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U.S.: $1 billion taken by Saddam

Boucher: 'Assets stolen by the regime'

From Karl Penhaul

A schoolgirl carries a portrait of Saddam Hussein to a storage room after it was removed from her classroom at the Nile Primary School in Baghdad.
A schoolgirl carries a portrait of Saddam Hussein to a storage room after it was removed from her classroom at the Nile Primary School in Baghdad.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- About $1 billion was taken from Iraq's Central Bank by Saddam Hussein and his family, just hours before the United States began bombing Iraq, the U.S. State Department said Tuesday.

Spokesman Richard Boucher said the government doesn't know yet where the cash might have ended up, and U.S. agents are hunting down these and other "assets stolen by the regime."

"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," Boucher told reporters.

"We'll actively follow up on all the leads," he said.

In Baghdad, George Mullinax, a U.S. Treasury Department official who's in Iraq to help in the rebuilding of the Iraqi economy, said the incident took place March 18, just before the United States launched its bombing campaign to remove the Saddam Hussein regime. His main sources of information are Iraqi banking officials.

Residents of the area around the Central Bank in Baghdad told CNN they saw three or four trucks backed up to the bank at that time and that people appeared to be loading money onto the trucks.

Large amounts of money have been found in the war's aftermath, including $650 million recovered at one of Saddam's palaces. However, it is unclear if that money was from the Central Bank.

Citing an unnamed bank official with knowledge of the removal, The Times reported that Qusay and Abid al-Hamid Mahmood, Saddam's personal assistant, were involved in the withdrawal from the Central Bank.

The newspaper quoted the official as saying Qusay and Mahmood carried a letter signed by Saddam authorizing the removal.

Fears have been raised that the money is helping finance senior members of Saddam's government, many of whom are believed to be in hiding in Iraq, according to the Times.

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