George W. Bush's Dubious Friends

Intelligence Newsletter
March 2, 2000

Texas governor George W. Bush's campaign to become the Republican candidate in this November's presidential ballot could shortly run into turbulence because of new information about his past. Indeed, among the figures Bush dealt with indirectly when he ran oil companies was Saudi banker Khaled Bin Mahfouz who, Intelligence Newsletter has learned, is currently under house arrest in a hospital in Taef at the behest of the American authorities. The latter are looking into contributions Mahfouz is said to have made to welfare associations close to terrorist Ussama Bin Laden. Considered as the "king's treasurer," Mahfouz was recently forced to sharply reduce his stake in the National Commercial Bank, one of the biggest in the kingdom. Many in Arab financial circles see this as a harbinger of his disgrace. Mahfouz's name was linked to the scandal involving the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) , in which he held a 20% interest between 1986-1990. The BCCI was accused in senator John- Kerry's report of money-laundering and of financing terrorist groups and covert spy operations before it was wound up on July 5, 1991, with a $ 12 billion loss to its customers. Mahfouz was also linked to a case involving fake passports in Ireland in 1997 that forced Irish foreign minister Ray Burke to resign.

In 1987 Mahfouz's representative in the U.S., Abdullah Taha Bakhsh, acquired an 11.5% stake in a company in which the Bush was a shareholder, director and adviser, Harken Energy. Bush played a central role in Harken which had his previous oil business, Spectrum 7 Energy Corporation, in 1986. Spectrum 7, in which Bush was boss and held 13.8%, had previously bought up the first firm Bush founded, Arbusto Energy Inc. in 1984. An American banker named Jacksen Stephens who was to also be deeply involved in the BCCI affair moved in 1987 to invest $ 25 million in Harken. The transaction took place in Geneva with the money was paid through a joint venture set up between the Union des Banques Suisses and the Geneva branch of the BCCI; the financial accord was signed by both Stephens and Bakksh. Other links between Bush and Mahfouz can be found through investments in the Carlyle Group, an American investment firm managed by a board on which former president George Bush himself sat. The younger Bush personally held shares in one of the components of the Carlyle group, the Caterair company, between 1990-94. And Carlyle today ranks as a leading contributor to Bush's electoral campaign. On Carlyle's advisory board figures the name of Sami Baarma, director of the Pakistani financial establishment Prime Commercial Bank that is based in Lahore and owned by Mafouz.

A second figure with an ambiguous part in Bush's financial past is Texas businessman James Bath. Considered as very close to the CIA, he appeared for the first time at Bush's side in 1978 when the latter made his first, unsuccessful run for the governorship. (He wouldn't try again until 1994, when he won). Bath helped to finance his campaign at the time and later bought into two of Bush's companies, Arbusto 79 Ltd and Arbusto 80 Ltd, affiliates of the Arbusto Energy oil exploration company founded by "W" in 1977. Under a mandate signed in 1976, Bath represented the financial interests of the Saudi Arabian sheikh Salem Bin Laden in the United States. Father of Ussama Bin Laden, Salem died in 1988. Thanks to his connections with Saudi business circles Bath obtained a $ 1.4 million loan from Mahfouz in 1990.

These ties reflect many of the strategic issues that prevailed in the 1970s and 80s. The highly influential Bin Laden family in Saudi Arabia helped to bankroll Islamic movements fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, with the blessings and participation of Washington (Ussama Bin Laden was given special training in covert operations in that context). But policy at the time also consisted of de-stabilizing the Moslem republics on the southern rim of the USSR by fomenting unrest on their borders.


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