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Likely Saddam successor has controversial past
Suman Guha Mozumder in New York |
April 10, 2003 15:32 IST
Even as Ahmad Chalabi, an MIT alumnus in mathematics, is being projected as Washington's favorite head of an interim government in Iraq -- ala Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan -- questions about his controversial past are being raised in the media outside the United States.
Swissinfo, a leading portal of Switzerland news, said Wednesday quoting Le Temps newspaper that Chalabi had run the Geneva branch of the Lebanese bank Mebco, which was shut down by the Swiss Federal Banking Commission in 1989.
Mebco was part of the Middle East Banking Corporation of Beirut, owned by the Chalabi family. It was one of three financial establishments in Switzerland authorized to issue Visa credit cards.
Although there is no record of illegal dealings by the bank, the Commission said Mebco was badly-run, with liquidity problems and lax accounting procedures.
Several months after Mebco was shut down, it claimed Socofi, another Geneva-based business owned by the Chalabis, ran into financial difficulties.
The report in Wednesday's edition of Le Temps said the downfall of Socofi is estimated to have ruined thousands of investors and left a SFr140 million ($101 million) hole. The Chalabi family blamed the first Gulf War for Socofi's difficulties.
In September 2000, the report said two of Chalabi's brothers were sentenced to six months in prison in Switzerland, allegedly for falsifying documents in relation to dealings at Scofi.
The Chalabi family also came under fire for allegedly using their financial establishments to lend money to their companies.
Le Temps was quoted as saying Socofi was believed to have paid SFr88 million of non-guaranteed funds over a five year period to companies owned by the family.
The family, according to the newspaper report, claimed that all the problems faced by their companies were because of pressure from Saddam Hussein's regime.
Although none of the claims made in the newspaper could be verified, an Iraqi-American living in the United States, one who has known the Chalabis for more than 30 years, said the family was not rich before.
"His father Abdul Haydi Chalabi and my grandfather were next door neighbors in Baghdad decades ago," the Chicago-based Iraqi-American, who did not want to be identified by name, said. "The family, one of the older Baghdadi families, was a respected one, but they were not a particularly wealthy family until the 1970s," the Iraqi-American told rediff.com
He would not say what happened after 1970s that might have made the family rich.
Chalabi, a Shia Muslim, has reportedly not lived in Iraq since 1956 except briefly in the mid-1990s while organizing a resistance in the Kurdish north. Until 1977, he was a mathematics professor at the American University in Beirut.
Those who know him allege despite his claims to the contrary he did not behave like a democrat while he led the Iraqi National Congress. He was demoted in 1999 from the INC to the rank of an ordinary member.
Although Washington is trying to prop up Chalabi as interim leader, CBS News, which telecast an interview with him this past weekend, said most people do not believe him.
It quoted Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution, who was in charge of US-Iraq policy during the Clinton Administration, as saying while the Pentagon intends to have a role for Chalabi, the danger was that he has no support inside Iraq and has very little support outside Iraq.
'If we try to impose Chalabi on the Iraqi people, we will just be reinforcing their image of an outside power determined to have our way,' Indyk was quoted by CBS.
Feisal Istrabadi, vice-president and co-founder of the US-based Iraqi Forum for Democracy, said a number of Iraqis were opposed to Chalabi being named Saddam's successor in the interim period.
"This is wrong and a mistaken policy of the United States because this is a question of legitimacy," Istrabadi, who otherwise supports the US attack on Iraq, told rediff.com
"We need to have a Bonn-style conference (similar to the one before Karzai's interim regime took charge in Afghanistan) in Baghdad with representation from all expatriate Iraqi Opposition as well as the untainted Opposition within Iraq," he said.
"Such a meeting should have (UN Secretary General) Kofi Annan sitting at the table either as a chairman or as
an observer," Istrabadi said. "That will give legitimacy to a transitional authority and nothing else," he said.