The United States has launched a search for at least $1
billion stolen by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and believed to have been
hidden in neighboring Syria, Lebanon or France.
U.S. officials said Saddam and his family took more than $900 million in
cash from the Iraqi Central Bank on the eve of the U.S.-led war against
said the money was believed to have been smuggled to Syria then Lebanon and
The U.S. Treasury Department has been authorized to find the
money, officials said. They said a Treasury Department delegation has been
conducting its search in Iraq and several neighboring countries, Middle East Newsline reported.
"We do know from Treasury Department officials in Baghdad that
approximately $1 billion was taken from the Iraqi Central Bank by Saddam
Hussein and his family just prior to the start of combat operations," State
Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Tuesday. "We are working to
hunt down the assets that were stolen by the regime of Saddam Hussein. We
will actively follow up on all of the leads."
Boucher said the United States has appealed to other countries to
cooperate in the search. This would include the freezing of any assets
suspected of being stolen by Saddam and his family.
Officials said the issue of the missing $900 million was raised in
Lebanon and Syria during the visit by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell
to Beirut and Damascus last week. They said both Lebanese and Syrian leaders
denied any knowledge of the Iraqi funds.
Last month, U.S. military forces found more than $800 million in cash in
several locations around Baghdad. About $600 million was found in Saddam's
palaces and about $200 million was discovered in an armored vehicle.
Officials said they were not certain whether the currency was from the Iraqi
"Don't know exactly where they came from, whether it was from the
Central Bank or not, but that's an awful lot of cash they found already,"
Officials said the Treasury Department obtained testimony from Iraqi
employees of the Central Bank that members of Saddam's family removed the
cash in wheelbarrows. The money was then stuffed into tractor-trailers that
left Baghdad in the direction of Syria.
The Treasury Department has assessed that some of Saddam's assets were
transferred to Lebanon and Syria in 2002 and early 2003, officials said.
They said much of the money was believed to have been transferred to
Lebanese banks as well as toward investments in property and real estate.
"It also pretty well confirms that there's an awful lot of U.S. dollars
there, which is the product of illicit commerce," Treasury Department
general counsel David Aufhauser said in a television interview.