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Source: Saddam's money may be in Syria

Official: Syria 'needs to do more to cooperate'

From Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

A U.S. Treasury Department official tells CNN that two criminal investigators from the Internal Revenue Service are in Damascus seeking access to specific accounts.
A U.S. Treasury Department official tells CNN that two criminal investigators from the Internal Revenue Service are in Damascus seeking access to specific accounts.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration believes as much as $3 billion from deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime is in Syrian banks, and it wants more cooperation from Syria to help find and return the money to the Iraqi people, a Treasury Department official said Monday.

"We believe it's as much as $3 billion, and we are trying to find out and confirm this," the official told CNN.

The official said the United States is concerned that the money is possibly being withdrawn by remnants of Saddam's regime to use in committing terrorist attacks against Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops.

"That is why it is very important to secure this money," he said.

The official said the United States has given the Syrian government "very specific information," including account numbers at two Syrian banks believed to be holding the Iraqi money.

Syrian officials did not return calls from CNN seeking comment Monday.

Two criminal investigators from the Internal Revenue Service and several members of the Central Bank of Iraq are in Damascus seeking access to the specific accounts in which the United States believes the money is being kept.

However, the investigators "have not gotten significant access" so far, and the Syrian government "needs to do more to cooperate," according to the official.

If given sufficient access, the official said, the IRS investigators should be able to ascertain if and when the money was moved, and to where.

When asked whether the money belonged to the former regime as a whole or whether it was part of Saddam's personal fortune, the official responded, "What is the difference?"

"When [Saddam's sons] Uday and Qusay Hussein can walk into the Iraqi Central Bank before the war and demand $1 billion from the banks reserves, it's one and the same," he said.

But now, he said, the money belongs to the Iraqi people, and the United States wants to help them get it back.

"We sent our IRS criminal investigators because they are the best ... but the [Iraqi] Central Bank is running things again," he said.

"This is not something between Syria and the United States. It is between Syria and the Iraqi people, and it's pretty disappointing."

The administration has been pressuring Syria for months to open up its banks to U.S. investigators to search for Iraqi assets.

The treasury official said that White House officials have repeatedly expressed concern about the issue with the Syrian ambassador to the United States, who has since returned to Damascus.

Secretary of State Colin Powell broached the subject with Syrian President Bashar Assad during a trip to Damascus in May, urging him to cooperate and open the books to U.S. investigators, State Department officials have said. (Full story)

The lack of cooperation on the Iraqi assets issue is one reason the Bush administration withdrew its objection to Syrian Accountability Act legislation, which would empower President Bush to impose additional sanctions against Syria, one State Department official said. (Full story)


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