Iraq's Odious Debts

$495M in Iraqi assets found in Lebanon

Jim Abrams
Associated Press
May 14, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lebanon’s central bank has located and secured $495 million (U.S.) in Iraqi funds, a U.S. Treasury official said at congressional hearings on efforts to trace the billions of dollars that Saddam Hussein is thought to have hidden away.

David Aufhauser, general counsel in the Treasury Department, said the disclosure by Lebanon on Tuesday was a sign of the progress being made in the worldwide search for Saddam’s assets.

Aufhauser told the House Financial Services oversight subcommittee that the assets in Lebanon apparently came from Iraq’s central bank and other sources.

The United States has stressed that all recovered assets will be used to help the people of Iraq and rebuild the country. Much of the money was taken by Saddam and his family after the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq following the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War.

Aufhauser said that trying to pin down how much Saddam amassed before being driven from power was “wild-eyed guesstimating.” Estimates run from $2 billion (U.S.) to $40 billion (U.S.), and it’s not known how much of that wealth still exists, he said.

The General Accounting Office, the investigating arm of Congress, has conservatively estimated that Saddam skimmed $6.6 billion (U.S.) in illegal revenue from oil smuggling and kickbacks connected to the UN oil-for-food program.

E. Anthony Wayne, assistant secretary for economic and business affairs at the U.S. State Department, said the United States has contacted about 30 countries that froze Iraqi assets after the first Persian Gulf War, and has contacted some 20 others where Iraqi assets might be hidden. In addition to State and Treasury, the departments of Justice, Defence and Homeland Security are involved in the effort to identify hidden bank accounts and front companies.

Wayne praised Switzerland, saying the Swiss are committed to making frozen assets there available for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

U. S. President George W. Bush, using new authority under the anti-terrorism USA Patriot Act, directed in March that $1.7 billion (U.S.) in Iraqi assets — frozen by the United States since 1991 — be deposited in a special account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Some $90 million (U.S.) from that fund has been authorized for such purposes as helping Iraqi pensioners and paying the salaries of Iraqi civil servants, dockworkers and oil workers needed to restore Iraq’s infrastructure.

Wayne said that about $6 billion (U.S.) was frozen around the world in 1991, but some of that was used to pay down claims on Iraq’s debts. Another $900 million (U.S.) worth of currency was found by U.S. troops in Baghdad last month.

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