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U.S. AND FOREIGN EFFORTS TO
RECOVER IRAQ'S STOLEN MONEY
Thursday, March 18, 2004
U.S. House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations,
Committee on Financial Services,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 10:10 a.m., in Room 2128, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Sue Kelly [chairman of the subcommittee] presiding.
Present: Representatives Kelly, Oxley (ex officio), Hensarling, Garrett, Gutierrez, Inslee, Lynch and Maloney. Also present were Representatives Ose and Renzi.
Chairwoman KELLY. [Presiding.] This hearing of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will come to order.
This morning the subcommittee continues its examination of the efforts by our nation and others to suppress the flow of illicit money used to finance terrorist networks, and specifically to track down the money Saddam Hussein stole from the Iraqi people. Terrorists have no boundaries, nor do they exhibit any regard for peace, liberty or human life. Terrorists will never stop trying to find ways to secure the resources needed to carry out their extremist agendas.
An unwavering commitment to shattering the underground financing networks upon which they rely is critical and is a critical part of our effort to prevent future acts of terrorism here and abroad. The subcommittee will continue to examine efforts to pursue illicit money and help eradicate the threat of international terrorism.
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The capture of Saddam Hussein was a great day for the Iraqi people and for freedom and democracy throughout the world. The Iraqi people are now free from this reign of terror, and it is appropriate that the pilfered fortune once used to oppress them now be directed toward initiatives that will help to build a country and a government of the choosing of the Iraqi people.
There still remains difficult work ahead. It is imperative that we work with our foreign counterparts and the Iraqi people to rebuild the country's infrastructure, financial systems and overall economy. Last week, the Iraqi governing council completed the transitional administrative law for Iraq. This new constitution is an important step toward a free Iraq with a democratic election and this new constitution created for and by the Iraqi people. As the law was approved, we are reminded of the steadfast leadership of our president and this administration, as well as our brave soldiers and sailors and our brave coalition troops, who have provided throughout the liberation of this oppressed nation.
Along this difficult journey, our armed services have continued to earn the admiration and respect of the American people and of many others throughout the world. Our thoughts and our prayers are with the men and women who serve our country, and we will continue to give them support and the resources that they need to complete this important mission. As we continue this work with our allies and the Iraqi people to rebuild their country, it is going to take a great amount of resources. We have to do everything we possibly can to retrieve the money Saddam Hussein stole from the Iraqi people and to assist them in reconstruction efforts.
This money belongs to the Iraqi people. It belongs to them. It was never Saddam Hussein's money to begin with. He stole it from them. The assets needs to be found and returned to the people of Iraq to build schools, to reopen the businesses, to help resupply the hospitals and repair the country's infrastructure, all of it maliciously destroyed by the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and his inner circle. Since the start of our military intervention in Iraq one year ago, the United States has led a worldwide hunt for the money Saddam Hussein systematically looted from the Iraqi people over the last few decades.
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The focus of these efforts has been to retrieve and return Saddam's money that has already been located and frozen. Simultaneously, we are searching to uncover new money, accounts and front companies that the former dictator and his associates used to siphon money out of the country and use it for their own nefarious purposes. Last May, this subcommittee held the first congressional hearing on efforts to freeze, seize and repatriate assets of the corrupt Saddam Hussein regime.
Witnesses from the Treasury, State and Defense Departments who are leading the search for Saddam's assets inside Iraq and around the world testified before the subcommittee. In that hearing, the subcommittee learned of the complex schemes used by Saddam Hussein's regime to steal from the Iraqi people, including kickbacks, phony front companies, hidden trusts, hidden accounts and other accounts in financial institutions with front names throughout the world.
We also examined how our government works with other relevant international agencies, counterparts in foreign governments and the financial services industry to identify, seize and repatriate the worldwide financial assets of this dictator.
Given the significance of these issues, the committee requested the General Accounting Office to assist Congress in this important investigation. This subcommittee will receive an update on the GAO efforts today, including how much money has been found and transferred to the development fund for Iraq by the United States and other foreign countries. We are also very interested in U.S. efforts to locate new accounts and to convince foreign countries to freeze and transfer the money back to Iraq.
Our government has given the United Nations Sanctions Committee the names of numerous entities and dozens of individuals with ties to Saddam Hussein and the corrupt dictator's regime. As we continue to provide evidence to the United Nations, there have been questions about the ability and willingness of countries to use and share intelligence information. Foreign entities must proactively contribute to these efforts and we need to know what can be done to encourage their participation.
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It is their safety. It is our safety. It is the reconstruction of a new nation of Iraq that is run by and for the Iraqi people. We expect nothing less than the highest level of cooperation from all foreign governments and financial institutions. Congress was very clear and unwavering in the passage of the Patriot Act. The willingness to share cross-border information is a license required to do business in America. I am going to repeat that. That is something people do not realize about the Patriot Act. We spelled it out in the Patriot Act. The willingness to share cross-border information is a license required to do business in the United States of America.
Now, Congress and the American people need to know who is cooperating and whether any action may be necessary by our government or the United Nations. We know the money is out there and we plan to find it and we plan to return it to Iraq. We expect foreign entities to do the same.
The subcommittee thanks the witnesses for being here with us today. We have key witnesses from Treasury, the State Department and in addition, we have representatives from the General Accounting Office to discuss the preliminary findings of their investigation. Congress has an important role to play in making clear to countries across the world that the United States will be unrelenting in its pursuit of those who finance terror. This subcommittee is going to continue to place a sharp focus on fulfilling this important obligation.
With that, I turn to my ranking member, Mr. Gutierrez.
[The prepared statement of Hon. Sue W. Kelly can be found on page 30 in the appendix.]
Mr. GUTIERREZ. Good morning and thank you for calling this hearing today, Madam Chair.
Last May, we held the first congressional hearing on the recovery of Saddam's stolen assets. Subsequently, we requested the GAO investigate how the U.S. Government works with its foreign counterparts and the banking industry to identify and recover the assets of dictators. I am pleased that the GAO will present their preliminary findings and update us on the structures that have been put in place to accomplish our goals.
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC However, I was very troubled that a number of obstacles were originally placed in the path of the GAO. At the end of last year, it came to my attention that the Departments of the Treasury and State had imposed significant limitations on the GAO's work. Apparently, the departments have precluded the GAO from traveling to key European countries to discuss their practices for identifying, seizing and returning foreign regime assets. They were also precluded from discussing these issues with European embassy officials in Washington or United Nations officials in New York. Treasury officials indicated that approval for travel to foreign countries would not be granted for 4 to 6 months, which would be after the report was scheduled to have been completed.
Additionally, the departments were failing to provide the GAO with important documentation that was requested in September 2003. Specifically, this included, one, information on other countries's laws and processes for recovering assets; two, official diplomatic communications sent to foreign governments related to asset recovery efforts; three, documents related to U.S. efforts to recovery assets in Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia; four, minutes from the meetings of the Iraqi assets working group; and five, updated financial data on the amount of frozen Iraqi assets housed in foreign countries and the amounts transferred to the development fund for Iraq.
Apparently, Treasury Department officials have expressed their willingness to provide this information, but stated that they were receiving direction from the State Department and the White House. This is deeply disturbing, not only because the administration is being less than forthcoming about such an important issue, but also raises separation of powers concerns.
However, over the last several months, I have been informed and told that the GAO's access to information has improved dramatically. That is a good thing. I would hope that this continues and that the reasons for these roadblocks have been addressed, and that future efforts are not impeded by similar actions.
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I look forward to the testimony of the witnesses and thank the Chair for calling the hearing.
Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you, Mr. Gutierrez.
Chairman Oxley, thank you for being here.
