The U.K. Times reports that a British-Iraqi millionaire loaned millions of dollars to one of Barack Obama's key supporters, just weeks before a controversial land deal that saw the presidential candidate--and the supporter's wife--buy adjoining property in Chicago.
The money transfer raises the question of whether funds from Nadhmi Auchi, one of Britain’s wealthiest men, helped Mr Obama buy his mock Georgian mansion in Chicago.
A company related to Mr Auchi, who has a conviction for corruption in France, registered the loan to Mr Obama's bagman Antoin "Tony" Rezko on May 23 2005. Mr Auchi says the loan, through the Panamanian company Fintrade Services SA, was for $3.5 million.
Three weeks later, Mr Obama bought a house on the city's South Side while Mr Rezko's wife bought the garden plot next door from the same seller on the same day, June 15.
Mr Obama says he never used Mrs Rezko's still-empty lot, which could only be accessed through his property. But he admits he paid his gardener to mow the lawn.
Mrs Rezko, whose husband was widely known to be under investigation at the time, went on to sell a 10-foot strip of her property to Mr Obama seven months later so he could enjoy a bigger garden.
Mrs Rezko’s purchase and sale of the land to Mr Obama raises many unanswered questions.
It is unclear how Mrs Rezko could have afforded the downpayment of $125,000 and a $500,000 mortgage for the original $625,000 purchase of the garden plot at 5050 South Greenwood Ave.
In a sworn statement a year later, Mrs Rezko said she got by on a salary of $37,000 and had $35,000 assets. Mr Rezko told a court he had "no income, negative cash flow, no liquid assets, no unencumbered assets [and] is significantly in arrears on many of his obligations."
Mrs Rezko, whose husband goes on trial on unrelated corruption charges in Chicago on March 3, refused to answer questions about the case when she spoke by telephone to The Times.
Mr Rezko has since been indicted for allegedly scheming to pressure companies seeking business with the state of Illinois for kickbacks and contributions to the governor Rod Blagojevich's campaign. He goes on trial on March 3.
A prosecution document filed last month alleged that a "political candidate" - identified by the Chicago Sun-Times as Mr Obama - received a $10,000 campaign contribution from what is said to be a $250,000 kickback in the corruption case. That means Mr Obama's name could figure in Mr Rezko's trial, although he is not accused of any wrongdoing.
Rezko is currently awaiting trial in a Chicago jail of, after violating terms of his bail by failing to disclose the loan from Mr. Auchi. But the British billionaire has his own shady past, as the Times' details:
Mr Auchi was convicted of corruption, given a suspended sentence and fined £1.4 million in France in 2003 for his part in the Elf affair, described as the biggest political and corporate scandal in post-war Europe. He, in a statement from his media lawyers, claims he is appealing against the sentence.
However, that's just the tip of the iceberg. Wretchard at The Belmont Club found more on Auchi's sleazy dealings, detailed in a 2003 column from Nick Cohen of the U.K. Guardian:
Allow me to introduce you to Nadhmi Auchi. He was charged in the 1950s with being an accomplice of Saddam Hussein, when the future tyrant was acquiring his taste for blood. He was investigated in the 1980s for his part in alleged bribes to the fabulously corrupt leaders of post-war Italy. In the 1990s, the Belgium Ambassador to Luxembourg claimed that Auchi's bank held money Saddam and Colonel Gadaffi had stolen from their luckless peoples. In 2002, officers from the Serious Fraud Squad raided the offices of one of Auchi's drug companies as part of an investigation of what is alleged to be the biggest swindle ever of the NHS.
The fact that Auchi actually stood trial in the Elf scandal--and received a 15-month suspended sentence--was something of a legal miracle. French authorities issued an arrest warrant for Auchi in 2000, but Britain's Home Office refused to deport him for three years.
So, why was Britian's 13th-wealthiest man, involved with Mr. Rezko, whom Hillary Clinton has described as a "slum lord?" Various attorneys and media accounts depict the two men as long-time business associates, and financial records indicate that Auchi virtually owned Rezko; at the time of that loan, the Chicago "developer" owed the British billionaire more than $27 million. According to court records, the Auchi planned to forgive the outstanding loans, in return for a stake in a 62-acre development. Money from Auchi clearly helped Mrs. Rezko swing her real estate purchase, made on the same day that Mr. Obama bought his mansion--for $300,000 below the asking price.
Mr. Auchi must be very forgiving, or that development must be hottest property in Chicago. Or maybe the Iraq-born billionaire was looking for something else. Aside from the development, Tony Rezko had little to offer Auchi in the summer of 2005, save his close ties to a rising star in the Democratic Party. Nick Cohen claims that Nadhmi Auchi collects British politicians the way other people collect stamps. Perhaps Auchi was looking to expand his portfolio, or at least hedge his future bets in American politics.
For the record, there is only limited evidence that Obama and Auchi actually met--and only on one occasion. But the ties between Auchi and the senator's fundraiser, Mr. Rezko, are well-established. That trial in Illinois next month could prove rather interesting.
Just don't expect much coverage from America's MSM.