Sun, Feb 01, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Lebanon set to remit cash stolen by Saddam and Co


A member of the Iraqi Governing Council said Lebanon will return the Iraqi millions in its banks, but he gave no indication Friday of when it will happen.

Mouwafak al-Rubaie met the speaker of Lebanon's parliament, Nabih Berri, together with fellow Governing Council member Younadem Kanna.

"The talks were good, and we spoke about the Iraqi money held in Lebanon. We heard good comments that Iraqi money in Beirut will be released," al-Rubaie said. He did not elaborate.

In May, a US Treasury official said Lebanon had US$495 million in Iraqi funds from the years when former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was in power. Lebanon has acknowledged it has Iraqi money, but it has not released a figure. Its authorities have said the money will be returned when Iraq has a sovereign government.

In November, Iraqi Finance Minister Kamel al-Gailani said in Beirut that Lebanon and Iraq were developing a means of returning the Iraqi assets.

Al-Rubaie's comments came a day after he and Kanna held talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus about the Iraqi funds in Syrian banks, which are estimated at US$300 to US$500 million.

Kanna said afterward that Assad told him "the Iraqi money that exists in Syria is secure and will be turned over to Iraqi authorities."

But Kanna reported Assad as saying the money would be given to an elected Iraqi government, not the current US-appointment administration.

It is likely that Lebanon, which closely follows Syria in diplomacy, will adopt the same position.

Relations between Lebanon and the US-appointed Governing Council have been cool because of Lebanon's strong opposition to the US occupation of Iraq. Lebanon still has not recognized the council as representing the Iraqi people.

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