Mr. OXLEY. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. I commend you and the subcommittee for undertaking this leadership and commitment to repatriating assets for the people of Iraq. This is our second hearing on the issue and our goals are to support the U.S. Government effort and to ensure that it is working as effectively as it can to return stolen Iraqi funds.
The United States has a long and proud history of liberating nations from tyranny and supporting new democracies. An important part of supporting the new democracy in Iraq is returning Hussein's pilfered cash. In today's hearing, we look forward to testimony from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Department of State, and the General Accounting Office regarding our progress in this area.
The behavior of the former Iraqi government officials with respect to the Oil for Food Program displayed complete disregard for basic human need and total contempt for the United Nations. Iraqis starved while Saddam spirited billions of United Nations funds out of Iraq for personal gain. We cannot permit those funds to remain frozen in bank accounts throughout the world.
Some of those funds may also have been invested in companies in violation of the United Nations sanctions and occasionally in companies created expressly for the purpose of evading United Nations sanctions. Banks and other intermediaries should not be permitted to hold assets indefinitely on their balance sheets without returning them to their rightful owners, the people of Iraq.
Those assets are needed urgently to help rebuild Iraq. Our purpose today is to assess our progress toward that goal. I understand that the coalition provisional authority in Iraq, the Iraqi ministries and various U.S. Government entities are working hard to ensure that funds illegally diverted from Iraq are returned forthwith. Many of these people are civilians placing their lives on the line each day in Iraq. I commend their efforts and, together with Vice Chairman Kelly, I am working with a CPA and today's witnesses to help ensure the identification, isolation and repatriation of these assets. Our commitment to due process creates a number of challenges in the worldwide financial system. I believe these challenges can be met, especially if the different parts of the U.S. government can work together collaboratively.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Much progress has been made on the interagency issue identified in last year's hearing, but I understand more progress is needed. Just as we need interagency cooperation, we need international cooperation. Our representative to the G-7, Secretary Snow, is doing everything he can to foster that. Make no mistake, though, without President Bush's commitment, this project never would have been undertaken.
While much remains to be done in returning assets to Iraq, let's not forget that much has been accomplished against great odds. Madam Chairlady, if I could point out, when I was in Iraq in November, and we met with various commanders there, they talked about the Commanders Fund. That was money that had been discovered within Iraq that had been stolen by Saddam and his two sons. It amounted to some $300 million.
That money was used very effectively by the commanders in the field for helping rebuild schools, rebuild roads, infrastructure and the like. When we met with General Odierno up in Kirkuk, he made the point, this was right before Thanksgiving in November of last year, that they were rapidly going through that $300 million and that is of course partly because we needed to do the supplemental when we did, to provide that gap.
At the same time, this effort that you are undertaking with our friends at Treasury and State, can really repatriate that money where it belongs. So your efforts in this against great odds are quite commendable. I think that the progress will start to pick up over the next several months as we focus attention on this issue. Indeed, if anybody could go to Iraq and see the results of this program, which was supposed to be oil for food, and was really oil for Saddam and oil for palaces, this is an opportunity to correct that wrong in a very meaningful way.
So again, I commend you for this series of hearings and I yield back.
[The prepared statement of Hon. Michael G. Oxley can be found on page 33 in the appendix.]
Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you very much.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Lynch?
Mr. LYNCH. Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you, Ranking Member Gutierrez, and thank you, Chairman Oxley, for organizing this hearing and continuing your good work.
I want to thank the panel for attending as well, helping the committee with its work.
I also traveled to Iraq, although last May shortly after the invasion. I also visited Kirkuk and was with General Odierno not that long after he and his forces had actually apprehended friends of the family of Saddam Hussein and recovered major amounts of melted-down gold and also American currency that was being pilfered from the Iraqi people.
In those days and weeks and actually hours prior to the invasion on March 19, we had reports of members of Saddam Hussein's family taking trailer-loads of cash from Iraqi banks and following those trucks up into Syria. There is a great need here for us to lower as much as possible the cost to the American people of the effort in Iraq. Every dollar that we can recover will be one dollar less that we do not have to come up with through supplementals and other measures in this Congress.
The particular area that I would like to hear from when we get to questioning are surrounding the Oil for Food Program and the mismanagement or the administration of that program, and also the siphoning off of money for improper purposes. I think there is a very focused reason why you are here today, but I do not want to ignore the fact that there is a wider purpose here as well.
For the past two centuries, wars on this earth have basically been waged by nations, so it allowed diplomacy to prevent wars. Now we have the privatization of war, which is terrorism, and we need, if we are going to prevent the gravest dangers to the American people and to freedom-loving people everywhere, we need to choke off the funds for this privatization of war against private citizens being conducted by various terrorist organizations all over this earth. So it is very, very important, the work that we are doing here, even though we are just looking at Saddam Hussein and trying to recover those monies.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There is a network of money that is being used to fund, as I say, the privatization of war against innocent civilians. So we hope that we can use some of the progress that is accomplished here in that wider effort.
I yield back. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you.
Mr. HENSARLING. In the interests of time, Madam Chairman, I would just ask unanimous consent that my opening statement be entered into the record.
[The prepared statement of Hon. Jeb Hensarling can be found on page 35 in the appendix.]
Chairwoman KELLY. So moved.
Without objection, all Members's opening statements will be made part of the record. This is a very busy day on Capitol Hill, and Members who do have questions and I am sure have opening statements they want to put in the record, so we will make them a part of the record.
Now, we will turn to our first panel. Testifying on the first panel are two key witnesses leading the U.S. efforts to recover and return Saddam Hussein's assets to the Iraqi people. The subcommittee welcomes back Mr. Juan Zarate, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Executive Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. That is a very long title, sir.
Last week, the Bush administration announced the creation of a new Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the Treasury Department, which will include a new under secretary and two assistant secretaries. Mr. Zarate, I would like to congratulate you on your nomination for that position of assistant secretary. The creation of this new office, coupled with the President's proposal to increase the budget to help fight terrorist financing and financial crime, signals this administration's commitment to the war on terror. The committee looks forward to having you back at a later time in your new role to discuss this new endeavor.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Also here today is Mr. Paul E. Simons, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy, Sanctions and Commodities at the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs at the U.S. State Department. That is a good long title, too, there, but we know what you do. Mr. Simons has launched U.S. police training efforts in post-conflict Iraq and Afghanistan. He has also previously served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. embassy in Israel, which involved work on Arab-Israeli peace negotiations.
The subcommittee thanks both of you for your testimony today. Without objection, your full written statements will be made part of the record. You will be recognized for a 5-minute summary of your testimony. The lights in the boxes on the table will indicate when you have the time. Green, you have 5 minutes; yellow, you have 1 minute left; and red, we would ask you to summarize quickly.
Thank you very much. We go now to you, Mr. Zarate.
STATEMENT OF JUAN ZARATE, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR THE EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF TERRORIST FINANCING AND FINANCIAL CRIMES, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY
Mr. ZARATE. Madam Chair, thank you very much and thank you for your kind words. I very much appreciate them.
Chairwoman Kelly, Congressman Gutierrez and distinguished members of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, thank you for inviting me to testify today about the U.S. Government effort to identify, freeze and recover Iraqi assets worldwide. I am pleased to be here this morning with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Paul Simons, with whom we work closely on this and other efforts of global magnitude.
Madam Chair, this week marks the 1-year anniversary of our campaign to free Iraq. In that year, we have liberated the Iraqi people, ousted a ruthless tyrant, captured members of the fallen regime, and helped the Iraqi people begin rebuilding their country. This is also the anniversary of Secretary Snow's bold call for the world to find, freeze and repatriate to the Iraqi people the assets plundered by Saddam Hussein and his regime. I am here today, Madam Chair, to report on our significant and steady progress since then.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In this effort, we have found the Hussein regime was as fiendish in its thievery as it was terrible in its tyranny. Hussein and his cronies abused the good will of the international community to fortify and enrich the regime with kickbacks, skimming schemes and smuggling operations. While the Iraqi people suffered, Hussein and his sons paid for pleasure palaces and armaments.
