Three weeks ago an international fugitive and major member of the Antoin "Tony" Rezko crew of Chicago was sighted in the first-class lounge at the Queen Alia International Airport at Amman, Jordan. This sighting is significant not only to Iraqi and American justice but also to the unexplored and potentially disturbing political associations of Senator Barack Obama.
The fugitive is Aiham Alsammarae, 57, and he is listed on an Interpol warrant as being wanted by the Republic of Iraq. Iraqi-born, Mr. Alsammarae is also an American citizen with a residence in greater Chicago. He served two turbulent years, July 2003-May 2005, as the CPA Minister of Electricity, and he was convicted by a Baghdad court in October 2006 of helping to plunder his ministry of $650 million. Escaping from Baghdad under little-explained circumstances in December 2006, Mr. Alsammarae fled via Amman to Chicago, where he has been at work at his engineering consulting firm these last fifteen months.
According to an Iraqi official with knowledge of the case, Jordanian plain-clothes security men accompanied Mr. Alsammarae into the first-class lounge last month. "He has the protection of the Jordanians," the official said. "He has the protection of several countries, but not Iraq."
When asked if this meant the official believed Mr. Alsammarae was protected by the United States as well, the official answered, "I hope not. Do you think so?"
It is far-fetched, given the astonishing crimes that Mr. Alsammarae has been convicted of in Iraq, but it is possible. American protection might explain why, when the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, asked the FBI last year for help, he was unhelpfully advised to contact Interpol.
What does Mr. Alsammarae know that America wants to protect? The most significant thing about Mr. Alsammarae and the U.S. at this moment is that, as soon as he returned to Chicago in January 2007, he was questioned by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald with regard to the complex alleged crimes in Illinois that are linked to an associate of Mr. Alsammarae, the political fixer Tony Rezko, who is now on trial for corruption in Chicago.
It is Mr. Alsammarae’s ties to Mr. Rezko that connect both men to Mr. Rezko’s political protégé, Senator Barack Obama.
Whether — and to what degree — the apparent Rezko-Alsammarae conspiracy, organized in Chicago and executed in Illinois and Iraq, connects to Senator Obama is not yet in focus This all may be suspicious maneuvering by political actors; it may all be clumsy coincidence and serious negligence in examining favor-seekers. Or it may be something far worse.
There are new clues to the mystery in a fresh look at the January 16, 2007, ex parte proceedings before Federal District Judge Amy J. St. Eve, in the case of the United States vs. Antoin Rezko, in the discovery of Mr. Rezko’s resources in order to set his bail awaiting trial. In the course of the conversation about tangled business deals, the judge asked about Mr. Rezko’s creation, Rezmar International LLC.
Mr. Rezko answered, "Rezmar International entered into contract with the Ministry of Electricity in – of – Iraq, to build a power plant and sell power to the government. And we were negotiating for over, now, I guess, two years." Mr. Rezko added that the deal, for the never-built, $150 million Chamchamal power plant in Kurdistan Region, Iraq, was finally cancelled November 6 or 7, 2006.
When the judge pressed for details Mr. Joseph Duffy, of Stetler & Duffy, spoke for his client, ". . . there was a request for purchase by the Iraqi government. Mr. Rezko and an engineering firm here in the state of Illinois put together a bid, along with other entities; and, then, they won the bid for the contract. The company has no assets. They were just going to – if the contract was given, as I understand the financing was going to be a Letter of Credit — letter of credit from the Iraqi government and other financing; and then, they were going to put together someone to build or supply the electricity."
Mr. Rezko added, "Yeah, there were three bidders. There were three successful bidders. The status of the other two is exactly the same as ours."
To unpack all this, the subject of this testimony is the status of the contract on the Chamchamal power plant to be built by Mr. Rezko’s Rezmar International. When the contract was first announced in the Chicago media in July 2005, a Rezmar International spokesman boasted that construction was to begin in the fall of 2005. According to Iraqi officials, the Chamchamal deal was a fraud. It is today part of the Iraqi case still pending against the fugitive Mr. Alsammarae.
From the above remarks by Mr. Duffy, we know that the Chamchamal deal involved not only Rezmar International but also “an engineering firm here in Illinois and other entities.” We know from Mr. Rezko that the deal involved “three successful bidders.” What three? Rezmar International is one. The second is most likely Mr. Alsammarae’s KCI Engineering Consultants of Downers Grove, Illinois. In other words, the Minister of Electricity Alsammarae awarded a lucrative contract to his own company as well as to Mr. Rezko.
Who was the third successful bidder on the Chamchamal deal?
