By: Muntazr Nasser
Baghdad, Iraq, April, (Al-Alam Al-Jadeed) -The name of Iyad Allawi rose to prominence when he became prime minister of Iraq a year after the ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime in April 2003. By reaching the top of Iraq’s political pyramid between June 28, 2004 and April 6, 2005, the former dissident entered his country’s political life for the first time since he left four decades earlier.
During his tenure, and then throughout his subsequent role in the opposition, No one knew much about Allawi except for his political controversial figure, not oddly for someone who embraced the Baath ideology in his youth, during his life in Beirut in 1971 and in London the following year before he resigned from the Baath Party in 1975. He repeatedly called for fighting corruption at home, for which Transparency International Organization, categorized it in the top 10 corrupted countries in the world according to their report which was released at the beginning of the year 2016.
But there are many things that are not known publicly about Allawi. His commercial and financial interests seem to be no less prominent than his political ones. After his exit from Iraq in the 1970s, Allawi, an opponent of Saddam Hussein’s regime, worked both as a politician and a businessman. He continued on the same path after his return to Iraq as a minister and then prime minister in the post-Saddam era.
As he moved from the Baath circles to the opposition, then power then opposition again, little information emerged about his commercial activities, which flourished in the past decade. But the Panama Papers for the first time exposed those activities in tax havens as well as their ramifications, implicating Allawi and members of his family, including his brother and his wife.
This investigation, relying on the Panama Papers, also probed properties owned by his brother Sabah Hashem Allawi, a partner of his brother Iyad through the latter’s daughter Sara. Sabah, also a politician in public and a businessman in private, was involved in companies in partnership with Lebanese businessmen close to Hezbollah – according to documents obtained by the journalist through the data and research desk at Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) as well as the records of Lebanese offshore companies and the British commercial registrar.
Documents leaked from the Panama Papers indicate Iyad Allawi founded and owns companies registered in his name through Mossack Fonseca, the offshore consultancy accused of aiding tax evasion and money laundering. All these companies are active in real estate. These companies are:
– IMF Holdings Limited, established on May 11, 1985.
– Foxwood Estates Limited, established on 10 August, 2005.
– Moonlight Estates Limited, established in October 2004, four months after Allawi became prime minister. He took over as CEO in 2009.
– Al-Alam al-Jadeed obtained documents and emails exchanged with the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca on Iyad Allawi, through ARIJ, which also had access to the data base of the ICIJ and the German newspaper SZ. Beyond a shadow of doubt, all the documents establish Allawi’s ownership of the three companies.
Allawi as an anti-corruption symbol
On more than one occasion, Allawi sought to appear as an anti-corruption hero, showing outrage against the impunity enjoyed by the “whales of corruption”. On February 27, 2016, the leader of the Iraqi National Coalition said in a statement to the press: “The government’s promises of reform and fighting corruption are regressing” on the back of growing protests in Iraq against corruption.
On 17 December 2014, Allawi said in an interview with Al-Arabiya, “there is a big problem in Iraq.There is real corruption; administrative corruption and political and financial,” pointing out that “the big whales are above accountability.”
However, as the Panama Papers show, Allawi himself has long sought to hide his offshore activities from regulation and accountability through secret companies registered with the help of the Panamanian company.
In a telegram posted by Mossack Fonseca on 23 February 2009, the company requested both firms — Moon Light and Foxwood– to send proofs of identity and documents on their shareholders as well as IyadAllawi, the director and shareholder of the company. At the time, Allawi was a deputy in the Iraqi parliament and leader of the Iraqi List.
One of the documents establishes the registration of IMG Holdings Limited on October 1, 1985, in the name of Allawi. The initials are the same as those of the IMF. At the time, Allawi was leader of the underground anti-Saddam movement, the National Accord, founded in London without announcing its funding source.
Another document shows Allawi established a new company to replace the old one on June 30, 2005, two months after stepping down as prime minister, under the name Foxwood Estates Limited. He and his wife Sanaa own its assets.
A third document shows Allawi as owner of another company, Moonlight Estates Limited, registered under his management on January 2009.