We have been on the hunt for Iraqi assets around the world, whether official Iraqi assets held in the name of Iraqi entities or the assets looted and hidden by the Hussein regime and their family members. Make no doubt, this is a daunting and complicated mission, Madam Chair. Even so, on a daily basis through interviews, diplomacy, and analysis, we are unmasking the financial web used by the regime and returning money to the Iraqi people.
Allow me to provide a brief snapshot of the success we have seen to date. With the cooperation of our allies abroad, we have frozen nearly $4.5 billion of Iraqi assets worldwide. This past year, almost $2 billion of Iraqi assets has been newly identified and frozen outside the U.S. and Iraq. Since last year, the United States, foreign countries and the Bank for International Settlements have transferred back to Iraq over $2.5 billion in frozen Iraqi funds.
As this chart demonstrates, we have seen increasing transfers into the Development Fund for Iraq. To date, approximately $750 million have been transferred from foreign sources to the DFI. Within Iraq, we have seized approximately $1.3 billion in cash and valuables, including most of the money stolen from the Central Bank of Iraq by Hussein immediately before the war.
In Iraq and throughout the world, our financial investigators have interviewed key detainees as well as bankers, lawyers and accountants who acted as financial facilitators for the regime. These efforts have yielded countless leads. Madam Chair, an example of this occurred when our agents determined that the former Iraqi ambassador to Russia had stolen approximately $4 million in Iraqi assets. As a result, that amount has been frozen and we are working to repatriate it.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Working closely with the governments of Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Jordan, we have secured one of Hussein's Falcon 50 corporate jets seen in the graphic here. As a result of this collaboration, we are also uncovering a financial network that had been used by the Iraqis to move money and people in the heart of Europe. The Departments of the Treasury and State have provided identifying information on over 570 identified Iraqi bank accounts to 41 countries for review and follow-up. Madam Chair, we continue to identify key individuals and entities whose assets should be frozen.
All of these efforts are guided by the strong recognition that this mission is critically important for both old and new reasons. Iraqi assets must be recovered so that they can be used to pay pensioners, construct schools, equip hospitals, and rebuild Iraq. It is equally imperative to recover Iraqi assets to prevent them from being used to fund the Iraqi insurgency and to keep them out of the hands of terrorists. The United States and the international community cannot permit that these assets be used against our troops, coalition partners and innocent civilians in Iraq.
Finally, our successful prosecution of this hunt serves as a strong warning to other rogue regimes which might seek to loot their countries and hide the stolen assets in the international financial system. Our commitment, Madam Chair, to the people of Iraq is unwavering. Our efforts to find and return Iraq's money are critically important in the transition to a free and prosperous Iraq.
Thank you, Madam Chair, for this opportunity to testify, for your consistent support in these efforts, and for the attention of this committee.
[The prepared statement of Juan Zarate can be found on page 56 in the appendix.]
Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you very much.
I am happy that you mentioned the fact that kleptocracy was not the province of Saddam Hussein alone.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We go now to Mr. Simons.
STATEMENT OF PAUL SIMONS, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR ENERGY, SANCTIONS AND COMMODITIES, BUREAU OF ECONOMIC AND BUSINESS AFFAIRS, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Mr. SIMONS. Madam Chair, Congressman Gutierrez, and distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you very much for the opportunity to testify this morning on our efforts to recover Iraqi assets and to return them to the Development Fund for Iraq. I would ask that my full statement be entered into the record and I will just make a few very brief opening remarks.
First, let me associate myself completely with Secretary Zarate's opening statement. We very much have a seamless, cooperative and productive interagency process on the Iraq asset issue. I think the results speak for themselves: more than $750 million transferred over the past year into the Development Fund for Iraq from international sources, and in our view, good prospects for additional transfers prior to the June 30 target date for the transfer of authority to an Iraqi interim government.
For our part, the State Department is very much committed at the highest levels, both in Washington as well as overseas, to the continued recovery of Iraqi assets. We engage on a weekly basis in Washington at the assistant secretary and the under secretary level on this issue. Our International Organizations Bureau, our folks in New York, have been very active in crafting the U.N. resolutions, including Resolution 1483, that has really been the linchpin of bringing the international community behind this effort.
Overseas, I think it is very important to stress that our ambassadors handle this issue as an item of highest priority. Diplomacy really has changed after 9-11. We are very much more involved in the State Department in working together with the law enforcement community, the intelligence community, the financial community, on issues such as terrorist financing, recovering assets, and homeland security. This is all part of the new diplomacy and the State Department is very much committed to this.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Juan mentioned that already we have shared information on more than 570 accounts with more than 41 countries worldwide in the effort to secure the return of Iraqi assets. We have exchanged within the past year more than 400 telegrams with our embassies in the field. We are in daily E-mail contact with them and it really is a tremendous effort.
Let me also say that there is a great degree of collegiality in the interagency process on this issueall of the key players, Treasury, State, Justice, Defense, Homeland Security, and the very brave individuals that are working out in the CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority. Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, all are working together in a very collaborative fashion. You mentioned, Madam Chair, that I did have the opportunity previously to work on the law enforcement side in Iraq, where we also have a strong interagency effort, but this effort I think is particularly collegial and effective.
So we have made tremendous strides in the recovery and the return of these assets. We still have a long way to go. There are obstacles. I look forward to your questions and perhaps we can have a more open dialogue here, as well as in our private session later. The U.N. has broken new ground. The notion of asset freezing as well as asset transfer is something that is new to a lot of our colleagues in the international community; it is a new concept. We are bringing them along, but this is a post-9-11, cutting edge idea. But we are working with them, we are making a strong effort inside the government, interagency, as well as internationally, and we look forward to the committee's support as we move ahead.
[The prepared statement of Paul Simons can be found on page 53 in the appendix.]
Chairwoman KELLY. I thank you very much.
I am going to ask a couple of questions. Let me just ask Mr. Zarate, what challenges do you face in identifying Iraqi accounts? It is reported that Iraqi money is frozen or held in financial entities by a number of countries, including France, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Panama, and Russia, among others. Apparently, these countries give reasons for not releasing the money by saying that they cannot be sure that it belonged to Saddam Hussein's regime.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC To the extent that it is possible in an open session, can you discuss which countries have taken this approach, as well as which countries have actually cooperated with us in doing what they can to get that money released?
Mr. ZARATE. Madam Chair, if I could, I would like to address your first concerns, which are the obstacles that we are seeing. Certainly, there are legal complications based on the novelty of this effort, both the novelty in terms of freezing and immediately repatriating assets to Iraq. There are also complications with respect to competing claims and other legal issues related to that.
One of the challenges and one of the efforts underway in the interagency group is to compile information in a way and analyze information in way that makes it useful for foreign governments to help prod them to take the right decisions on this, to freeze the assets and to repatriate them. As we have said, we have seen very good progress to date, increasing progress in terms of transfers to the DFI. We expect to see even more progress in the coming weeks.
That being said, there are challenges. There are countries that have to make legal reforms and have to reform the way that they look at this issue. There are countries that perhaps have not given the attention to this or the political will to this that they should. But in general, this is something that we have been pushing at the top of our agenda, as Paul indicated. It is a major agenda item for our ambassadors around the world. It is certainly top of the agenda for Secretary Snow and I know for Secretary Powell as well.
So we are working on a daily basis with countries around the world. Perhaps in the closed session, we can speak more specifically about some of the challenges that we are facing and some of the countries with whom we are having greater difficulty.
Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you very much.
