Saddam Hussein ordered that nearly $1 billion be taken from Iraq's Central Bank shortly before the United States began bombing Baghdad, and sent his son Qusai to grab the cash in the middle of the night, a newspaper reported Tuesday.
The amount of money — some $900 million in U.S. $100 bills and $100 million in euros — was so large it had to be taken from the bank in three tractor-trailers, The New York Times reported.
Qusai, Saddam's younger son, and Abid al-Haimd Mahmood, Saddam's personal assistant, organized the removal of the cash, the Times report said, quoting an Iraqi banking official who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from Saddam's Baath Party.
No financial rationale was offered to bank officials for the removal of the money, which would amount to one of the largest bank robberies in history, and none was needed.
"When you get an order from Saddam Hussein, you do not discuss it," said the Iraqi official.
In other developments:
The bank operation, which the Iraqi official said took place at 4 a.m. on March 18, was confirmed by U.S. Treasury official George Mullinax, who is assigned to help rebuild Iraq's banking system. Mullinax told the Times that about $900 million was taken by "Saddam Hussein's people."
It was not known where the money was taken. The Iraqi official said it amounted to a quarter of the Central Bank's hard currency reserves.
A U.S. Army Special Forces officer, Col. Ted Seel, said intelligence indicated that a convoy of tractor-trailers crossed the border into Syria, but that the contents of the trucks was unknown, the Times report said.
Mullinax told the newspaper it was possible that much of the money had already been recovered. He said the roughly $650 million found by U.S. forces in one of Saddam's palaces last month might have been from the Central Bank.
The Iraqi official, however, felt the money found in the palace did not come from that Central Bank raid but belonged to Saddam's oldest son Odai, whom he said was known for hoarding large sums of cash.
The newspaper said the billion dollars taken by Saddam was nearly twice the amount looted by Iraqis from the bank after the April 9 collapse of Saddam's regime.