By Aaron Klein
JERUSALEM – Sen. Barack Obama’s office engaged in six months of negotiations with a company controlled by convicted criminal Tony Rezko to lobby the U.S. government to push through a nixed $50 million contact to train Iraqi security personnel at a site in Chicago.
The contract was awarded to Rezko’s company while Aiham Alsammarae, a long-time, close Rezko friend and a contributor to Obama’s campaign, served as Iraq’s U.S.-appointed electricity minister, the senator’s office confirms.
Rezko was a major Obama fundraiser and associate for two decades.
Alsammarae also awarded another Rezko-controlled operation as part of a $150 million contract to construct a 250-megawatt electricity plant in Iraq.
Alsammarae later was arrested by Iraqi authorities for bilking the coalition government out of some $650 million. He was sprung from prison under questionable circumstances in 2006 and escaped from Iraq, where he is still wanted for questioning with regard to major financial crimes.
The information raises questions into the nature of Obama’s relationship with multiple deals made by Iraq’s Electricity Ministry while Alsammarae was in charge. Obama has ties to Alsammarae and to the recipients of several of the massive contracts Alsammarae handed out.
While he was the electric czar of Iraq for the Coalition Provisional Authority from mid-2003 until mid-2005, Alsammarae granted the $50 million contract to train Iraqis to guard electrical plants to Companion Security, a start-up reportedly controlled by Rezko, his partner Daniel Mahru and a front man, Daniel Frawley, a former Chicago policeman. Frawley has multiple civil court judgments against him for his alleged failure to pay millions in outstanding bills.
Aiham Alsammarae (PBS.org)
The plan was to fly about 150 Iraqis to a site in Illinois for security training, which reportedly would include the use of AK-47 assault rifles.
Obama’s office did not reply to repeated WND requests for comment. A working number could not be found for Frawley.
Alsammarae did not return WND calls left on his cell phone and at his voicemail at his KCI Consultants firm in Chicago.
The contract with Rezko’s group was signed April 18, 2005, one month before Alsammarae left his governmental post.
But Iraq’s new electricity minister aborted the deal, complaining the Companion contract was too expensive, according to a U.S. embassy official in Baghdad who spoke earlier this year to the Chicago Sun-Times.
In the spring of 2006, Frawley and his company reportedly reached out to Chicago politicians, including Obama and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, to bring pressure to revive the deal, arguing the business would be good for the state.
Blagojevich’s office and Illinois Homeland Security reportedly helped by offering an Army depot in Savanna in western Illinois as a site for Companion to conduct the Iraqi training.
Frawley then reportedly reached out to Obama, who in 2006 was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, engaging in six months of dialogue petitioning the Illinois senator to write a letter introducing the Rezko-connected Companion company to senior Iraqi officials. Frawley met with Seamus Ahern, who runs Obama’s Moline, Ill., office.
But Obama, who has denied doing political favors for Rezko, later claimed he did not known Rezko was involved with Companion.
Obama’s office declined to help about the same time Rezko was indicted on charges of fraud.
Obama’s spokesman Ben LaBolt said, “The Senate staff had two meetings, one conference call and sporadically e-mailed with representatives of Companion Security about their request for Sen. Obama to write a letter introducing the company to senior officials in the Iraqi government.”
LaBolt said Obama declined to help in the Companion deal, because “that is not the kind of action Sen. Obama usually takes for individual companies, and our staff concluded on that basis to decline the requested assistance.”
LaBolt claimed Obama was not aware of Rezko’s connections to the security firm.
LaBolt did not explain how Frawley could have survived the routine vetting of a petitioner by the U.S. Senate office staff when it was a matter of public record that his company was controlled by Rezko.
The nixed Iraqi government deal opens questions into the nature of Obama’s relationship with agreements made by various associates with Iraq’s Electricity Ministry while Alsammarae was in charge. Obama has ties to both Alsammarae and to the recipients of several of the massive contracts he handed out.
Alsammarae, a dual Iraqi-U.S. citizen, arrived in U.S. in 1976 and currently lives in Chicago and travels frequently to Amman, Jordan, where he maintains a residence despite still being wanted in Iraq.
Alsammarae has described himself as a close friend to Rezko, a former top confidante and fundraiser for Obama. Alsammarae and Rezko had been friends for nearly 30 years, since the two were classmates at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
WND reported Alsammarae posted more than one-third of Rezko’s jail bond earlier this year, putting up as surety his $1.9 million Chicago home and two other properties.
Alsammarae contributed the maximum allowable donation of $2,300 to Obama’s campaign, sending money six times in January, February and March. Obama donated the funds to charity in April, only after Alsammarae posted bond for Rezko.
As electricity minister, Alsammarae not only granted a Rezko firm the $50 million security training contract but also approved a contract with another Rezko company, Rezmar, to construct a 250-megawatt plant in the Kurdistani city of Chamchamal. That contract was granted to both Rezmar and the London-based General Mediterranean Holdings, which is headed by British billionaire Nadhmi Auchi,
who was also involved in a large real estate deal in Chicago with Rezko and others around Obama.
Auchi, a former Baathist who left Iraq in 1979, was convicted in 2003 in a French court of corruption in an oil deal that stretched back to the Saddam Hussein regime. Auchi denies the charges.
Auchi could not be reached for comment
In another connection to Obama, when Alsammarae was jailed in Iraq in 2006, his Chicago-based family reportedly contacted Obama’s U.S. Senate office for information. Obama’s office passed a written request to the State Department about Alsammarae Oct. 16, 2006, and received a reply from the U.S. consul in Iraq about a week later. The reply was forwarded by Obama’s staff to Alsammarae’s daughter.
It wasn’t immediately clear how Alsammarae landed his electricity ministry job. He was an outspoken critic of the U.S. military campaign in Iraq and publicly has supported Hussein.
In August 2000, Alsammarae, a board member of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, appeared in Washington alongside celebrities such as Martin Sheen and British politician George Galloway at a demonstration against U.N. sanctions on Saddam’s regime.
Even as late as last month, Alsammarae delivered a press conference stating he hoped the insurgency in Iraq “would continue [against U.S. occupation] and avenges the Iraqi people.”
American political insiders suggest Alsammarae received major insider help in securing his U.S.-brokered Iraqi government position. Unconfirmed reports point to Alsammarae’s previous Baathist background as being a factor in his elevated status in post-Saddam Iraq.
Alammarae was accused in a federal filing during the Rezko federal corruption trial of being the recipient of a $1 million bribe from Rezko to deliver the original Companion deal. No charges have yet been filed, though the accuser is Daniel Mahru, the former partner in the Companion deal.
Alsammarae was the only cabinet-level Iraqi official to be convicted and jailed for misusing money during his time in office. In April, Alsammarae made an appearance on CBS’s “60 Minutes” to defend his troubled conduct in Iraq and in the U.S.
An Interpol warrant for his arrest, issued in 2007 at the request of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government, was taken down after Alsammarae was forgiven for some parts of his conduct by an Iraqi legislative initiative, according to Arabic-language Iraqi criminal court documents obtained by WND and translated into English. Alsammarae has been warned by the Maliki government not to return to Iraq.
Other charges are still pending, and Alsammarae has been warned by the Maliki government not to return to Iraq.