I would like to also ask you, the administration and the Treasury Department have been very active in locating individuals and entities that are not cooperating. I know that. How are we moving forward in our efforts to surface and disable those who support terrorism and seek to undermine the progress in Iraq? How will this contribute to our efforts in the war against terror? That is a double question. I hope you will answer that, Mr. Zarate.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ZARATE. Absolutely, Madam Chair. First, we have been sharing information as freely and as quickly as possible. The unprecedented efforts to get account information, as we discussed, to foreign governments, frankly, is an unprecedented effort by the intelligence community, the treasury department and the state department to enlist our foreign counterparts, to have them act against those accounts and to follow up with investigations.
We are also engaged, Madam Chair, in a process of listing and designating known supporters, known family members, known entities who are part of the financial infrastructure of the Hussein regime. Today in fact, Madam Chair, the Treasury Department is announcing the designation of 16 family members related to the Hussein regime, people who are critical to the financial underpinnings and workings of the regime, such as Barzan al-Tikriti and his family. Those names are being notified to the U.N. to make that part of the mandatory freeze list, if you will, to allow our counterparts around the world to freeze those assets and to repatriate them.
In addition, we are notifying 191 parastatals. These are quasi-government entities controlled by the Iraqi government which may still have accounts worldwide. This announcement today, Madam Chair, I think is the first step of the unveiling of our good work over this past year, the good, brave work of our investigators in the field; the great work of the intelligence community; the good work of the military; and the phenomenal diplomatic work of the state department.
Chairwoman KELLY. I thank you. I think that sends a clear message to the world that the U.S. and our allies are going to demand cooperation from foreign countries and their financial institutions. I am very glad to hear you report that today.
I would like to ask you, Mr. Simons, I think I have a bit more time here, I wondered if you would elaborate more on the challenges faced and the need to coordinate U.S. laws, regulations and capabilities with those of other countries. To what extent has State compiled information on other countries's laws and regulations about freezing. You mentioned this in your testimony, freezing and seizing and releasing the assets, and how that works with the applicable U.N. resolutions.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SIMONS. Thank you, Madam Chair. I think I would like to cite three areas that we are working internationally to try to address some of the limitations that other countries have in terms of both seizing and freezing assets, as well as transferring them. I think up front, it is also useful to keep in mind that the U.S. does have as a matter of legislation and regulation a very flexible legal structure in place.
We have the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, IEEPA, which forms the basis for our ability in the case in which the President declares a national emergency, to provide a very flexible kind of a vehicle. This sort of a vehicle is generally speaking not present in the cases of our major allies, both in Europe as well as in the developing world. So we are starting off with not exactly a level playing field here. We have a lot more flexibility to move up front.
In terms of getting other countries to move, let me cite three areas. First, as Juan mentioned, our aggressive effort to list countries with the U.N. We discovered in the case of terrorist financing where we have a series of U.N. resolutions, that our ability to list entities was an extremely important factor in getting other countries to move along and to get their internal legislative and regulatory gears moving. So we are hoping that the designation today that Secretary Zarate mentioned will have a catalytic effect in terms of galvanizing some movement on the part of countries that have not moved.
Secondly, we have the Financial Action Task Force, which is a multilateral body that issues recommendations with respect to money laundering and terrorist financing policy to its members and to other countries around the world. The Financial Action Task Force, or the FATF, has issued 40 recommendations specifically on money laundering; and eight recommendations on terrorist financing. Those specifically cover the issue of asset seizing and asset freezing, and basically make it an obligation for countries that are members to acquire legal and regulatory regimes that will enable them to exercise these functions. We have fairly aggressively used a name-and-shame process in the FATF to get countries to come into compliance, both with the 40 recommendations, as well as the eight recommendations.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Finally, and this goes back to the time when I worked in narcotics and law enforcement, we have a very active technical assistance program on terrorist financing that was put into place after 9-11 that also brings countries up to speed; that sends our Department of Justice experts out to developing countries to show people how to put into place money laundering legislation that incorporates asset freezing. So we are doing this on the technical assistance side as well.
So I think we have a number of areas where we are working actively. Thank you.
Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you.
Mr. GUTIERREZ. Mr. Zarate, in your testimony you identified $6 billion in recovered Iraqi assets. What do you think the total amount might be?
Mr. ZARATE. Congressman Gutierrez, one of the conundrums of this effort has been trying to understand and get a hold on the full universe of assets pilfered by the Hussein regime. Part of the complication results from the Stalinist-like economy that was run by Hussein in which the economy was used for his own purposes, used for state purposes. In part, that is why we are designating the parastatals today to get at those assets that may exist abroad.
Part of the efforts today, in fact, Congressman, is to have foreign governments help us identify precisely what the universe of assets are that exist out there.
Mr. GUTIERREZ. Do you think you will find another $6 billion?
Mr. ZARATE. Another $6 billion?
Mr. GUTIERREZ. Yes.
Mr. ZARATE. I think it is very hard to say, Congressman. I think what we saw in the May 2002 GAO report, which estimated that it was $6.6 billion that was skimmed off of the Oil for Food Program over about a 4-or 5-year period, I think that is a very good estimate. It is helpful, but I do not think it tells the whole story, in part because we do not know the total.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GUTIERREZ. Do you think you have found most of it?
Mr. ZARATE. Well, we have found $4.5 billion total in the U.S. and worldwide. That has been frozen. We have returned over $2.5 billion of that to Iraq. As we mentioned, $750 million of that has come from foreign sources into the DFI. We expect to find more. Yes, Congressman, we think there is more out there. As we indicated, there are front companies that have been used. There are agents that were facilitators for the regime. Part of the efforts today, frankly, in designating the 16 individuals is to get at their assets as well, to make sure that the family members of these high-level regime members do not have access to funds and that they are not in the hands of terrorists.
Mr. GUTIERREZ. What have we spent so far in rebuilding Iraq?
Mr. ZARATE. Congressman, I would have to get back to you on that. I do not have an exact figure. Certainly, expenditures are made out of the DFI, the Development Fund for Iraq. All of the frozen assets that are found around the world are funneled into the DFI, as well as proceeds from oil sales. But congressman, I do not have the figure in terms of what has been spent.
Mr. GUTIERREZ. In relationship to the total costs, what we recover will probably be a small relationship of the money in terms of rebuilding Iraq.
Mr. ZARATE. I think that is hard to estimate, Congressman, in part because this is an ongoing effort.
Mr. GUTIERREZ. Maybe you could put what you think, what you say we have recovered, what you project we might recover and what the total cost is, so that we can gauge what we are doing vis-a-vis the total we have been looking at.
Congresswoman Kelly I thought asked a great question about who is cooperating and who is not. For some reason or another, you were not specific about the countries that were and were not. Let me just ask you, is Germany cooperating, and France? I really have difficulty asking for the freedom toast every morning here, so I was wondering if we could go back. Are they cooperating?
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ZARATE. Congressman, part of the reason I answered Madam Chair the way I did was because I think some of this is fairly sensitive. That is why I suggested we get into greater detail in the closed session. Part of the sensitivity, Congressman, deals with the fact that this is an ongoing effort. We are in constant discussions with these governments, including Germany and France and others, Russia. I gave an example of Russian cooperation in my oral statement.
They are cooperating. Now, there are varying levels of cooperation. There are also varying levels of aptitude and political willingness. I think that is something better left for a closed session.
Mr. GUTIERREZ. In the beginning, it was stated by members of the current administration, especially from Defense, that we would be able to rebuild Iraq and that the costs of the war would be minimal to us and to our treasury, both because of recovery of assets and more specifically because of the oil that would be there, and that would help. That has not turned out to be true, so that is why I asked the question so that we can in the end make a final evaluation about what the total costs were. Because as both of you know, there are differences in opinion and they are pretty wide and substantial as to whether we need as a question of national security to engage Iraq.