Allawi’s office sent a response to ICIJ’s questions submitted on behalf of the organization and its partners in the Panama Papers project, including Al-Alam al-Jadeed. The office said Allawi was the sole director and main shareholder of Foxwood Estates Limited, Moonlight Estates Limited, and IMF Income. However, the statement stated “IMF was founded to purchase residential real estates belonging to Allawi based on legal counsel he obtained following an assassination attempt in London, in February 197. The response claimed any financial revenues obtained in the United Kingdom from the registered companies are legal and subject to accountability and taxation.”
The financial links of Sana’a Allawi
Iraqi national Sana’a Hussein Allawi, 56,is the second wife of former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi after his first wife Otour Dweisha (Iraqi) died in London. Mrs. Allawi throughout the past years was keen not to appear in the media or in any social/political occasion. The only time she appeared in the media was when she was blamed for a traffic collision in London in August 2007. She was convicted of reckless driving, after she attempted to ram a parking meter maid. Her driving license was suspended for a year, according to the British Evening Standard newspaper.
Documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca show her commercial activities and partnership with her husband. She owns shares and assets in the three companies owned by Iyad Allawi.
[Sanaa Allawi’s signature establishing her eligibility as an adult to own shares in the company]
[Letter from Betman Smith to Mossack Fonseca showing Iyad and Sanaa Allawi’s ownership of IMF]
The hidden hands of Sabah Allawi
Sabah Hashim Allawi, 78, elder brother of Iyad Allawi, is a mysterious figure, despite his extensive diplomatic and commercial activities. He worked alongside his brother in Iraq after exile, sitting on the board of the Red Alert Group, a US security company. The firm has branches in various capitals including Baghdad, where Sabah Allawi began his activities on 29 September 2003, two days after his younger brother became head of the Governing Council established by the US-led Coalition’s Provisional Authority headed by Paul Bremer. (See: http://bit.ly/23HnjN1)
Sabah Allawi also served as manager of the Trans Iraq Bank, before the Central Bank put it under its control because of violations after several warnings were issued in late 2012, according to a statement by the Central Bank on 21 December of the same year. The documents, obtained by this journalist, also show that Sabah entered into a partnership since 2011 with members of the Kebbeh family in Lebanon, who were shareholders in the Lebanese-Canadian Bank. It is the same bank that was blacklisted (and later dissolved) after US authorities accused it of laundering money for Hezbollah in 2011.
Sabah Allawi drew attention after he was named in WikiLeaks documents as part of an unfinished deal discussed at a lunch on 28 September 2007, over the sale of 50 tons of Iranian gold in Beirut, his last place of residence. However, his Lebanese lawyer Abdul-Wadoud al-Nsouli made a statement in December 2012 denying the contents of the WikiLeaks documents.
The document reveals that Sabah Allawi contacted a Swiss bank to sell the gold. The bank agreed after establishing the source of the gold, which Iran had acquired from South Africa. The bank sent a delegate to Lebanon to conclude the deal, but the selling entity reneged on the agreement and the deal was aborted, according to the document.
Sabah followed in the commercial and diplomatic footsteps of his more famous brother,Iyad. Sabah was Iraq’s ambassador to the UN between 1971 and 1973, and was regional representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund in Lebanon, where he lives, according to the Lebanese Ministry of Information website :http://goo.gl/ij61m2 which reported on June 12, 2013 the news of his meeting with the new ambassador to Iraq, in Lebanon, Raad al-Alusi.
Sabah, Sarah, and Maya Alawi.
Returning to commercial activity, the documents obtained by Al-Alam al-Jadeed indicate Sabah Allawi as a British citizen. He manages four offshore companies out of Beirut, with partners from Iraq and Lebanon as well as his daughter Maya.
The documents reveal information about these companies, some of which are co-owned by Marwan Kebbeh of Kebbeh Group, and Hassan Mustafa Hoteit, co-founder of the Islamic University in Lebanon, an educational arm of Hezbollah. These companies include:
First: The International Projects Development Company – Iraq offshore SAL with Lebanese partners. He is the chairman of the board.
