Recalling Ahmed Chalabi

Iraq's Man Who Would Be King

"I can't tell you how much he embezzled, he and his brothers," says Nabulsi. "It was not a mistake. He doesn't make mistakes." Nabulsi admits that investigations into the bank's finances, and Chalabi's improprieties, were never able to determine how much, if any, he stole, and how much he simply lost. Nonetheless, the damage to Jordan was done. "The impact was much, much greater than the Enron case," says Nabulsi. Half a billion dollars was lost, some 10 percent, he says, of Jordan's gross national product at the time. To the charges that the case against Chalabi was political, Nabulsi says simply, "It is like Enron telling the government that Bush was out to get them."

The Petra Bank scandal is not the only black mark on Chalabi's résumé. In January of last year, the State Department suspended funding to the INC, citing "financial management and internal control weaknesses." While the move may highlight State's discomfort with Chalabi's group, it is hardly an isolated accusation. Laith Kubba, a former INC spokesperson, told the Financial Times in December that in the early 1990s, when the group was receiving up to $325,000 a month from the CIA, there was "zero transparency about the INC's finances."

Some have suggested that if the Jordanian government hadn't closed down Petra Bank, Ahmed Chalabi would perhaps have been able to make good on the bank's losses, that he simply had many pots cooking at once, and that the government's intervention screwed up his grand design. Jawad Al-Anani isn't sure.

"I distinguish between a criminal act and bad judgment," he says. "I found that he was ambitious. He built a huge structure, a stalagmite configuration of companies, if you will. I was inclined to believe he did not have a sinister plan to cause the economy to collapse.

"Still," he continues, "the whole thing left people in deep financial trouble. The man was plowing in other people's lands, and no one was stopping him."

Al-Anani believes that if the rumors that Chalabi will be assisting with Iraq's finances are true, it's not necessarily terrible news. "If he has a good team, people who are concerned with the nitty-gritty, he'll be alright," he says. "He's a strategist, and he has a good mind, but he is bad with the nitty-gritty."

Nabulsi thinks this view is generous. "Listen, it's not my problem anymore," he says. "I think he won't be able to walk in the Iraqi street," says the former Central Bank chief. "Iraqis know about him. They know everything."

Al-Fanak agrees. "Responsible people know about him, but I think the Americans deserve him. It's good for everyone to see the thief representing American foreign policy."

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