Firm linked to Obama patron scrubs '04 visit from website
Michael Roston
Published: Thursday January 31, 2008 |
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The controversial Iraq-born billionaire Nadhmi Auchi visited the state of Illinois in 2004 at the behest of Antoin "Tony" Rezko, the businessman and political player who helped raise money for Senator Barack Obama's early political campaigns. During the visit, Auchi met with the state's Democratic Governor, Rod Blagojevich, and other political figures. In what appears to be a clumsy "cleanup" operation, evidence of Auchi's visit to Illinois has now been deleted from two websites linked to his company, General Mediterranean Holding.

Auchi is no stranger to controversy but has been back in the news in recent weeks because of Rezko's pending prosecution on fraud and extortion charges. When federal authorities learned of a $3.5 million wire transfer from Auchi's company to Rezko's law firm, they sent the long-time friend of Senator Obama back to jail for violating the terms of his bail. Rezko's prosecution is scheduled to begin in late February.

After rumors began circulating that Auchi may have met with Obama, information was deleted from two websites connected to Auchi's company about a spring 2004 visit to the United States that occurred as Obama was campaigning to be Illinois' junior senator.

On Tuesday, ABC News first reported the existence of photos showing Auchi meeting with Gov. Blagojevich on the website Middle East Online. The link on the website that the report pointed to, which said that "businessmen, and congressmen" also met with Auchi, is now gone.

A screen capture of the page taken from the Google cache is presented below:

The website is registered in London to a Dr. Haitham El-Zobaidi. The same individual is listed at the website of Auchi's company GMH as an executive responsible for "Interactive News."

[Note: The photo that ABC believed to show Rezko, Auchi, and Blagojevich sitting together can be seen at the Illinoize blog. The site questions whether or not Rezko is actually in the photo.]

Additionally, a news release showing another photo of Auchi with Gov. Blagojevich and presenting other details of the Illinois visit was deleted from GMH website's news archive. A screencap of the news item from Google's cache is presented below:

Other photos from the visit are still accessible on the GMH website.

Senator Obama's ties to Tony Rezko, a longtime patron who helped him finance his political campaigns, have shadowed the candidate since he entered the 2008 race for president. But public attention to the relationship has grown since Senator Hillary Clinton brought up Rezko in the last Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina. Clinton's campaign has used Rezko to imply that Obama's hands are not as clean as he likes to portray them to be.

Auchi, a native of Iraq who lives in Great Britain, has a colorful past of his own. The businessman set up a variety of deals with Saddam Hussein's regime prior to the 1991 Gulf War, and was one of the largest private shareholders in BNP Paribas, the bank that trafficked most of the funds involved in the UN Oil-For-Food scandal. He also admitted taking kickbacks from the French petroleum company TotalFinaElf in the 1990s (Auchi later sued Elf for entangling him in their criminal activities, according to Forbes).

Auchi had extensive commercial ties with Rezko, including the $130 million purchase of a property development near downtown Chicago from the indicted businessman. In 2004, according to Crain's Chicago Business, Rezko brought Auchi to Illinois for the aforementioned meeting with Blagojevich and other government officials in Illinois. Blagojevich promised at the time that he was "ready to provide the necessary means for [GMH's investments] to succeed."

More recently, according to the FBI, Rezko had contacted "certain Illinois government officials" to help Auchi get a visa to the United States. Although the senator has stated that he did not work in any way to help Auchi receive a visa, news accounts raised questions of whether Rezko may at one time have introduced Obama to Auchi.

"[W]hen he was running for the Senate, Mr. Obama stopped by to shake hands while Mr. Rezko, an immigrant from Syria, was entertaining Middle Eastern bankers considering an investment in one of his projects," the New York Times reported in June 2007.

But Obama's campaign says that the senator never met with Auchi.

"He has no recollection of ever meeting him," wrote campaign spokesman Bill Burton in an e-mail to RAW STORY.