Second: Golden Arrow Offshore SAL. Allawi is chairman of the board with Lebanese partners and his daughter Maya
Third: MID TECH company SAL offshore. Chairman of the board with partners from Iraq and Lebanon.
Fourth: Orbit for Tourism and General Trading SARL. Partner and founder. Maya Allawi is one of the partners.
In an interview with Kawalis magazine, Sabah Allawi also named other companies he owns, including Future Prospects for Oil and Gaza Projects and Puma Energy Iraq.
Documents obtained by this journalist from the British commercial register shows Sabah Allawi owns companies including Blue Horizon Enterprises Limited and H.A.D.I Inc. Limited, together with his niece Sara Allawi. Both became partners since 2011 even though the company’s activities stopped after one year.
Although owning offshore companies is not illegal for any person, offshore companies are often used by owners who want to hide their activities and assets.
Future investigations can shed more light on the activities of the companies in question in Iraq and beyond.
According to an ICIJ expert, these offshore companies could be evidence of corruption through involvement in local projects while posing as foreign companies.
Businessmen and officials could resort to tax havens, meanwhile, for several reasons, including:
– Hiding their assets in companies abroad
– Opening bank accounts for offshore companies and transferring funds away from money laundering investigations
– Concluding contracts in countries of origin while posing as foreign companies
– Concluding consultancy companies between original companies and offshore mirrors to transfer funds to offshore companies in the guise of contract value to avoid profit tax
– Buying so-called shelf companies in offshore countries to bid for government tenders in countries of origin as companies with experience and history.
– Registering offshore companies as shareholders in original companies to avoid court orders or anti-corruption actions to freeze assets. Indeed, offshore companies as foreign companies are protected from these actions.
He joined the Baath Party in 1961, the year he entered the Faculty of Medicine at Baghdad University when he was nearly 17. He climbed up the ranks of the party structure (the Iraqi wing) from an ordinary member to a member of the national leadership before he had a falling in 1971 out with former President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, and his deputy at the time, Saddam Hussein. After that, he left to Lebanon and then to Britain in 1972.
In 1973 he was elected in charge of the national organization of the Baath Party in Western Europe and some Gulf countries, but he announced his resignation from the party in 1975, due to concerns felt by Saddam Hussein against some of the elements that were trying to climb the ladder of the party quickly, including Allawi.
In 1974, he founded a secret organization with some Iraqis including Tahsin Maaleh, Hani al-Fakiki, Maj.Gen. Hassan al-Naqib, Colonel Salim Shaker, and Lt. Dr. Salah Shabib.In 1990, the organization went public in Beirut, under the name of the Iraqi National Accord Movement. He was elected secretary general in 1991 and again 1993.
However, after moving to the ranks of the opposition, he survived an assassination attempt in February 1978, but he was injured and required treatment for over a year. His father in law (Iraqi Christian) rescued him and took him to an MI6-run hospital in Ireland, where he was treated under special security protection.
After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, he was named a member of the Iraqi Governing Council which was established by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority. He chaired one of the sessions of the Council, in October 2003, for a period of one month.
On 28 June 2004, the Iraqi interim government was formed to take over from the CPA and Paul Bremer.His shore tenure saw military operations against the so-called Mahdi Army, leading a campaign against them in Najaf. A wide military campaign was launched also in Fallujah against an armed insurgency as well as a campaign by coalition and Iraqi forces in Ramadi.
The Iraqi List he headed won 91 seats in the general election in March 2010, coming ahead of rival lists. In the 2014 elections, his National Coalition won only 21 seats. He got 229,709 votes in Baghdad winning the second place in the province after former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
On August 9 of the same year, Haider al-Abadi abolished his post as vice president under a reform package which abolished the posts of vice-presidents Nuri al-Maliki, Osama al-Nujaifi and Iyad Allawi as well as deputy prime ministers Bahaa al-Araji, Saleh al-Mutlaq and Rose Nuri Shaways in response to recent popular protests.