Arab rulers and spy chiefs hid millions in a Swiss bank


BEIRUT, Lebanon — The King and Queen of Jordan had secret Swiss bank accounts worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a major data leak from one of Switzerland’s biggest banks. So have the sons of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s deposed president, and the business tycoons who prospered during his 30-year reign.

Other accounts were linked to spy chiefs from Egypt, Jordan and Yemen who cooperated with the United States and were accused of human rights abuses.

Citizens of the Middle East have long lacked information about the finances of their country’s elites other than what they could glean from looking over palace walls.

Now, the Credit Suisse bank data leak has opened a peephole into the private wealth of a series of potentates, raising new questions about the ability of elites to turn public positions into private profit in countries where the lack of Transparency creates openings for corruption.

“What you have is a very sophisticated and corrupt elite that is very integrated into the global financial system,” said Nadim Houry, executive director of the Arab Reform Initiative.

Allowing politically connected people to enrich themselves, he said, is the failure of many states to create boundaries between the assets of rulers and those of the state.

“It looks like a state, it looks like a state, but at the end of the day, when it comes to the assets of the country,” he said, many potentates “act like absolute monarchs with personal property” .

Credit Suisse’s secret banking information was leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and made available to the New York Times and other news outlets by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

The data contains account information spanning decades and includes the names of account holders, the dates their accounts were opened and closed, and their maximum and closing balances. The leaked data does not include information on cash flow through accounts, the source of funds or the extent of bank investigations into whether the money was possibly tainted.

Most of the account holders named in the leak are either powerless or dead, diminishing the chances that the revelations will inspire accountability efforts. But there was little to suggest officials in power now have fewer opportunities for private gain than their predecessors, Houry said, despite moves by some countries to increase control over public spending after mass anti-corruption protests. and autocratic rule during the Arab Spring, which spread throughout the Middle East in 2011.

“Frankly, they’ve all been window dressing because the power dynamics haven’t changed and no comptroller of the state is in a position to hold the powerful to account,” Houry said. .

In the years before Egyptian President Mubarak was ousted in the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, a circle of businessmen close to him acquired vast fortunes as Mr Mubarak privatized state assets and was making other efforts to liberalize the country’s economy. His sons, Gamal and Alaa, also became wealthy.

The Mubarak brothers held six accounts at Credit Suisse, including a joint account that reached around $196 million in 2003, according to leaked data.

Each of the sons’ fathers-in-law also had bank accounts worth millions of dollars, as did other Mubarak-linked businessmen whom Egyptian authorities tried for corruption.

As the Arab Spring progressed in the Middle East, Swiss authorities announced that they had frozen hundreds of millions of dollars in assets associated with Mr. Mubarak and his government as well as assets of people linked to governments in Syria , Libya and Tunisia. But details on exactly what was frozen remained scarce.

Through their lawyers, Gamal and Alaa Mubarak told The New York Times that all of their assets had been legally acquired through their “successful business activities” and duly declared to the relevant authorities.

They said the leaked account information may contain “certain material inaccuracies” but did not elaborate.

The only sitting head of state in the leaked data was King Abdullah II of Jordan, a close US partner whose kingdom has received billions in US military and economic aid over the years. This aid amounted to 22 billion dollars in 2018.

According to leaked data, King Abdullah had six Swiss accounts, including one that held more than $224 million in 2015. His wife, Queen Rania, had an account that exceeded $40 million in 2013. These accounts were closed in 2015 and 2016.

The Royal Hashemite Court of Jordan said in a statement that there was no “unlawful or improper conduct” in relation to the bank accounts.

Most of the money in the King’s biggest account came from the sale of a plane in May 2015 for $212 million, the statement said. The rest was his “personal wealth”, inherited from his father, the former monarch, and invested since.

Queen Rania’s account held a portion of the king’s personal wealth reserved for the couple’s four children, who were minors at the time, the statement said. The leaked toll was inaccurate, he said, but he did not provide an alternate figure.

The funds were used to purchase a smaller plane, for investments, personal expenses and social and economic projects for Jordanians and to maintain Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem which are under the king’s care, the statement said.

Former Algerian President Abdulaziz Bouteflika had a shared account with a number of relatives that held $1.1 million in 2005, according to leaked data. He was ousted after 20 years in power in 2019 and died in 2021.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, who ruled for almost five decades until his death in 2020, had two accounts, one which held nearly $126 million in 2003 and another which held $57 million dollars in 2015.

Accounts kept by heads of intelligence agencies or their relatives included figures who worked closely with the Central Intelligence Agency on covert operations and counter-terrorism and some who were accused of overseeing torture and murder. other human rights violations.

In 2003, close relatives of Omar Suleiman, Mr. Mubarak’s longtime intelligence chief and key CIA interlocutor, opened a joint account whose balance would reach $52 million a few years later, according to the data.

Mr. Suleiman died in 2012, but the account survived Mr. Mubarak’s fall and remained open until 2016. Efforts by the reporting project to reach his relatives were unsuccessful.

From 2000 to 2005, Saad Kheir headed the Jordanian intelligence agency, a key partner in the United States’ fight against terrorism, which, according to human rights organizations, interrogated terrorism suspects for United States. In 2003, he opened an account that reportedly had a balance of $21.6 million before it was closed following his death in 2009.

Although it is possible that the money held by intelligence chiefs was intended for covert government activities, the fact that the men kept it in their own names or in the names of those close to them suggested that it was for personal use, said Douglas London, a retired senior CIA operations officer.

“They were the right hands and henchmen of the autocrats, so they were well taken care of for their loyalty and service,” he said. “It’s just, for better or worse, how things work in these countries.”

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