Here is the breakthrough. The third bidder on the Chamchamal deal was most likely Companion Security of Illinois. Companion Security was an Illinois company, concocted by Mr. Rezko along with his long-time Rezmar partner Daniel Mahru and an ex-Chicago policeman Donald Frawley, that proposed to train 150 Iraqis to be a security force at the new Chamchamal plant; and it included the novel concept to fly the Iraqis to Illinois for this training. Companion Security signed a contract April 18, 2005 with CPA Minister of Electricity Alsammarae – for which, it is alleged by now cooperating government witness Mr. Mahru, Mr. Alsammarae was paid a $1.5 million bribe.
Companion Security’s linkage to the Chamchamal deal is most critical to understand, because that is how this international scheme arrives at the doorstep of Senator Obama in August 2006.
Until now, what was known about the fate of Companion Security was that in April 2006, Daniel Mahru (by then a secret cooperating government witness), directed Daniel Frawley to appeal to the office of Mr. Rezko’s patron, Illinois Governor Blagojevich, in order to locate a training site. Mr. Frawley communicated with the governor’s chief of staff John Harris and then was directed to Illinois’s Homeland Security adviser Jill Morgenthaler. In June 2006, Mr. Frawley was offered a former military base at Savanna, Illinois for a training center.
Nothing happened. Why? Mr. Rezko revealed why in his ex parte testimony when he told the judge about the fate of Chamchamal, "We had, for whatever it’s worth, sometime in June received a letter saying the contract was cancelled. We protested the cancellation. And, then, we received this (the November cancellation) letter."
The Chamchamal construction plan was cancelled in June 2006, and this not only ended the power plant deal for Rezko’s Rezmar International and Alsammarae’s KCI Engineering Consultants, but also it ended the Companion Security deal. Companion was nested inside Chamchamal. The security guards to be trained in Illinois were for Chamchamal. This is important to understand. The same men controlled all three bids.
Mr. Rezko said, “…We protested the cancellation.” How did they protest? It appears that part of the protest was to send Mr. Frawley to Senator Obama in August 2006 to seek help reviving the deal.
Senator Obama declined to help, though not right away. According to Obama staff spokesman Tim LaBolt in mid 2007: "The Senate staff had two meetings, one conference call, and sporadically e-mailed with representatives of Companion Security about their request for Senator Obama to write a letter introducing the company to senior officials in the Iraqi government. That is not the kind of action Senator Obama usually takes for individual companies, and our staff concluded on that basis to decline the requested assistance."
Also, according to a report by the Chicago Sun Times, Mr. Frawley negotiated over a six-month period with Senator Obama’s staffer Seamus Ahern at the Moline, Illinois office. The explanation at the time was that the senator regarded Companion Security as an employment opportunity for the troubled Quad Cities area around Moline.
It is confounding to the point of incredibility that the senator’s staff, in its routine due diligence with constituents seeking Mr. Obama’s assistance, was unable to discover that Mr. Frawley was in partnership with Mr. Rezko and Mr. Mahru. To believe that Mr. Obama’s office had no knowledge of the context of the Companion Security contract is to believe that no one asked for Mr. Frawley’s bona fides, no one contacted the Iraqi government about the bona fides, no one in Mr. Obama’s office thought to call the governor’s office to discover on what basis the Savanna training site had been offered.
And what did Mr. Ahern of Senator Obama’s Moline office talk to Mr. Frawley about over months? Was there a question as to how an ex-Chicago policeman who has no Arabic comes to represent an Illinois company with a $50 million CPA contract with Baghdad? Did they ever learn the contract was cancelled? Did they learn that the contract was to provide security for the Chamchamal plant? Did anyone look up the Chamchamal power plant reporting from the year before and see how Rezko’s Rezmar boasted to the Chicago press of the deal? What did Mr. Obama’s staff discuss in those “two staff meetings, one conference call,” and “e-mails?” And who were the Companion Security representatives, plural, who discussed apparently deceptive facts with the senator’s less than persnickety staff?
It is inadequate for Mr. Obama — a leading presidential candidate who declared recently of his friendship with Mr. Rezko, “He never once asked me for any favors, or ever did any favors for me…” — to assert through a spokesman that his office was unaware of the Rezko-launched Companion Security maneuvers in 2006.
The fugitive Mr. Alsammarae, named as an alleged bribe-taker March 4, 2008 in the influence-peddling trial of Mr. Rezko, remains free, pampered and secure as he relaxed mid-March with bodyguards in the first-class lounge of the Queen Alia International Airport at Amman. Why? By whose order?