"THE INVESTIGATOR," SANTA BARBARA NEWS-PRESS, JUNE 28th, 2008
Rezko is remanded in custody while awaiting sentence in September.
So, who is Tony Rezko, and why should his conviction merit our attention?
A naturalized American citizen born in Aleppo, Syria, in 1955, Rezko is an influence peddler and slumlord--and one of Democrat presidential hopeful Barack Obama's earliest financial supporters.
The two met in 1990 when Obama attended Harvard Law School; they became better acquainted between 1993 and 1995 when Obama worked for the Chicago law firm David Miner Barnhill, whose specialty was representation of low-income housing developers, including Rezko, with whom Obama liaised.
In 1995, when Obama launched his campaign for the Illinois state senate, Rezko immediately flexed his financial muscle to the candidate's benefit.
Eight years later Rezko joined Obama's U.S. Senate campaign finance committee.
In a sweetheart deal that continues to badger Obama's presidential aspirations, Rezko with his wife, Rita, joined Mr. and Mrs. Obama in the purchase of adjacent properties in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago.
Rezko was indicted in October 2006, accused of receiving kickbacks from companies seeking state business, $10,000 of which went to Obama's U.S. Senate campaign (donated to charity after word of it leaked).
Rezko has links to Nadhmi Auchi, 71, an Iraqi-born billionaire and resident of the UK since 1980.
Auchi owns the Luxembourg-headquartered General Mediterranean Holdings, a $5 billion to $6 billion company focused on the worldwide hotel industry and used by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein as a mechanism through which to purchase weapons.
Auchi loaned Rezko $3.5 million dollars on May 23, 2005--one month before the Obamas and Rezkos bought their adjacent Chicago properties for $2.275 million.
A few years earlier, Auchi was convicted in France of corruption and fraud, and implicated in the "oil-for-food" scandal.
He was given a 15-month suspended sentence and fined the equivalent of $3 million.
Since 2005, Auchi has been banned--as an undesirable alien--from entering the United States.
Earlier that same year he loaned money to the Obama campaign through his Panamanian company Fintrade, and attended a fundraiser at the Chicago Four Seasons Hotel, although both Obama and Auchi have matching "no recollection" memories of ever having met.
Rezko connects to another Iraqi-born (dual U.S. citizen) named Aiham Alsammarae, 57, who put up $1.9 million of Rezko's $8.5 million bail when he was first jailed in early April.
Alsammarae had met Rezko at the Illinois Institute of Technology in the late 1970s while both were students.
In July 2003, Alsammarae was appointed Iraq's Minister of Electricity--a ministry he then plundered.
He got caught, was convicted of corruption and imprisoned.
But several months after his family and friends sought help from Obama's office, Alsammarae escaped--on Dec. 19, 2006--during a transfer from one Baghdad prison to another.
In a well-planned operation, Alsammarae changed cars three times and flew in a private plane (which had been waiting a week) to Jordan, where a new U.S. passport awaited him.
From Jordan, Alsammarae made a quick business trip to Dubai--to check on ill- gotten gains (he siphoned $650 million from Iraqi reconstructionfunds)--and flew to the US.
Alsammarae now resides at his palatial home in Chicago, even though he remains on Interpol's fugitive watch list.
This is where the connections grow even murkier and we break new ground.
According to a former senior CIA operations officer who was chief of a large station overseas, "Nadhmi Auchi links to a Syrian named Nadi Sajid, who is bagman to President Bashar El-Assad of Syria. Auchi and Sajid are directly connected in an influence peddling business to bring American and British politicians into their camp."
Added the former CIA operations officer, who requested anonymity from The Investigator: "These people aren't interested in friendship. They develop relationships for the specific purpose of making more money.
They especially like to establish links with American and British politicians because of their need for visas and travel flexibility and movement of money."
Was the Clinton campaign aware of the Syrian web into which Barack Obama has been snagged?
"Hillary knows that Obama is tied to the Syrians," said the former CIA operative. "But she wouldn't use it (in her campaign)."
With Rezko in prison, Mr. Auchi persona non grata, and Alsammarae stuck in the United States, how can Syria's President Assad and the mysterious Nadi Sajid be of any influence?
"Look at the list of people who came up with bail money for Rezko," said the former senior CIA operative, who has extensive experience in the Middle East. "A number of Syrian-Americans have put their homes on the line. How many people do you know would mortgage their lives to spring your bail? The Arab culture is family-and community-based. The guys who want to influence things will always find a way."
In all the murkiness, one thing is clear: Syria adores Obama.
Journalist Judith Miller visited Damascus recently and reported, "Obamamania has definitely infected the heart of Arab nationalism. The political elite seemed captivated by Mr. Obama well before it was clear that the Democrats' charismatic young superstar would be the party's presidential nominee."
Calls from The Investigator to Auchi and Alsammarae for comment were not returned.