Afghanistan, not a question, what we needed to do there. I think we would all agree that there might be questions of difficulty. I think, Madam Chair, that they are doing a great job, and it also bodes well since we keep talking about, I get confused when we keep kind of the U.N. does not matter, but we keep talking about the U.N. So maybe in closed session, we could figure out, does the U.N. matter; does it have any relevance anymore; how much does it matter. I read in the paper it does not matter, but then every time I come to one of these hearings, the name ''U.N.'' keeps popping up in terms of getting cooperation from the world community.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair, for being so generous with the time.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you.
Mr. GARRETT. Thank you and good morning.
I appreciate your testimony. It sounds like a Byzantine process and a matrix that you have to deal with as far as tracking down these assets. One of the concerns I have had in light of other testimony we have had as far as assets that are right even here at home and the possibility for a terrorist or would-be terrorist, those that you may not even have on any list today, the ability of them to take these funds that are here in this country and to send them elsewhere so they cannot be traced anymore.
I understand that they basically are still able to use our own financial institutions, U.S. financial institutions, banks to do that. To that end, what measures should be put in place to tighten our financial institutions, our banks, as far as who may be using them and what identifications may be appropriate as far as a screening process for people using our financial institutions in this country.
Mr. ZARATE. Congressman, you raise a very important issue, and again I think this points to the importance of the Patriot Act and the work of the Congress in putting in place a vigorous Title III element of the Patriot Act, which gave us greater powers with respect to sharing information, but also with respect to tightening of the safeguards within the financial system.
We have an open economy, an open financial system, so there is always the danger that criminals, terrorists or others, will misuse that system to raise money, to move money, et cetera. What our challenge is, is to create efficient and effective gateways, if you will, to the financial system that allows us to capture at the outset or during transactions nefarious activities.
Mr. GARRETT. May I suggest, then that if we wanted to apply an appropriate gateway, that gateway would be such that you would require some sort of documentation for an individual to open up an account, and that documentation would be an official documentation issued from this country and not from some other country.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It is my understanding that Treasury is in support of allowing an individual, an illegal immigrant, an alien, a would-be terrorist who is in this country illegally and has no other documentation from this country or another country, but would be allowed to use documentation such as a matricula card from his country to open up a bank account. Why would be want to allow illegal immigrants and would-be terrorists to use that sort of documentation and not some sort of official U.S. documentation?
Mr. ZARATE. Congressman, under Section 326 of the Patriot Act where we set out relevant regulations for the documents that are required for account openings, we have applied a risk-based approach that in large part relies on the financial institutions to do proper due diligence and to engage in proper identification of the accountholders, and to engage in know-your-customer principles and practices that are expected of a financial institution.
We work very closely with them to look at precisely what types of identifications are appropriate. In the regulation, we leave open to them the ability to balance, to see what identification is appropriate.
Mr. GARRETT. Is it true, then, if I was to go to my local bank and my banker knows me for 40 years, that they would still require some sort of identification from me to open that account, but if someone else came into that bank for the very first time and presented to them a matricula card from another consulate, that they would be required to open up an account with them.
The second question is, who would be in this country that would not have some form of either American identification such as American citizen, or a legal immigrant into this country. Who other than those individuals would be needing to use a foreign documentation such as that?
Mr. ZARATE. To answer your first question, Congressman, it would not be a requirement that the bank actually open an account. It would be incumbent upon the bank to ensure themselves that the identity presented by the individual hoping to open an account is in fact the identity of the individual. So in many instances, to use your example, I would imagine that a bank would require a second form of identification or would require references or would engage in other due diligence in order to assuage themselves that the person is who they say they are.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So the first is really a calculus for the financial institutions. On that point, I would like to mention that the administration is undertaking, along with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, to look at what forms of identification are more susceptible to fraud or fraudulent reproduction. Driver's licenses, for example, are often counterfeited, and there are problems there as well. So that is an important issue.
On your second point, Congressman, I think it bears mentioning, and this is a point that we have raised internationally as we have tried to broaden and deepen the regulatory expanse of government oversight and transparency, it behooves us to have people in the financial system and using the formal financial system. It actually becomes easier to track financial flows. It becomes easier to track individuals if they are actually engaging in financial transactions in the formal system.
It is much more difficult when you are dealing with underground banking systems, hawalla systems, et cetera, when expatriate workers are trying to transfer money back home and there are no records or very little records to speak of. So in a sense, having a system that allows for the potential for people who are living in the country, making money in the country, to access the formal financial system is actually a helpful enforcement tool.
Mr. GARRETT. So is the answer to your second question, my second point of who would be in this country other than illegal immigrants using this indication might be would-be terrorists?
Mr. ZARATE. I think you are asking me to speculate.
Chairwoman KELLY. Mr. Zarate, you may answer that question briefly. Mr. Garrett is actually out of time and this subcommittee is aware of the issues that Mr. Garrett raises and will address them in a subcommittee oversight of agencies, which actually we have these things on the schedule. So we can talk about that, but please go ahead.
Mr. ZARATE. I will not speculate as to who potentially is using the matriculas. It would obviously be individuals from that country who are living and making money in this country and who would want to use that identification to conduct legitimate transactions.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you.
Mr. INSLEE. Thank you.
I assume that just about at the same time the war started in Iraq that your agency swung into action right away to try to chase down any of Saddam's assets. Is that a fair statement, pretty close to contemporaneous with starting the war?
Mr. ZARATE. That is right. The announcement from Secretary Snow launching this campaign was immediately coincident with the commencement of actions in Iraq.
Mr. INSLEE. I certainly appreciate that. The question arises, if we did that in Iraq, why after September 11, 2 days after September 11, did this administration allow a privately chartered 737 to fly around America picking up Saudi Arabian citizens, including blood relatives of Osama bin Laden, and fly the out of the United States back to Saudi Arabia, without undergoing a close comprehensive scrutiny to determine whether or not they had any relationship to the assets of al Qaeda, as has been widely reported.
If you can shed light on whether in fact that is accurate or not, that would be appreciated. If you can explain why the U.S. Government did that, at the same time it was grounding all the airplanes in America so my constituents could not get home from their business trips, it allowed Saudi Arabians, the country that had 15 out of 19 members on the planes that crashed into the towers, were from Saudi Arabia, and flew them out of the country without really scrutinizing the situation for assets.
Mr. SIMONS. Congressman, I do not know that I can give you a detailed answer to that question. I can say, and I think I could speak on behalf of my Treasury associates as well, that those of us that were involved with the issue of terrorist financing in the wake of 9-11 moved very quickly. We had an executive order that was in place within the first several weeks after 9-11, and the first comprehensive effort to identify and to freeze the assets of terrorist financiers was put into place in very rapid fashion.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Subsequently, we sought and obtained U.N. blessing for this and we went international. So on the issue of seizing and freezing terrorist financing assets, I think the record of the administration post-9-11 was a very strong one.
Mr. INSLEE. I appreciate that. Could you shed light on whether or not the facts I set forth are accurate or not? Did that happen?
Mr. SIMONS. I do not have the information on that. I will have to get back to you with an answer on that question.
Mr. INSLEE. I would very much appreciate it because as far as I can tell, we have not received information from the administration. So if you can favor me with a letter specifically stating whether those things happened or not, and explaining why this administration would allow an airplane to pick up Osama bin Laden's relatives to fly them out of the United States of America 2 days after 9-11, at the same time they are grounding every other civilian aircraft in America, without finding out if they had some of al Qaeda's cash with them, if you could explain to me a justification why this administration let that happen, I would be very appreciative. And I will provide you my address.
The second question I have, could you gentleman, in summary form, this is an approximation, could you tell me the approximate number of people that are involved in this tracing of Iraqi assets now, just in your respective, and then these are ballpark figures.
