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Saddam's successor has controversial Swiss past

Ahmad Chalabi is widely expected to lead a post-war Iraq

(Keystone Archive)

The chief of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmad Chalabi, has been billed as Washington's favourite to head a post-Saddam administration.

But his past is clouded by unsavoury financial dealings in Switzerland.

On Wednesday, Saddam Hussein's government lost control of Baghdad, after the Iraqi capital fell to United States-led forces.

Chalabi ran the Geneva branch of the Lebanese bank, Mebco, which was shut down by the Swiss Federal Banking Commission in 1989.

Mebco is part of the Middle East Banking Corporation of Beirut, which is owned by the Chalabi family.

It was one of only three financial establishments in Switzerland authorised to issue Visa credit cards.

Although there is no record of illegal dealings by the bank, the commission said Mebco was badly run, with liquidity problems and lax accounting procedures. The company is also suspected of handing out unsecured credit.

Suspect dealings

Several months after Mebco was shut down, another Geneva-based business owned by the Chalabis ran into financial difficulties.

Wednesday's edition of "Le Temps" newspaper said that Socofi's downfall is estimated to have ruined thousands of investors and left a SFr140 million ($101 million) hole.

The Chalabi family blamed the first Gulf War as the reason for Socofi's financial difficulties.

But in September 2000, two of Ahmad Chalabi's brothers were sentenced to six months in prison in Switzerland for falsifying documents in relation to dealings at Socofi.

Ahmad himself has been sentenced to 22 years in prison in Jordan for his involvement in the downfall of Petra bank, which has connections with both Mebco and Socofi.

Family affair

The Chalabi family has also come under fire for allegedly using their financial establishments to lend money to their own companies.

Le Temps said Socofi is believed to have paid SFr88 million of non-guaranteed funds over a five-year period into companies owned by the family.

According to the Chalabi family, all the problems encountered by their companies were due to pressure from Saddam Hussein's regime.

swissinfo, Ian Hamel (translation: Joanne Shields)

In brief

Chalabi ran the Geneva branch of the Lebanese bank, Mebco, which was shut down by the Swiss Federal Banking Commission in 1989, due to liquidity and lax accounting.

Another Geneva-based business owned by the Chalabis, Socofi, ran into financial difficulty, allegedly ruining thousands of investors and leaving a SFr140 million ($101 million) hole.

Two of Ahmad's brothers were found guilty of falsifying documents at Socofi.

Ahmad himself has been sentenced to 22 years imprisonment in Jordan for his involvement in the downfall of Petra bank, which has connections with both Mebco and Socofi.

Socofi is also believed to have paid SFr88 million of non-guaranteed funds over a five-year period into companies owned by the family.

end of infobox


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