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Where Are Saddam's Billions?

Now that Saddam Hussein's grip on power is dissolved, the race is on to find the billions he is believed to have stashed outside Iraq.

The United States, leading the hunt to seize Iraqi assets and use them to reconstruct the country, has yet to even quantify the holdings of Saddam's inner circle.

Estimates of Saddam's wealth range from $2 billion to $40 billion. But experts say it has been so effectively hidden — in countries from Latin America to Asia — that the real amount may never be known.

"There is a network of money that has been sent out of the country and it has been given to people to invest or to keep," said Charles Forrest of the U.S.-funded International Campaign to Indict Iraqi War Criminals, or Indict.

Forrest said official Iraqi government accounts may be easier to spot than accounts belonging to about 200 individuals and firms associated with the Iraqi regime.

"The world must find, freeze and return Iraqi money for the Iraqi people and their future," U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow said March 21.

The Bush administration seized $1.62 billion in Iraqi assets already frozen in the United States as last month's invasion got under way. Washington urged other countries to follow suit. Many have moved more slowly.

The Swiss government said Wednesday it was freezing Iraqi government and corporate assets pending a U.N. Security Council resolution identifying the rightful owners.

Swiss National Bank estimates Iraqi assets in the country at $305 million at the end of 2001. But officials conceded the true figure, which includes payments from Iraq's oil business, may be higher.

France has frozen some $90 million in Iraqi investments from before the 1991 Gulf War. Britain still holds $605 million in Iraqi assets — most of it linked to Saddam — that it froze after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

"Our overriding aim is for this money to be used as much as possible for the benefit of the Iraqi people," said Simon Moise, the British treasury spokesman.

A U.S. Treasury blacklist includes individuals and companies in Britain, Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Rafidain Bank of Iraq, which is on the U.S. blacklist, has branches across the Middle East that continued to operate Thursday.

The Jordanian government hasn't frozen Iraqi public and private assets, but is checking the identities of those making withdrawals, a Jordanian official in Amman said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He declined to be specific.

In Egypt, the collapse of the Iraqi government means its assets are frozen but no action had been taken, said Abdel Fatah el-Gibaly, an adviser to the finance minister.

Officials in the United Arab Emirates said no Iraq assets, public or private, had been frozen.

Only a handful of Swiss entries appear on the U.S. blacklist, including companies liquidated long ago.

But a recent report commissioned by Indict suggests Switzerland may have been central to Saddam's financial network.

"Certain individuals are still active in Switzerland," said the 20-page confidential report prepared in December 2001 by Kroll Associates UK Ltd.

Saddam's half brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, was allegedly the chief organizer of a clandestine group of companies and funds handling the Iraqi dictator's wealth.

Indict says Al-Tikriti, chief of Saddam's secret police in the 1980s, used his subsequent nine-year tenure as Iraq's ambassador to U.N. offices in Geneva to set up the network.

Forrest said Kroll found that, despite U.N. restrictions during much of the 1990s, Saddam and his family raked in oil smuggling profits.

"They demanded kickbacks, they bought brokers, they created false front companies and they banked the money abroad in cash, or in accounts for product credit," said David D. Aufhauser, general counsel of the U.S. Treasury Department.

Saddam's regime also skimmed off the U.N.-oil-for-food program.

In one scheme, Iraq sold its oil at below-market rates, with the proceeds going into a U.N. account to buy food and medicine for the Iraqi people. Iraq then received a 30-cent per barrel kickback, according to a report by the Coalition for International Justice, based in Washington, D.C., and the Hague, Netherlands.

Saddam's assets have long involved guesswork.

The U.S. General Accounting Office estimated Iraq earned $6.6 billion in oil smuggling and surcharges from 1997 to 2001. The Coalition for International Justice put the figure at $10 billion.

U.S. officials said Saddam still had $30 billion in secret funds at the end of the 1991 Gulf War. Estimates of his wealth have since declined.

Forbes magazine estimated Saddam's worth at $2 billion a month ago — down from $7 billion in 2000.

Financial sleuth John Fawcett told 60 Minutes Correspondent Steve Kroft last month that his investigation of wealth controlled by Saddam found assets estimated at between $10 and $20 billion. His holdings include American magazines, such as Elle, Car and Driver and Woman's Day, through stock owned in a parent company. Those shares are now frozen.

So were did Saddam put the money?

Forbes said he used much of it to build palaces across the desert country. Other investigators said he spent heavily on spare parts and weapons.

"Most of that money has been spent on giving support to the Special Republican Guard and his presidential guard and his relatives and friends," said Forrest of Indict.

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