Some $132 million of money that Saddam Hussein withdrew from the Iraqi Central Bank is believed to be funding the Iraqi insurgency against U.S. troops, U.S. officials told ABCNEWS.
Just hours before the first U.S. bombs fell on Baghdad, the Iraqi dictator withdrew more than a $1 billion from the Iraqi bank, which he and his followers are believed to be using today, U.S. officials told ABCNEWS.
He did it with a surprisingly simple, handwritten note found by U.S. agents in the files of the Iraqi Central Bank and obtained by ABCNEWS. Translated, the note said:
In the name of God the most merciful the most compassionate
Mr. Governor of the Iraqi central bank
We are giving, with this written note, permission to Mr. Qusay Saddam Hussein and
Mr. Hekmat Mezian Ibrahiem to receive the following amounts of money:
1- Nine hundred and twenty million American dollars. 2- Ninety million Euros. To protect and save them from American aggression.
Take the necessary action.
[Signature] Saddam Hussein
President of the Republic
See the full Arabic text of the note.
U.S. officials believe the note is authentic and was written by Saddam himself. This conclusion is based on interviews with captured Iraqi officials, including the former Finance Minister Hekmat Ibrahimal al-Azzawi.
"Security guards employed by the Central National Bank of Iraq loaded the money in stainless steel briefcases," said Jeff Sandy, a supervisory special agent with the Internal Revenue Service's criminal investigation unit. "The increments [were] $1 [million] to $2 million per stainless steel case."
The money, just over $1 billion, was removed on March 19 on three flatbed trucks.
"In this particular case, Saddam Hussein authorized this amount of money, basically stealing it from the people of Iraq," said Sandy.
Still Financing Terrorism?
Since then, most of the cash has been recovered by U.S. forces in Iraq. But U.S. officials told ABCNEWS that a huge amount is still missing: some $132 million. The elusive 33 boxes of newly printed U.S. $100 bills — $4 million in each box — still pose a huge problem for U.S. forces because they believe the money is now connected to recent attacks on U.S. forces.
"We think some of those funds could be used to fuel those attacks and lends greater urgency to our efforts," said Juan Zarate, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury and a leader in the government's effort to track down Saddam's money and combat terrorist financing.
Military officials say the cash gives the insurgency great staying power.
"It is very important to those who continue to resist the American occupation," said William Nash, a retired major general of the U.S. Army and ABCNEWS military consultant. "It allows them to pay for operatives, maintain loyalty with a large number of people, buy cooperation maybe just buy silence."
U.S. Treasury and Homeland Security agents are now tracking how so many newly printed $100 bills made their way from the Federal Reserve Banks in Washington and New York, all the way to Baghdad, despite U.S. sanctions.
"This regime was out to game the system for its own purposes," said Zarate. "To pay for pleasure palaces, to pay for arms, to pay for weapons."
Tracking the Dollars
The captured finance minister, al-Azzawi, has described a scheme involving banks in Beirut, Lebanon and Amman, Jordan, U.S. officials told ABCNEWS. According to al-Azzawi, those banks disguised their requests for U.S. cash by using the London headquarters of a British-based bank as a go-between.
Officials say the bank unwittingly arranged for the cash shipment from the United States to London and then to the Middle East. Iraqi officials, including former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, then used their diplomatic status to move the U.S. cash from Beirut, Lebanon, and Amman, Jordan, into Baghdad, said officials.
Treasury and homeland security agents have made great progress in tracking and freezing the rest of Saddam's fortune, including the recent discovery of some $100 million in Japan.
ABCNEWS' Vic Walter, Rhonda Schwartz and Jill Rackmill contributed to this report.