News of Hussein fortune sets off treasure hunt WAR IN THE GULF

March 26, 1991|By New York Times News Service

News reports that Saddam Hussein had squirreled away billions of dollars in bank accounts around the world reverberated through business and diplomatic communities yesterday.

The U.S. Treasury Department was besieged with questions about how much of the Iraqi president's assets were, in fact, hidden in such accounts, where they were and what would be done about them.

The Jordanian central bank insisted it had not sheltered Mr. Hussein's money.

The European publishing company Hachette SA denied having any knowledge of the Iraqi government as a stockholder.

Jules Kroll -- the private investigator whose allegations on the CBS television program "60 Minutes" Sunday touched off the firestorm -- received more than 100 inquiries

from journalists worldwide.

[Mr. Kroll discovered that Mr. Hussein's holdings included an 8.4 percent stake, or about $64 million, in Hachette, which publishes Elle, Car and Driver, Road & Track and Women's Day, CBS and the Financial Times reported, according to the Associated Press].

Mr. Kroll said his investigators had discovered that for the last 10 years Mr. Hussein and his family had been skimming 5 percent of Iraq's oil sales for themselves. Since Iraq's annual oil revenues amounted to $200 billion, they extrapolated that Mr. Hussein and his family had amassed more than $10 billion.

Yesterday he said that his $10 billion estimate may even be understated because it did not include "protection payments" he said Iraqis had been receiving from the sale of crude oil of other countries.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Treasury, Barbara Clay, said the department would soon be in a position to shed more light on Iraq's complex financial network.

The department said it plans to release a list of about 100 individuals and companies around the world it has identified as being either fronts

for or agents of the Iraqi government.

These individuals and companies would then become subject to President Bush's executive order to freeze their assets.

A similar step was taken with associates and affiliates of the former president of Panama, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, she said.

Mr. Kroll acknowledged that information about Mr. Hussein's financial empire ranged from "hard to soft."

Reports that the $10 billion was hidden in 40 to 50 banks around the

world, he said, were no more than an estimate.

"When you get a country basically run by a family, it's difficult to distinguish what's personal from what isn't," Mr. Kroll said.

Even using Mr. Kroll's more conservative estimate, Mr. Hussein would still be one of the richest men in the world. His fortune would probably exceed those of former government leaders like the Philippines' Ferdinand E. Marcos, Jean-Claude Duvalier of Haiti, and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran.

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