Interesting lead story in yesterday's New York Sun:
First Whiff of Scandal Hits Iraq Government
An Investigation Is Launched Over Mystery Plane Full of Cash...
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Authorities here are investigating how a plane loaded with almost $20 million worth of new Iraqi dinars managed to take off from Baghdad International Airport and land in Beirut.
The mysterious aircraft and the 1.5 tons of cash landed on January 15 in Lebanon. There, Lebanese customs agents seized the plane and the money and arrested three Lebanese citizens who were aboard the plane....
So, how suspicious is this?
One issue in the investigation is whether a contract from Iraq's new Interior Ministry to purchase electronic anti-jamming equipment and automobiles from a Cyprus-based concern called Laru Ltd. was in fact an intricate scheme to launder money. The contract has never been shown to the Iraqi Governing Council, nor have the goods been delivered to the Interior Ministry.
OK, let's get to the stuff that makes this sound like a bad spy thriller you'd read on a plane. According to the story, Nuri Badran, Iraq's interior minister,
sent an envoy on January 11 to a branch of the Rafidan Bank in northern Baghdad to make sure that a check for 19.836 billion dinars would be cashed when a Lebanese man presented it to the teller the next day....
Then the money was
loaded at 10 a.m. on January 12 into three pick-up trucks guarded by American mercenaries armed with machine guns. On January 14, the Lebanese man ... returned and cashed another check for 164 million dinars.
Here's the cheap-paperback part:
On the evening of January 15, all of the cash was loaded onto a cargo plane flown by Flying Carpet Airlines at Baghdad International Airport....
Unlike Royal Jordanian, which handles regular flights in and out of Baghdad, Flying Carpet's routes are not regularly scheduled. According to one American official who works on logistics at the airport, "they call us when they are coming in and we don't ask any questions."
Airport security people presumably should have known about this -- but
The security contractor in charge of the airport, which is also an American military base, is Custer Battles LLC, a Virginia-based security company whose executive board boasts former members of the American special forces and the CIA. When the Sun asked Don Ritchie, the chief of security for the airport and an employee of Custer Battles, what he knew about the January 15 flight to Beirut, he said, "According to corporate counsel, we should not talk about this at all."
Which was good enough for Paul Bremer's people -- but others, inconveniently, are still asking questions:
One reason why Mr. Ritchie might not be talking is because after a hasty investigation by the Coalition Provisional Authority's inspector general, Robert Dawes, that concluded there was no wrongdoing, a financial task force attached to the Iraq Survey Group is still asking questions. As one senior American official said, "We are looking to make sure the funds were not absconded with; the funds are fleeing in essence. We don't want funds being used by insurgents to kill our soldiers or coalition soldiers. It's worth a second look."
This story is from the print edition of yesterday's Sun, and I've chopped it up a bit. Here's the Sun's maddening Web site if you want to try to read the whole story (you'll have to subscribe first).