Mr. ZARATE. Congressman, that is a hard number to give you, in part because on a daily basis you have
Mr. INSLEE. Can you give me just ballpark, within a factor of three?
Mr. ZARATE. I would say, at least within Treasury, we have certainly our investigators on the ground from the criminal investigation division at IRS, five of whom will be on the ground as of April; we have four on the ground now. They work very closely with FBI counterparts and department of defense officials. Those numbers are very difficult, at least for me to provide. We also have officials in the Coalition Provisional Authority who are advising the ministries and also working on these issues. There is one particular individual from treasury who is focused on this issue and the State Department has some individuals as well.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Then back here at main Treasury, we have a fluctuation of about I would say from five to ten experts at any time dealing with this issue, as well as people at main headquarters at IRS, as well as people at OFAC and FinCEN. So it is hard to give you an exact number because on a daily basis, depending on the issues, the issues revolving around this are so complicated and varied it really depends.
Mr. INSLEE. I am sorry. Mr. Simons?
Mr. SIMONS. Yes, from the perspective of the State Department, we have at any time from about five to ten officials in the building working the issue. At each of our embassies, we have identified since 9-11 a terrorist finance coordinating officer who has undergone training in Washington and who is working not only terrorist financing issues, but also these Iraqi assest issues. We have a point person at every one of our embassies around the world that is following up on the leads.
I would also like to note, if I could, Mr. Congressman, that the leads that are being generated by the Treasury, IRS folks in the field, working in Iraq, are truly unique. We have never had this kind of effort before. Our ability to take that information, to route it through Washington and to get it back out to the field again is something that is very unique. When we talk about lessons learned, I think it is something that we might try to see if we can do again in the future.
Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you very much, Mr. Inslee.
I really want to thank this panel. There may be questions that will be coming from other members. I want to first of all explain
Mr. INSLEE. Madam Chair?
Chairwoman KELLY. I am sorry?
Mr. INSLEE. Could I ask you your indulgence? I do not know if we could have a possibility of
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Chairwoman KELLY. Mr. Inslee, I am really sorry, but there will be a closed briefing after this meeting. If you have further questions, perhaps you can ask them in that closed session.
Mr. INSLEE. Thank you.
Chairwoman KELLY. I want to thank this panel very much. Mr. Zarate, I want to congratulate you on the designation of the 16 family names, as well as the 191 quasi-government entities that you have designated to the United Nations to be added to the list that requires the members's countries to block and transfer any stolen Iraqi assets that are found outside of Iraq. That is very significant and that is hard work. It represents, I am sure, a great many hours in the back rooms looking at very unattractive books.
So I really do congratulate you on that. And I congratulate the panel and I note that some members may have additional questions for this panel, which they may wish to submit in writing. Mr. Inslee, you may wish to take that route as well. Without objection, though, the hearing record will remain open for 30 days for the members to submit written questions to these witnesses and to place their responses in the record.
I thank you very much. Now, we will call the second panel.
Mr. Ose, I am sorry. I have just dismissed this panel.
Mr. OSE. I have a question for Mr. Zarate.
Chairwoman KELLY. All right. With unanimous consent, we will bend the rules and allow you one question with one quick answer, because I have dismissed this panel and actually we are going to have a private session after this, and you may ask your questions there. But with unanimous consent, I will do that, for one question.
Mr. OSE. I thank the Chair.
Mr. Zarate, in the early 1990s, certain Iraqi assets were frozen in banks, something on the tune of $1.2 billion. I am curious as to the rates of return that were paid on those assets subsequent to their freezing in terms of whether or not they adhered to what is called a commercially reasonable basis. I would be happy to take my answer in writing if it pleases the chair in order to expedite matters.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ZARATE. Congressman, we will provide a written response which will provide a full accounting. But to give you a very quick answer, you are correct that in the early 1990s, $1.261 billion was frozen in the U.S. with respect to Iraqi assets. As of today, the figure of $2.112 billion dollars has been frozen. As we have indicated, approximately $1.932 billion of that amount has been vested and transferred back to Iraq.
So the differential between the $1.26 billion and the $2.112 billion represents in part the interest accrued. Given the varied nature of the accounts, given one of the loan elements to the U.N., it presents a complication in the figure. We feel that most banks applied a commercially reasonable rate. If you actually worked out the numbers, assuming some of these things, it works out to about 4 percent as to the rate that was applied.
Mr. OSE. By institution, are you able to break it out in terms of what was frozen and what the rate of returns were being paid?
Mr. ZARATE. Yes, we are. That is commercially sensitive information and the rates varied depending on the type of account, as well as the amounts. In the instance where we found that banks either did not apply an interest rate that was appropriate, we have gone back to those banks and ameliorated that problem.
Mr. OSE. Madam Chair, I would be happy to submit my question for further expansion by Mr. Zarate in writing.
Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you.
Mr. OSE. I thank the Chair.
Chairwoman KELLY. In the interests of fairness, since Mr. Ose has had a turn, I am going to beg this panel's indulgence and return to Mr. Inslee for his final question.
Mr. INSLEE. Thank you, Madam Chair. That is an act of great graciousness. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Some of us feel that the greater threat at the time the war started in Iraq, to the lives of our constituents, was actually al Qaeda, the group that killed thousands of Americans on September 11. If the will of the policymakers at that time had been to continue to focus on stopping al Qaeda from killing Americans, rather than to shift and shift resources into the war in Iraq, would the people that you just identified, each you talked about a certain number of people who are now chasing Iraqi assets instead of al Qaeda assets, would those resources have been available to chase al Qaeda assets, the group that struck us on September 11? The ones that are now chasing Iraqi assets?
Mr. ZARATE. Congressman, this administration, the Treasury Department and I know the State Department, has never lost its focus on the battle against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Our campaign to freeze assets and to seize assets related to al Qaeda is unabated. In fact, today we are announcing the designation of 10 individuals that are part of an Italian cell submitted to the U.N. by the Italians. This is an ongoing effort. We now have designated 361 individuals and entities, frozen or seized approximately $200 million in terrorist-related assets, continue to work closely on a bilateral basis and multilaterally with our partners abroad to address the al Qaeda issue.
So my answer is that all the relevant resources are being applied to the hunt for al Qaeda's finances, and on a daily basis we are uncovering those leads as well and taking appropriate actions to deal with them.
Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you very much.
Mr. INSLEE. Thank you.
Chairwoman KELLY. I again will thank the panel very much for their indulgence on this, and I look forward to our having a closed session with both of you. With that, you are dismissed with our great thanks.
On our second panel, the subcommittee will hear from two witnesses from the General Accounting Office as a follow-up to a request that the committee made to the agency last May. With us from the General Accounting Office is Mr. Joseph Christoff, the Director of International Affairs and Trade, and Ms. D'Agostino, the Director of GAO's Financial Markets and Community Investment.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Christoff spearheads the GAO's work related to the U.S. agencies responsible for nonproliferation, export control and international security issues, as well as issues related to the United Nations and multilateral institutions. Ms. D'Agostino directs the GAO's work on a number of issues including anti-money laundering programs, the SEC's technology and security oversight of the markets. Prior to this position, she led and managed GAO reviews of counterterrorism and government-wide terrorism initiatives and defense, trade and technology transfer issues.
Without objection, your full written statements will be made part of the record. You will each be recognized for a 5-minute summary of your testimony. We will begin with you, Mr. Christoff.
STATEMENT OF JOSEPH A. CHRISTOFF, DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRADE, UNITED STATE GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE
Mr. CHRISTOFF. Madam Chairwoman, members of the subcommittee, thank you for inviting GAO to this important hearing.
