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Indictment: Hussein fed money to spy for U.S. officials' trip

  • Story Highlights
  • Indictment: Saddam Hussein's spy agency paid for lawmakers' 2002 Iraq visit
  • Muthanna al-Hanooti indicted Wednesday, charged with spying for Iraq
  • Indictment: Services included funding trip by U.S. lawmakers in run-up to war
  • Officials: No member of Congress was aware of al-Hanooti's alleged activities
  • Next Article in Politics »
From Terry Frieden
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saddam Hussein's intelligence agency footed the bill for a U.S. congressional delegation's trip during a buildup to the Iraq war, according to a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday in the case of an Iraqi-born U.S. citizen charged with spying for the Iraqi government.

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From left, Reps. Mike Thompson, Jim McDermott, David Bonior in Baghdad in a September 27, 2002, photo.

Muthanna al-Hanooti, a former official with an Islamic charity in Detroit, Michigan, was taken into custody Tuesday night. Hussein's spy agency secretly paid al-Hanooti 2 million barrels of oil, during the time the U.N. Oil for Food program was in place, for services rendered, the indictment states.

Those services included providing the Iraqi government with the names of U.S. members of Congress believed to favor the lifting of sanctions against Iraq, arranging for delegations of those members to visit Iraq and traveling with those delegations, the indictment states.

Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said no member of Congress was aware of al-Hanooti's alleged activities. "None of the congressional representatives are accused of any wrongdoing, and we have no information whatsoever that any of them were aware of the involvement of the Iraqi Intelligence Service," he said.

According to the indictment, the Iraqi Intelligence Service paid $34,000 through an intermediary to Life for Relief and Development, the charity that employed al-Hanooti, to pay the delegation's travel expenses.

In September 2002, al-Hanooti traveled to Iraq with three members of Congress whom he believed to be sympathetic to lifting the economic sanctions against Iraq.

The U.S. led an invasion into Iraq, starting the war, in March 2003.

The indictment did not name the lawmakers, but Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott of Washington, David Bonior of Michigan and Mike Thompson of California made a trip to Iraq at that time. Video Watch report about Hussein believing the lawmakers would be sympathetic to lifting sanctions against Iraq »

McDermott spokesman Mike DeCesare said the congressman knew nothing about al-Hanooti. McDermott was asked to make the trip to discuss children's health issues because he is a physician, DeCesare said.

Thompson said in a written statement that he made the trip "to learn as much as I could before voting on whether or not to commit U.S. troops to war."

"The trip was approved by the U.S. State Department," he said.

"The organization sponsoring the trip was licensed by the Office of Foreign Assets of the Department of Treasury and the United Nations. Obviously, had there been any question at all regarding the sponsor of the trip or the funding, I would not have participated."

In his statement, Thompson did not say his trip was connected with the charity. News reports at the time, including CNN's, said McDermott, Thompson and Bonior traveled to Iraq together, however.

The three came under strong criticism from the Bush administration for arguing the White House was "laying the pretext or the path for war" before U.N. weapons inspectors had begun their work.

Members of Congress are required to file disclosures for any trips they take that are paid for by the government or by private organizations.

McDermott filed a disclosure reporting a trip he took from September 25 to October 1, 2002, paid for by the charity named in the indictment. The disclosure said the trip included stops in Baghdad and Basra in Iraq and in Amman, Jordan, and that its purpose was "fact-finding."

The cost of McDermott's portion of the trip, according to the records, was $5,510: $5,040 for travel; $320 for lodging; $100 for meals; $50 for "other."

Neither Bonior nor Thompson are mentioned in McDermott's filing.

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Al-Hanooti appeared in court in Detroit Wednesday. He was charged with one count of being an unregistered agent for Hussein's government, one count of violating economic sanctions on Iraq and three counts of lying to U.S. investigators.

He was released on $100,000 bond and his passport was confiscated. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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