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March 01, 2008
Who Is Nadhmi Auchi and What’s His Tie to Obama?
By Jack Kelly
You probably would have heard of Nadhmi Auchi by now if Sen. Barack Obama were a Republican.
A British citizen of Iraqi descent, Mr. Auchi, 70, is a billionaire, the 279th richest man in the world, according to a Forbes magazine survey last year.
A great deal of Mr. Auchi’s money was made doing business with the regime of Saddam Hussein, much of it under the table. In 1987, Mr. Auchi helped French and Italian firms win a huge oil pipeline contract in Iraq, chiefly by paying off Iraqi officials, according to testimony given by an Italian banker to prosecutors in Milan. In 2003, he was convicted for his role in what was then the largest scandal in French history, involving payoffs from executives of the oil company now known as Total to political figures in Spain, Germany and Africa.
“He has been able to collect British politicians the way other people collect stamps,” wrote Nick Cohen in a 2003 profile of Mr. Auchi in the left wing British newspaper the Observer.
Mr. Auchi was a leading supplier of arms to Saddam’s regime. A former Belgian ambassador to Luxembourg charged that a bank in Luxembourg owned principally by Mr. Auchi laundered funds — including oil for food money — for Saddam and other Islamic dictators.
“The name Nadhmi Auchi was just another name for Saddam’s intelligence service, or so we thought,” said Nibras Kazimi, a former Iraqi dissident who is now a visiting scholar at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C.
Mr. Auchi is a business partner of Syrian-born businessman Antoin “Tony” Rezko, who has supported Mr. Obama financially since his first run for the Illinois state senate in 1996.
Mr. Rezko currently is in jail awaiting trial on charges he extorted money from firms seeking to do business with the state of Illinois. (Mr. Rezko was also a fund raiser for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.) Mr. Rezko’s bail was revoked Jan. 28 when the trial judge learned that he, friends and relatives had been wired $3.5 million from firms in Lebanon controlled by Mr. Auchi. The judge feared Mr. Rezko was about to flee the country.
Federal prosecutors allege a $10,000 contribution made by Mr. Rezko to Sen. Obama came from a $250,000 kickback, but there is no evidence Sen. Obama was aware of the source of the funds. Nor is there evidence Sen. Obama did any favors for Mr. Rezko that skirted the law.
The most eyebrow raising connection between Mr. Rezko and Sen. Obama is the assistance Mr. Rezko provided in the purchase of the mansion on Chicago’s South Side that Sen. Obama bought in 2005. The Obamas bought the house for $1.65 million — $300,000 below the asking price — perhaps because Mr. Rezko’s wife purchased from the owner an adjacent garden plot for $625,000. (The sellers deny they offered the Obamas a discount.) The Times of London wondered where Mrs. Rezko got the money to buy the garden plot. At the time, she had a salary of $37,000 and assets of only $35,000, the Times learned. Her husband told a court that at the time he had “no income, negative cash flow, no liquid assets,” the Times said.
The Times learned Mr. Rezko received an earlier $3.5 million loan from Mr. Auchi on May 23, 2005, through the Panamanian company Fintrade Services SA.
Mr. Rezko has described Mr. Auchi as a “close friend.” Mr. Auchi says they have only a business relationship. They’ve been partners in a chain of pizza restaurants in Wisconsin and in a major real estate development in Riverside Park in Chicago.
The connection between Mr. Auchi and Sen. Obama is tenuous. But given Mr. Auchi’s shady past, his history of bribing politicians, it’s not unreasonable to ask if Mr. Auchi, through Mr. Rezko, was trying to buy influence with a rising political star. And it’s curious that outside of the Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune, both of which have written extensively on the Rezko-Obama relationship, only a British newspaper is asking.
The New York Times and the Washington Post have made much of Sen. John McCain’s friendship with an attractive female lobbyist, though not even the Times’ anonymous sources allege Sen. McCain had an affair with Vicki Iseman, or acted improperly on behalf of her clients. But they and the rest of the national news media have been remarkably incurious about Sen. Obama’s relationship with Mr. Rezko, and his with Mr. Auchi.
Mr. Rezko’s trial begins Monday, March 3. It will be interesting to see if the national news media will cover it.
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