The handshake heard round the world took place in April, 2004, at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago between Barack Obama and a mysterious London billionaire named Nadhmi Auchi.
Until James Bone and Dominic Kennedy asserted the handshake took place in their February 25, 2008, Times Online article, "Barack Obama embarassed by billionaire link to home deal," the meeting between these two political actors was unconfirmed. However now that the report has been published in London, where the libel laws are draconian enough that the Mr. Auchi and his esteemed media lawyer Alisdair Pepper have the power and means to severely damage the Rupert Murdoch News Corp empire by going after the Times if this report is false, it is safe to assume that the handshake is useful fact.
What does the handshake mean? It places Mr. Obama, then a state senator from the 13th District who had just won his party’s nomination to run for the U.S. Senate in the fall, in the same critical meeting between Mr. Auchi and his Chicago-based partner, Antoin "Tony" Rezko, along with Mr. Rezko’s patron, Governor Rod Blagojevich, as well Mr. Obama’s mentor in the Illinois State senate, Emile Jones, Jr. It places Mr. Obama in association with Mr. Auchi, who is now, because of three particular wire transfers of cash, one in 2005 and another two in 2007, the latter two most suspicious to the prosecutors, a weighty figure in the trial about to begin into the felonious graft around Governor Rod Blagojevich these last years.
And this means that Mr. Obama’s association requires much more in the way of the explanation from the Obama campaign than has so far been the case. The most an unnamed aide for Mr. Obama who was present that evening has told the Times about the handshake was, "We do not remember individual people," which is possible but is not a sound response when the question concerns a billionaire investor in the room with the governor of the state and the hot new U.S. Senate contender.
Why was Mr. Auchi in the luxury room? Mr. Auchi is known as the Donald Trump of Great Britain, one of the richest men in the world, and he was present in Chicago that night to discuss his partnership with the under-capitalized Mr. Rezko in developing a sixty-two-acre vacant lot along the Chicago River not far from the hotel. At the same time, Mr. Auchi that night was well known as a 2003 convicted felon in France for colluding with French oilmen and government officials in Middle Eastern oil deals. Mr. Auchi was also linked at the time with Mr. Rezko’s project, in partnership with a longtime Chicago resident and Rezko classmate, Aihman Alsammarae, who may have been in the room that evening, in building a troubled and eventually failed power plant in the liberated Iraq that left Mr. Alsammarae, as the Paul Bremer appointed Minister of Electricity of Iraq, in an Iraqi jail until he fled the country back to Chicago. Mr. Auchi was also at the time linked with a U.S. investigation into the awarding of a mobile telephone contract in Iraq — an investigation that failed and required major newspapers in Britain to apologize to the scrupulously litigious Mr. Auchi, who nevertheless remains known in Baghdad as a "Saddam guy."
And yet the handshake by Mr. Obama, a vivid opponent of the Iraq war, did more than look away from the fact that Mr. Auchi had a Baathist party past in Iraq that was associated with Saddam Hussein and a present that was associated with felony in France and unusual schemes in free Iraq. Mr. Obama’s handshake also meant that the candidate was willing to entangle himself in the strange connection between Mr. Auchi and Mr. Obama’s long time supporter and fund-raiser Mr. Rezko.
That entanglement, assert Bone and Kennedy, began immediately the next year when Mr. Auchi lent Mr. Rezko $3.5 million on May 25, 2005. In the article, these veteran investigative reporters raise the possibility that Mr. Rezko’s wife, Rita Rezko, used some of that cash to help Mr. Obama buy his home in the Hyde Park Kenwood section of Chicago, when she, with no credible income or savings of her own, found the means to secure a $500,000 loan and provide another $125,000 in cash to purchase the yard of the estate, and to carry that debt burden at least until December, 2006. This is an explosive assertion by the Times and requires keen confirmation or a full volume refutation by the Obama campaign.
Also, according to the Times, there was more cash coming from Mr. Auchi to Mr. Rezko: another $11 million in September 2005, two months before Mr. Rezko and other “Illinois government officials" wrote letters to the State Department attempting unsuccessfully to gain another visit by Mr. Auchi to Chicago. And then in 2007 came the two most troubling Mr. Auchi cash transfers so far, $3.49 million in April, and another $200,000 in July, both passed to Mr. Rezko via a Beirut bank in a manner surreptitious enough for the Federal re-arrest of the accused Mr. Rezko. Puzzlingly, Mr. Auchi, a man with a reputation as a modest penny-pincher, is said to have transferred in all up to $27.9 million by June of 2007 into the hands of a man whom he first heard of in 2003 and who is now without means of income and with limited prospects.
In sum, Mr. Obama shook hands with a shadowy billionaire who is suspect of making it possible for Mr. Rezko to perform duties that won him the title of "fixer," by the Chicago media. Mr. Auchi’s cash in Mr. Rezko’s hands may have fixed Mr. Obama’s estate in 2005. Mr. Auchi’s cash in Mr Rezko’s hands may have built the suspect’s defense case or sustained it in 2007, a case to refute the government’s sweeping charges, brought by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of the North District of Illinois, of graft in high places in Illinois politics. And Mr. Auchi’s cash in Mr. Rezko’s hands could have led, in the U.S. court’s opinion as of January 28, 2008, to Mr. Rezko fixing his problem by flight from prosecution to Middle Eastern countries without extradition treaties with the United States.
At this point, if there was an easy explanation for Mr. Obama’s handshake and what questions it raises about the candidate’s past associations and arrangements, the Obama campaign would already have issued it widely. Mr. Auchi is as high a profile Iraqi-born entrepreneur as may exist, a man who has enjoyed the hand-shakes of U.S. presidents over many years, though not recently, and not right now with the Rezko trial beginning March 3. The next step is to await the not easy explanation, a tale that will prove most fertile in the coming presidential election.
Note: The London Times Online has retracted their assertion that a handshake between Senator Barack Obama and Nadhmi Auchi at a Chicago hotel took place. “This was an editing error,” corrected the Times. “As both the main text in the news paper and the Times Online report made clear, Mr. Obama shook hands with a number of businessmen at the hotel, but his aides say that he does not remember meeting Mr. Auchi.”