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Now, hunt for Saddam's illicit billions

Now, hunt for Saddam's illicit billions

Iraqi and US authorities have intensified the hunt for Saddam's missing billions.

New Delhi: Just days after the hanging of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraqi and US authorities have intensified the hunt for Saddam's missing billions. Saddam is estimated to have amassed a fortune of $57 billion during his 30-year reign.

CIA estimates Saddam's illegal assets to be worth more than $15 billion, which was amassed between 1990 and 2003. Iyad Allawi, who was Iraq's interim prime minister after the allied invasion, once said information suggested that Saddam amassed an astonishing $57 billion.

According to reports American and Iraqi government investigators now plan to question some members of the former dictator's close family on his illicit fortune. Much of Saddam's assets are believed to be invested through dummy corporations in Switzerland, Japan and Germany while a part of it may be hidden as cash and diamonds in numbered bank accounts in Europe and West Asia.

The investigators have so far failed to identify the fake companies or numbered accounts. Saddam himself is believed to be cooperating in the investigations for some time after his capture. In fact, he is said to have given his US interrogators information on the whereabouts of the billions he siphoned from Iraq's coffers and salted away abroad. But later, the dictator refused to help further.

The main person on the investigators' radar is Saddam's daughter Raghad, who is currently living in Amman. Jordan's King Abdullah granted her and her sister, Rana, asylum on humanitarian grounds after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Raghad is living in exile on the condition that she does not engage in political activities or make public statements.

The new Iraqi government accuses Raghad, who is also known as 'Little Saddam' because she shares her father's temper, of using millions, allegedly stolen by Saddam, to help finance the insurgency. It is unclear if Raghdad or Rana have much sympathy for their father, though the latter was involved in his legal defence.

Saddam had ordered the husbands of both women killed in 1996 after accusing them of giving information about Iraq's weapons to the West. The brothers had defected to Jordan with their families in 1995 and were killed when they accepted Saddam's offer to return.

The investigators are particularly keen on recovering Saddam's $5.5 billion profits that he made from an illegal oil-for-trade deal that he had signed with Syria between 2000 and 2003. US State Department and Treasury officials claim Syria has failed to account properly for more than $500 million in Iraqi oil profits.

According to London's Observer newspaper, the cash that was in Syria's central bank was paid to Syrian 'businessmen' after Saddam's fall. Syrian officials deny the allegations, saying that visits by US 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.

Just before the war of 2003, the US had frozen $1.7bn in assets kept 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. The Bank of England also froze £400m in British banks. An additional $495m of previously unknown assets were secured in accounts in Lebanon.

first published:January 02, 2007, 13:07 IST