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Context of 'August 2, 1989: Petra Bank Collapses; Ahmed Chalabi Flees'

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Mohammed Said Nabulsi, Jordan’s central bank governor, orders the country’s banks to deposit 30 percent of their foreign exchange holdings with the central bank. The measure is part of an effort to enforce regulations on liquidity ratios and reduce the outflow of foreign exchange from Jordan. Petra, run by Ahmed Chalabi, is the only bank among the 20 that is unable to comply with the order. At the urging of Nabulsi, King Hussein puts Petra under government supervision and orders an audit of the bank’s books. Petra’s board of directors are replaced and an investigation begins. Two weeks later, in August 1989, Chalabi flees the country—reportedly with $70 million. According to Hudson Institute’s Max Singer, Prince Hassan personally drives Chalabi to the Jordanian border, helping him escape. The investigation subsequently uncovers evidence of massive fraud. “The scale of fraud at Petra Bank was enormous,” Nabulsi will later recall. “It was like a tiny Enron.” Arthur Andersen determines that the bank’s assets are overstated by $200 million. The bank is found to have enormous bad debts (about $80 million); “unsupported foreign currency balances at counter-party banks” (about $20 million); and money purportedly owed to the bank which could not be found (about $60 million). Millions of dollars of depositors’ money had been routed to the Chalabi family empire in Switzerland, Lebanon, and London, in the form of loans that had not been repaid. The Chalabi family’s Swiss and Lebanese firms, Mebco and Socofi, are later put into liquidation. As a result of the fraud, the Jordanian government is forced to pay $200 million to depositors whose money had disappeared, and to avert a potential collapse of the country’s entire banking system. [American Prospect, 11/18/2002; Guardian, 4/14/2003; Salon, 5/4/2004; CounterPunch, 5/20/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004] Chalabi later provides a different account of what happened. According to Zaab Sethna, a spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, King Hussein of Jordan turned on Chalabi in coordination with Iraq because Chalabi was “using the bank to fund [Iraqi] opposition groups and learning a lot about illegal arms transfers to Saddam.” Petra Bank was also providing the CIA with information on the Jordanian-Iraqi trade. [American Prospect, 11/18/2002; New Yorker, 6/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Said Nabulsi, Hussein bin Talal, Petra Bank, Arthur Andersen, Middle East Banking Corp., Ahmed Chalabi

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Ahmed Chalabi, the charismatic, MIT-educated head of Jordan’s Petra Bank, flees to London before charges can be filed against him in regards to the collapse of his bank (see August 2, 1989 and April 9, 1992). Unworried about the Jordanian charges, Chalabi, whose formerly wealthy family fled Iraq in 1958, establishes a loose grouping of Iraqi exiles called the Iraqi National Congress, with the aim of overthrowing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Chalabi has already forged ties with some US neoconservatives like Albert Wohlstetter and Richard Perle. Now he begins cultivating ties with other influential neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, Douglas Feith, and Perle’s protege, David Wurmser. Chalabi makes the rounds of the symposia and conferences, and wins new allies in pro-Israeli think tanks such as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Chalabi’s appeal to the neoconservatives is directly linked to his support for Israel as a regional power. The new Iraq he will build, he promises, will have strong relations with Israel. He even declares his intention to rebuild the oil pipeline from Kirkuk to Haifa, which has been inoperative since the 1940s. The neoconservatives ignore his close ties with the Iranian Shi’ite theocracy, as well as the Petra Bank’s funding of the Lebanese Shi’ite militia Amal. Instead, the neoconservatives view Chalabi as a potential savior of the Middle East. Patrick Clawson of WINEP says, “He could be Iraq’s national leader.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 123-125]

Entity Tags: Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, Albert Wohlstetter, Ahmed Chalabi, David Wurmser, Douglas Feith, Iraqi National Congress, Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, Saddam Hussein, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Patrick Clawson

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Jordanian investigators spend 45 days in the US looking for hidden assets belonging to a Washington, DC subsidiary of Petra Bank, a Chalabi-controlled enterprise that collapsed in 1989 (see August 2, 1989). Nearly all of the US assets listed in Petra Bank’s books turn out to be worthless, with the notable exception of an auxiliary office where valuable bank records are presumably kept. The “office” is a country estate with a swimming pool in upscale Middleburg, Virginia. It belongs to the Chalabi family, which had been charging the bank a monthly rent. “There was not one business record in the whole place,” an official will later recall. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Chalabi, Petra Bank

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

A 500-page report completed on behalf of the Jordanian military attorney-general charges that Ahmed Chalabi was directly responsible for the collapse of Petra Bank (see August 2, 1989). It accuses him of making “fictitious deposits and entries to make the income… appear larger; losses on shares and investments; [and] bad debts… to Abhara company and Al Rimal company.” The technical report contains 106 chapters, each of which addresses a different irregularity. Most of them are attributed to Chalabi. [Guardian, 4/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Chalabi, Petra Bank

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

In a column exploring the idea of US-led regime change in Iraq and advocating the support of Iraqi opposition groups to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland calls Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996) “a dedicated advocate of democracy” in Iraq. (Hoagland lauds Chalabi’s advanced college degrees, his success as a Jordanian banker (see August 2, 1989), and what he calls Chalabi’s exposure of the CIA’s “gross failures” in Iraq (see (1994)). Hoagland decries “15 years of failed US policy toward Saddam,” and writes that Chalabi is a fine choice to lead Iraq in the place of Hussein. “Mr. Chalabi is a dedicated advocate of democracy who does fight against enormous military odds and deep religious and social divisions in the Arab world,” he writes. Lambasting those in the CIA and State Department who are determined to prove that Chalabi is a fraud (see January 1996), Hoagland writes, “A policy review dedicated to trashing him and other exiles is a shameful and self-defeating way to begin anew on Iraq. It is a phony way to argue that nothing can or should be done to oust the predatory psychopath who holds Iraq hostage.” [Washington Post, 4/9/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 206]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Chalabi, Washington Post, Saddam Hussein, Jim Hoagland

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

President Bush reportedly asks King Abdulla of Jordan to pardon Ahmed Chalabi for his role in the 1989 collapse of Petra Bank (see August 2, 1989). In 1992, a military court found Chalabi guilty on 31 counts of embezzlement and other charges, sentencing him to 22 years of hard labor and ordering him to return $230 million in embezzled funds (see April 9, 1992). According to Seymour Hersh, the king is “stunned” by the request. “How can he pardon Chalabi after what he had done?” Hersh asks. “The money he stole was from old women and children… and he was reviled.” [Democracy Now!, 5/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Chalabi, Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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