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OBAMA AND THE MYSTERIOUS MR AUCHI

OBAMA AND THE MYSTERIOUS MR AUCHIfrom

British bi-weekly satirical paper called “Private Eye

Until Carter-Ruck and Partners and England’s stifling libel laws got to work, the few American journalists not caught up in Obama-mania were turning to the archives of the British press to answer an intriguing question: who is Nadhmi Auchi?

Facts elsewhere were sparse. According to Forbes, Auchi was the 279th richest man in the world and a “onetime go-between for major oil companies and state-owned oil fields”. The only criticism its rich list noted was “for hosting a lavish 1,000-person wedding for his son on the same day that the anti-poverty Live 8 concert kicked off in adjacent Hyde Park”.

Nothing Forbes said explained how an Iraqi exile with British citizenship had ended up on the fringes of an Obama property deal in Chicago in 2005.

Barack and his wife Michelle had been enchanted by a neo-Georgian house on the South Side – complete with Honduran mahogany bookcases and a wine cellar. They couldn’t meet the asking price for house and surrounding grounds and turned to their old friend Tony Rezko, who stepped in with $625,000 to buy the adjoining lot.

The slum landlord and fast-food tycoon had bankrolled Obama’s campaign in Illinois politics from 1995 onwards, but this month a federal jury in Chicago convicted the Syrian-born businessman on 16 counts of corruption. The court found him guilty of using his influence with state officials around Illinois governor Rod R. Blagojevich to shake down firms looking for official contracts.

As the case went through the courts, the mysterious name of Nadhmi Auchi kept popping up. Just before Rezko helped out the Obamas, the Chicago press noted that he had gone into partnership with Auchi on a land development deal. Federal investigators then revealed that Auchi wired $3.5m to the financially strapped Rezko in Chicago less than a month before the Obama house and land purchases. In other words, while Rezko was bankrolling Obama, Auchi was bankrolling Rezko.

Obama said he had no recollection of meeting Auchi. During Rezko’s trial, Stuart Levine, a former Illinois political fixer turned state witness, told the court that the Obamas attended a reception Rezko organised for Auchi in 2004.

As Rezko awaits his sentence and Obama receives the Democratic nomination, you would expect American journalists to investigate the Auchi connection. If they did, they will find Auchi’s lawyers are ahead of them and have scrubbed the web of newspaper reports which displeased their master.

Carter-Ruck’s first target was a series of revelatory articles printed in the Observer in 2003, which American bloggers and journalists were starting to notice. They described how Auchi had left Iraq in 1979 but remained on such good terms with Saddam’s genocidal regime he could help organise the sale of Italian frigates to the Iraqi defence ministry.

As he made his fortune in the arms and oil businesses, the Observer noted that he collected politicians “the way other men collect stamps”. In Britain he gave directorships to Keith Vaz, David Steele and Norman Lamont..In 1999, on the 20th anniversary of his arrival in Britain, 130 MPs, including Tony Blair and Charles Kennedy, signed a congratulatory card.

The political connections were put to good use when the French authorities tried to extradite Auchi to face charges that he was involved in the Elf affair, the biggest financial scandal in recent French history. For two years Auchi fought extradition but finally gave himself up and the French court gave him a 15-month suspended sentence.

You will search in vain now, however, to find most of the Observer’s reports. The indisputable fact that Auchi is a convicted criminal has not inhibited Carter-Ruck’s enforcers. All they have had to say is that Mr Auchi is appealing against his conviction for the press to fold.

After Mr Justice Eady allowed the Saudi billionaire Khalid Bin Mahfouz to sue, even though he had paid a huge fine to the New York authorities for his part in the collapse of the crooked Bank of Credit and Commerce International, newspaper lawyers know judges will allow anyone, however dodgy, to take them to court. They prefer to give in to pressure than to take on litigious plutocrats and a hostile judiciary.

Meanwhile the Times, which has scooped the American press on the Rezko-Auchi connection,is also in Carter-Ruck’s sights. Its website now runs corrections of the “Mr Auchi has asked us to make it clear” variety. In most cases, the Times never made the disputed allegations in the first place, but the corrections create the impression there is something not quite right about their stories.

Barack Obama is a lucky politician. If American journalists had led the way in investigating his shady connections, the US first amendment would have protected their work. As it was, the British press took the lead – and libel lawyers can censor it without anyone noticing.

Ratbiter

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