the Operation Board Games fired.
Fitzgerald is famous in Illinois for fighting the Combine’s corruption but he is most famous to the rest of the country for his conviction of Scooter Libby in the CIA leak case. In that case, Libby took the fall for Bush, Dick Cheney and especially, Karl Rove.
Rove was the first source for the leak of the identity of CIA agent, Valerie Plame, after her husband, Joe Wilson, went public about his first-hand knowledge that the Bush administration lied the country into war with bogus weapons of mass destruction stories.
On July 13, 2005, Time Magazine reporter, Matt Cooper, testified before a grand jury and identified Rove as the first source who told him Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA.
In an article discussing his testimony, in the July 17, 2005, issue of Time, Cooper wrote: “Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson’s wife worked at the C.I.A. and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes.”
“Did Rove say that she worked at the ‘agency’ on ‘W.M.D.’? Yes,” Cooper asked and answered in the article.
“When he said things would be declassified soon, was that itself impermissible? I don’t know,” Cooper wrote.
Scooter’s case was heating up at the same time the “Combine” was desperate to shut down Operation Board Games. During the April 22, 2008 hearing, Assistant US Attorney, Carrie Hamilton, stated, reading from Loren’s grand jury testimony, Cellini “said it was Bob Kjellander’s job to take care of the U.S. Attorney.”
Cellini’s real estate investment firm had received hundreds of millions of dollars from pension funds. Loren had testified earlier about a meeting in February 2004, where Cellini and other co-schemers discussed approving a deal where his firm would receive a new $50 million investment, but the amount approved ended up being $100 million after Cellini told the co-schemers he wanted more.
The morning after the prosecution announced that Loren would testify, Hamilton dropped another bombshell by informing the judge that Jordanian-native and co-schemer, Ali Ata, the former head of the Illinois Finance Authority, had pled guilty and entered into a plea agreement and he would testify that he received the same information in 2004.
“Mr. Kjellander is working with Mr. Rove to have Mr. Fitzgerald removed so someone else can come in” and end the criminal investigation of state corruption, Hamilton told the judge in summarizing Ata’s expected testimony of what Rezko told him.
She said the conversation was about having Fitzgerald replaced by someone else, “so individuals who have been cooperating in this investigation will be dealt with differently.”
In court filings, the government identifies Kjellander as having “received $809,000 in consulting fees for the 2003 sale of state bonds, much of which prosecutors believe was funneled through a Rezko associate to Rezko assignees.”
In 2002, the Republican-allied Carlyle Group also hired Kjellander to secure an eventual $500 million investment from the pension fund. Kjellander ended up with $4.5 million in finder‘s fees, which the pension board now claims it knew nothing about.
On April 25, 2008, former Illinois Republican House Speaker, Dennis Hastert, was added to the plot when co-schemer Elie Maloof testified that he went to Rezko’s house in February 2005, to let him know that he had received a subpoena to testify before a grand jury and Rezko told him to reveal little because the investigation would soon be over.
Maloof testified under a grant of immunity and said Rezko explained, “that Patrick Fitzgerald will be terminated and that Dennis Hastert will name his replacement.”
“The federal prosecutor will no longer be the same federal prosecutor,” Rezko told him. And a new US attorney would “order the prosecutor to stop the investigation.”
Maloof is one of the donors used to funnel two $10,000 contributions to Obama through bank accounts from Rezko‘s pizza businesses from the pension fund kickback. An exhibit produced for the jury shows Maloof also made a $10,000 contribution to Blagojevich.
As predicted, on May 1, 2008, Ata testified that he was assured there was a plan in place to remove Fitzgerald after Bush was reelected in 2004. “Mr. Rezko informed me that they had just finished meeting with Mr. Kjellander and that there will be a change in U.S. attorney’s office come the new administration,” he said.
“Mr. Kjellander will talk to Karl Rove and make a change in the U.S. attorney’s office,” he said Rezko told him. Ata told the jury he knew from Rezko that Kjellander was a Republican insider and had a direct relationship with Rove.
Another time, Ata said, Rezko told him the investigation was heating up but instructed him to hold firm. “Mr. Rezko said the FBI was approaching people … asking people to cooperate,” he told the jury
‘Those who do will be dealt with,” Ata said Rezko told him.
Even in 2006, he said, Rezko assured him that things were going to turn out all right because of a plan to get rid of Fitzgerald. When asked why he believed Rezko could get him removed, Ata said, “Mr. Rezko has the influence and power to do that.”
Ata told prosecutors he lied to the FBI in December 2005, because he was encouraged to be a “team player” by people he believed to be acting on Rezko’s behalf. When he received a grand jury subpoena in late 2005, he said, people contacted him in an effort to stop him from cooperating.
After he met with Federal agents the first time, Ata said, he got a voice-mail from Michael Rumman. The voice mail said Rumman was traveling with “our friend,” meaning Rezko, and asked Ata to delay meeting with investigators.
On his final day on the stand, Ata told the jury he finally agreed to cooperate with the Feds in April 2008, after an unnamed person delivered a threat. He testified that prosecutors once had him wear a wire to make a recording after the person threatened him.
Ata told the jury he delivered one $25,000 contribution to Blagojevich at Rezko’s office in the latter part of 2002, and the three men discussed the prospects of Ata getting an appointment in the administration. He said people at the office that day included Blagojevich’s campaign chief and later chief of staff, Lon Monk, Christopher Kelly, and state Representative Jay Hoffman.
“I learned that Mr. Hoffman was part of a select group of advisers that were referred to as the kitchen cabinet,” Ata told the jury.
“The way Ali Ata described it, the waiting room in the North Side office of Antoin “Tony” Rezko seemed as busy as an airport terminal,” the Tribune noted on May 1, 2008.
Ata brought another $25,000 check to a fundraiser on July 25, 2003, and he was appointed to lead the Finance Authority.
Ata made a $5,000 donation to Obama less than a month earlier on June 30, 2003. Ata is also an investor in Riverside Park. Almost without fail, the people identified in the Board Games cases as investors in Riverside Park contributed to Obama’s US senate campaign.
According to the Sun-Times, to raise the $8 million to spring Rezko out of jail in April, in addition to the $2 million worth of property pledged by Alsammarae, six people who are “current or former state employees,” also put up property.
The list has three current employees from Rumman’s former Department of Central Management Services, including Jenan Shamoun, Donald Lynch, and Mustafa Abdalla.
A state employee familiar with the hiring of the employees told the Associated Press that CMS personnel were pressured by then-director Rumman to hire them
Campaign records show Mustafa Abdalla gave Obama $1,000 on June 30, 2003.
Rezko himself also came up with $380,000 in cash. He claims he raised the money by selling his shares in Riverside Park – again.
His attorneys told the court that only about half of what Rezko received from the sale was used to post the $380,000 bond, and the rest was mostly used to pay their legal fees.
During the hearing, the judge said she had spoken with a lawyer for GMH, and was told that Rezko was officially bought out in February 2008. She asked Rezko whether he or any of his companies still had any shares in the South Loop property.
In response, Rezko stated: “None.”
This exchange sounds eerily similar to what Rezko told her more than a year ago on January 16, 2007, when he stated: “If the property is sold today for $200 million, I will not receive one dollar from the proceeds.”
(Curtain Time For Barack Obama – Part II will be published on May 16, 2008)
(Evelyn Pringle is a columnist for OpEd News and an investigative journalist focused on exposing corruption in government and corporate America)