Last year, you asked GAO to examine how the United States works with other nations to recover the assets of foreign regimes. Today, I will present our preliminary observations on U.S. efforts in Iraq. First, I will update GAO's previous estimate of the illegal revenues the former regime acquired through the Oil for Food Program. Next, I will describe the efforts of U.S. agencies to recover Iraqi assets. Finally, I will provide some observations on the challenges that the United States faces in recovering these assets.
Let me first begin with the Oil for Food Program. Under U.N. sanctions, the former Iraqi regime was allowed to sell oil to purchase food and other humanitarian goods. From 1997 to 2002, the United Nations controlled over $67 billion in Iraqi oil revenues. However, the sanctions did not prevent Iraq from acquiring billions in illegal revenues from these proceeds. Oil was smuggled through Syria, Jordan and the Persian Gulf. The government levied surcharges of up to 50 cents a barrel against oil purchasers. It extracted commissions of 5 to 10 percent against commodity suppliers. Based on this information, we estimate that the former regime acquired $10.1 billion in illegal revenues.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I would now like to describe the efforts the U.S. has made to recover the regime's assets. Led by the Departments of the Treasury and State, more than 20 government entities are working to locate, freeze and transfer the former regime's assets to Iraq. The United States created a new interagency coordinating body called the Iraqi Assets Working Group. This group is responsible for exploiting financial documents in Iraq and engaging the financial community in the hunt for illicit assets.
In addition, the United States has used recently developed domestic and international authorities to recover assets. Provisions in IEEPA and the Patriot Act allowed the Treasury Department to confiscate and vest Iraqi assets. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1483 required all members to immediately transfer the regime's assets to the Development Fund for Iraq.
Now, the results of those efforts. Let me caution that we have yet to review the reliability of the data that has been provided us by the Department of the Treasury and the Coalition Provisional Authority. First, in March 2003, the U.S. Government took control of or vested $1.9 billion in Iraqi assets held in the United States. This process moved quickly because the United States had in place the necessary legal authorities to vest and transfer the Iraqi assets. The CPA has spent the vested assets on salaries for former Iraqi military personnel, civil servants and pensioners, and to pay for the operations of Iraqi ministries.
Second, coalition forces and investigators quickly seized over $900 million in Iraq between April and May 2003. These assets included hard currency, gold and jewelry. The CPA has used $752 million of these assets to fund reconstruction projects and to purchase liquefied petroleum gas.
Third, other countries froze $3.7 billion of Iraqi assets in compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions. As of March 2004, over 10 countries had transferred $751 million to the DFI. Finally, little progress has been made in identifying and recovering assets hidden worldwide. While the total amount accumulated by the former Iraqi regime is unknown, estimates range from $10 billion to $40 billion.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The United States faces several challenges in its efforts to recover Iraq's assets. First, recovering the former regime's assets initially was not a high priority in the overall U.S. effort in Iraq. By September 2003, as the need for additional resources to rebuild Iraq became apparent, the United States placed a higher priority on recovering the former regime's assets.
Second, U.S. expectations for the quick transfer of funds may have been overly optimistic given the legal capabilities of some countries. U.S. officials believed that the U.N. resolutions would require other countries to quickly transfer Iraqi assets. However, many countries needed to adopt legislation to implement the U.N. requirements.
Furthermore, U.S. officials assumed that frozen assets were immune from new claims. However, some countries have delayed transferring assets until all claims are settled. Finally, the transfer of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government could complicate U.S. efforts to recover the regime's assets. The transitional government has yet to conclude agreements on the activities of the multinational force, which may include rights to continue to interview Iraqi officials and exploit financial documents.
Madam Chairwoman, that completes my statement. Ms. D'Agostino and I would be happy to answer your questions.
[The prepared statement of Joseph A. Christoff and Davi M. D'Agostino can be found on page 37 in the appendix.]
Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you very much.
Ms. D'Agostino, I am sorry.
STATEMENT OF DAVI D'AGOSTINO, DIRECTOR OF FINANCIAL MARKETS AND COMMUNITY INVESTMENT, UNITED STATES GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE
Ms. D'AGOSTINO. That was our joint statement.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Chairwoman KELLY. Yes, Mr. Christoff said that was your statement as well. Is that correct?
Ms. D'AGOSTINO. Yes. We worked on this together.
Chairwoman KELLY. All right.
The committee heard testimony last year that the most effective way to recover nongovernment assets, that is to say the plundered assets that are converted to personal use, but held outside the plundered country, might be private lawyers acting on behalf of a country pursuing civil remedies, and not necessarily a government-led criminal effort. Do you have an opinion on that effort? It was carried on a trial basis for the U.N. to recover plundered Nigerian assets and I would be interested in what your feelings are, whether or not you think that might be more effective or as effective, or is it good to have the two things running in conjunction with each other?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. Madam Chairwoman, we have not looked into that particular option. Certainly, I would say that all options are important in trying to recover assets, whether it is an option working directly with the countries on an official basis, or even working with financial institutions to try to get the assets back.
Chairwoman KELLY. I think maybe we should explore that a bit, if you are willing to do that. Would you mind looking into that and getting back to us and talking with us about it? It might be something that would point up places where we can amplify private efforts that are going on out there.
Ms. D'Agostino, did you have something you wanted to say on that?
Ms. D'AGOSTINO. I am aware that we have interviewed a few of the private sector entities that have been involved in hunting assets for remuneration. We have information about their views, but we have not formed any position of our own with respect to that.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CHRISTOFF. Let's add it to our list. We are completing our work for you by May, so we will do that.
Chairwoman KELLY. If you would add that to your list, I would appreciate it.
It is an accepted fact now that the Saddam Hussein regime was demanding kickbacks and deliberately mis-pricing oil sales and really manipulated the Oil for Food Program by engaging in a lot of illegal sales of oil. Can you tell me what efforts were made, if any, by the United Nations to make sure that the oil for food sales contracts were actually properly priced and that there were no bribes and kickbacks? What did the U.N. do about that?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. Let's perhaps put some perspective on what the United Nations was required to do. The contracts that we are talking about that involved commissions, that involved kickbacks, were contracts that under the U.N. Oil for Food Program, the Iraqi government was allowed to negotiate directly with the purchasers and with the suppliers of the commodities. So any types of kickbacks or commissions obviously would not have been listed in the specific contracts.
We do know that those type of kickbacks occurred because foolishly some of the contracts had line items that said ''after sale service charges,'' which were in effect kickbacks. Any information that the Oil for Food Program might have had about some of these problems was referred to the United Nations Sanctions Committee. That Sanctions Committee is made up of the same members as the Security Council. So according to the U.N., it was incumbent upon the Sanctions Committee to take any action on allegations of kickbacks or commissions that they may have uncovered.
Chairwoman KELLY. And they did not, is that correct?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. One interesting point is that some of the smuggling that occurred, for example to Jordan, the sanctions committee noted the occurrence of the smuggling, but nothing was done beyond that.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Chairwoman KELLY. What about other countries in this regard? What have any other countries done to report, to stop the kickbacks that were going on, the bribes, the kickbacks, the money manipulation? Have you uncovered any attempt by countries to try to stop this or report it or do anything to stop Saddam Hussein from that sort of evil behavior?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. It was a bit of a double-edged sword because many of those countries obviously were the recipients of the contracts; the key countries that received the majority of the contracts were the United States, Russia and France. So I do not think we have any specific information about which of the countries on the Security Council did report information. We do know that the United States and Great Britain were the countries that placed the greatest number of holds on contracts. The U.S. placed about $5 billion of holds on contracts, mostly concerned about the possibility of dual-use goods being part of those contracts.
Chairwoman KELLY. Were there any holds placed by Russia?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. No.
Chairwoman KELLY. No holds placed by France or Germany?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. None that I am aware of. Again, 90 percent were U.S. The remainders I believe were British.
Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you.
I am going to turn now to Ms. Maloney.
