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Obama's Syrian Connection By: Andrew Walden
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Most politicians try to keep their financial backers un-indicted until after the election.  But Obama’s biggest early sponsor, dual U.S.-Syrian citizen Antoin ‘Tony’ Rezko, is already indicted by a federal grand jury.  Now he is going to trial in a Chicago federal court.

Rezko, along with co-defendants Ali Ata and Abdelhamid Chaib, face federal grand jury charges presented in October 2006 by the U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald.  The case centers on allegations of fraud between 2000 and 2004 in the sale of 17 Papa Johns’ Pizza parlors in Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee.  The case may begin with pizza, but it leads to Europe, Syria, Iraq, and the UN Oil for Food program. 

Fitzgerald is the prosecutor who won perjury convictions against Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff, Scooter Libby, in March, 2007.  Chaib is an officer of several of Rezko’s restaurant chains including Chicagoland Panda Express franchises.  Ata was appointed Executive Director of the Illinois Finance Authority by Illinois’ Democratic Governor, Rod Blagojevich.  Ata was also a former president of the Chicago Chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and had a financial interest in Rezko’s restaurants.  Ata reportedly donated as much as $60,000 to Blagojevich and $5000 to Obama.  Rezko reportedly raised as much as $500,000 for Blagojevich and at least $70,000 for Obama’s various campaigns.  

Arab American Media Services reports: “In 1997, Panda Express won the right to open a lucrative concession at O’Hare International Airport under the city’s Minority Set-Aside program which directs large contracts to companies owned by Women, African Americans or Hispanics. The city awarded a 10-year contract for O’Hare Airport to Crucial Inc. in 1999, which the city believed was owned by an African American, Jabir Herbert Muhammad, the son of the late Elijah Mohammad.”

Elijah Mohammad led the Nation of Islam until his death in 1975.  Jabir Herbert Muhammad was sued in 1999 by boxer Muhammad Ali for unauthorized use of his name in connection with the Muhammad Ali Foundation.  Rezko served as Executive Director of the Foundation.

According to the Associated Press, “U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve jailed Rezko Jan. 28, saying he had disobeyed her order to keep her posted on his financial status.  Among other things, he failed to tell her about a $3.5 million loan from London-based Iraqi billionaire Nadhmi Auchi – a loan that was later forgiven in exchange for shares in a prime slice of Chicago real estate.  Rezko gave $700,000 of the money to his wife and used the rest to pay legal bills and funnel cash to various supporters.”

According to the ChicagoTribune December 24:

Rezko…began cultivating a friendship with Obama around 1990, becoming a key fundraiser….

In June 2005, even as Rezko was widely reported to be under federal investigation, the Tribune reports, “Obama bought a $1.65 million South Side home on the same day that Rezko's wife purchased the adjoining garden lot for $625,000. Obama and Rezko then engaged in a series of private transactions to redivide and improve their adjoining parcels.

The Times of London has uncovered “state documents in Illinois recording that Fintrade Services, a Panamanian company, lent money to (an) Obama fundraiser in May 2005. Fintrade’s directors include Ibtisam Auchi, the name of Mr. Auchi’s wife. Mr. Auchi’s spokespeople declined to respond to a question about whether he was linked to this business.”

Auchi, an Iraqi Chaldean Christian, was a life-long Ba’athist who had been charged with supplying a machine gun for Saddam’s 1959 failed attempt to assassinate then-Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Karim Qasim.  As Saddam’s Baath party took power, Auchi prospered.  He went to work for Saddam’s Ministry of Oil in 1967.  He rose to be Saddam’s Oil Ministry Director of Planning and Development before leaving Iraq in 1979.  His brother was apparently killed by Saddam’s regime as were family of many high-ranking Baathists.  But there are also claims that Auchi continued secretly working for Saddam’s intelligence services.  What is certain is that Auchi prospered mightily collecting “commissions” on sale of weapons and other goods to Iraq in the 1980s and 1990s.  Living in the UK, he is now listed as Britain’s 13th-richest man.       

Auchi held an interest in the French banking giant PNB Paribas through his General Mediterranean Holdings company.  According to the New York Times, “As recently as 2001, General Mediterranean Holdings described itself in an annual report as one of largest single shareholders in BNP Paribas.”  Until 2001 Saddam insisted that all “Oil for Food” payments—$13 billion dollars—would pass through Banque Nationale de Paris which in 2000 merged with Paribas to become PNB Paribas.  Auchi has played a role in PNB since the late 1970s.  Saddam used Oil for Food fraud to channel millions of dollars to heads of state, activists, terrorists, and journalists who then returned the favor by backing Saddam when the US finally invaded Iraq.

In 2003, Auchi was convicted in France for receiving about $100 million in illegal commissions as part of a scandal involving the French oil giant ELF Aquitane.  The UK Guardian termed the scandal, “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, jewelery, fine art, villas and apartments." 

Auchi’s General Mediterranean Holdings financed a 250 megawatt power plant in the Kurdish town of Chamchamal, Iraq along with Rezko and Iraq's former Minister of Electricity (and Chicago resident), Aiham Alsamarrae. 

Returning in 2003 to post-Saddam Iraq, Alsamarrae had been made Minister of Electricity under the occupation government of Paul Bremer.  Alsamarrae escaped “the Chicago way” from the Green Zone in December, 2006 after being held for four months in relation to a $2 billion Iraqi reconstruction corruption case.  He is now living in his Chicago mansion.

Writing in Human Events, John Batchelor reports on another Alsammarae-Obama-Rezko connection:

“…in April 2005, one month before Mr. Alsammarae left his post, his Ministry of Electricity signed a contract for $50 million with Companion Security to provide training to Iraqis to guard electrical plants by flying them to Illinois for classes.

“Companion Security was headed by a former Chicago policeman with a troubled history, Daniel T. Frawley, in partnership with Mr. Rezko and in association with Daniel Mahru, the lawyer for the original contract and Mr. Rezko's former business partner. In April 2006, Mr. Frawley entered negotiations with Governor Rod Blagojevich's staff to lease a military facility in Illinois to be a training camp. In August 2006, Mr. Frawley started negotiations with Mr. Obama's U.S. Senate staff to complete the contract….

“The timeline of Companion discussions in 2006 is important to note: April 2006 Frawley speaks to governor's office; August 2006 Frawley speaks to senator's office; October 2006 indictment of Rezko revealed; October 2006 Rezko arrested upon return from Syria; October 2006 Alsammarae convicted in Baghdad and makes his first escape attempt; December 2006 Alsammarae escapes from Baghdad. …

“(In 2004) Mr. Auchi traveled by private aircraft to Midway Airport in Chicago and then to a fete at the Four Season Hotel, where he met with his business partner in Chicago real estate, Mr. Rezko, as well as with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Also present that night, according to a fresh report by James Bone and Dominic Kennedy of the London Times, was State Senator Barack Obama, who had recently won the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat….”

Jay Stewart of the Better Government Assn. in Chicago told the LA Times: “Everybody in this town knew that Tony Rezko was headed for trouble.  When he got indicted, there wasn't a single insider who was surprised.  It was viewed as a long time coming. . . .Why would you be having anything to do with Tony Rezko, particularly if you're planning to run for president?”

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