Mrs. MALONEY. Thank you, Chairwoman Kelly. Actually, one of our bills is on the floor right now on regulatory relief, where we worked on the business interest accounts. I am going to go down there shortly on that.
But I want to thank you for holding this hearing. I am deeply disturbed by the scandal in the papers involving bribes to U.N. officials involved in the Oil for Food Program with Saddam Hussein. But my question to GAO is, are you getting all the access you need to information? Are the Departments of the Treasury and State cooperating with you? Are they imposing limits on your ability to complete this study? Do you have access to everything you need to do a good study?
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. D'AGOSTINO. Representative Maloney, we have been working very closely with the Departments of the Treasury and State to get all the information that we need. We have recently over the past several weeks achieved accommodation with the departments and are going to continue to try to obtain some follow-on information after the hearing so that we can finalize our report to you, hopefully by the end of May.
Mrs. MALONEY. So you do have access to all the information you need.
Ms. D'AGOSTINO. So far, we believe that we are getting the access that we need.
Mr. CHRISTOFF. I am really happy with the cooperation that we got over the past two weeks, and I want that to continue until our report is issued in May. That is an expectation that I hope we all have.
Mrs. MALONEY. There was an article yesterday in one of the papers about Saddam Hussein accounts in Jordan, and that they were not cooperating in telling our government or anyone who was making withdrawals from those accounts. Are you familiar with that allegation, with that story? Are you familiar with trying to get information on these Jordanian accounts? Have they cooperated? The paper said they are not cooperating. Can you comment on this?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. I am familiar with it, but I think the information that you will get will be in the closed-door session.
Mrs. MALONEY. Okay. Thank you.
Do you have any idea of the scope of the amount of money involved in these bribes that were reported in the Oil for Food Program?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. Sure. The estimate that we just updated, 2 years ago we said there was $6.6 billion; it is now $10.1 billion. It is broken down into two parts; about $4.4 billion of that total amount is related to what is referred to as surcharges, commissions, in effect, kickbacks, that were imposed on purchasers or asked from suppliers. The remaining amount, the $5.7 billion, was the smuggling that went through the Persian Gulf, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. MALONEY. Do you believe that money from Saddam Hussein that he took from the Oil for Food Program is going to insurgents who target U.S. troops in Iraq today?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. No, I do not.
Mrs. MALONEY. You do not. You do not.
I look forward to the closed-door session and the Jordanian accounts.
Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you, Ms. Maloney.
Mr. OSE. Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to go back over a couple of things to make sure I understand correctly. It is GAO's conclusions that about $10.1 billion in oil sale revenue was skimmed off the top.
Mr. CHRISTOFF. $10.1 billion that was either skimmed or it was the result of illegal smuggling of oil.
Mr. OSE. Okay. More accurately, $4.4 billion of skimming and $5.7 billion of smuggling.
Mr. CHRISTOFF. Correct.
Mr. OSE. And that is comprised based on surcharges of up to 50 cents per barrel or commissions ranging from 5 percent to 10 percent in the form of surcharges and the like.
Mr. CHRISTOFF. Right. In our analysis, actually, we used 25 cents per barrel, trying to be a bit more conservative.
Mr. OSE. Okay. You highlighted Syria, Jordan and generically the Persian Gulf as the source or the end-countries for this oil.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CHRISTOFF. Smuggling.
Mr. OSE. For the smuggling portion of that.
Mr. CHRISTOFF. Correct.
Mr. OSE. Were there countries beyond Syria, Jordan or the Persian Gulf to which this oil was sent?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. The oil ultimately ended up in the international market. The conduits for actually getting it out of Iraq were through pipeline via Syria; truck over towards Jordan and Turkey; and then through the Persian Gulf by ship.
Mr. OSE. Okay. GAO's position, then, is that the conduits for the oil departing Iraq were Syria, Jordan and Persian Gulf.
Mr. CHRISTOFF. Correct.
Mr. OSE. And the end-users, do you have any evidence as to who the end-users of this oil, other than just the generic international markets?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. No, not the smuggled.
Mr. OSE. Okay. Do you have any evidence as to the payola on the $4.4 billion worth of revenue that is estimated to be in the form of surcharges or commissions?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. The United Nations has all of the contracts. At the end of March, there were over 6,000 contracts that were pending. All of this information has been turned over the Coalition Provisional Authority, so that will list all of the pending contracts in terms of the purchasers, as well as the suppliers of commodities; who they were; which countries they were coming from; and the total amounts.
Mr. OSE. Some of the press reports I have read indicate that certain individuals who are actually associated or affiliated directly with the United Nations in one form or another were the beneficiaries, either directly or by virtue of relationships with corporate entities of having received some of these oil shipments. Does GAO have any such information?
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CHRISTOFF. No.
Mr. OSE. You also talked a little bit about holds on contracts. Ms. Kelly touched on this. I just want to make sure I go back on this. There were any number of countries with whom there were contracts for provision of service to the Hussein regime in Iraq; the United States, Germany, France, Russia. Were there others?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. Your question again?
Mr. OSE. You talked earlier about holds on contracts.
Mr. CHRISTOFF. Correct.
Mr. OSE. And that the United States had placed holds on up to $5 billion worth of contracts.
Mr. CHRISTOFF. Correct.
Mr. OSE. Your earlier testimony was, in answer to Ms. Kelly's question, was that no holds had been placed on any contracts that you were aware of from Russia, France or Germany.
Mr. CHRISTOFF. We will certainly go back and check on that. Two years ago when we did this work, 90 percent of the holds were U.S.; the remainder were British.
Mr. OSE. Okay. In terms of the accounts into which money from the sale of oil under the Oil for Food Program occurred, the funds were placed in custodial accounts in U.S. banks or other banks?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. A U.N. escrow account held in Paris.
Mr. OSE. What bank in Paris controlled the funds?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. The Bank National de Paris.
Mr. OSE. Paribas?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. Yes.
Mr. OSE. Okay. Do you have any information as to what sort of fees or assessments or rates of return were paid on the monies deposited into that account?
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CHRISTOFF. I do not know. As part of the Oil for Food Program, however, the United Nations was given approximately 3 percent of the total oil proceeds that would be for their administrative expenses to administer the Oil for Food Program.
Mr. OSE. My question is, in their custodial nature, the U.N. was acting as an escrow or a fiduciary and they were placing funds into BNP Paribas in Paris.
Mr. CHRISTOFF. Right.
Mr. OSE. Was that an interest-bearing account?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. I do not know. We can check on that.
Mr. OSE. I see my time has expired. Thank you.
Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you. That was an interesting line of questioning and I hope we can get some answers.
It just kind of blew me away there when you said 3 percent of the Oil for Food Program monies were siphoned off by the United Nations?
Mr. CHRISTOFF. No, no, no. Not siphoned off.
Chairwoman KELLY. Let me understand this.
Mr. CHRISTOFF. Yes, please. That was part of the arrangement in establishing the Oil for Food Program, to administer the program as part of the agreement, 72 percent of the oil sales went to Iraq to be used for purchases; 3 percent was overhead to allow the United Nations to administer the program; and 25 percent was returned to Kuwait as part of war reparations.
Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you. I appreciate that clarity. I also appreciate the very direct manner in which you have answered our questions with facts. It is refreshing to have someone here that does not dissemble; that just says what it is. I appreciate that.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Chair notes that some members may have additional questions for this panel, which they may wish to submit in writing. So without objection, the hearing record will remain open for 30 days for the members to submit written questions to these witnesses and to place their responses in the record.
Mr. OSE. Madam Chair, if I may? I want to follow up on the line of questioning you just brought up for a moment.
Chairwoman KELLY. Could you do that please in the closed session?
Mr. OSE. Certainly.
Chairwoman KELLY. Thank you.
This hearing is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 11:39 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]