Labour blocks extradition of Iraqi tycoon
French authorities furious at refusal to deport fraud case billionaire
Martin Bright and Antony Barnett
Sunday February 2, 2003
June 13 2007: Mr Auchi disputes the content of this and several other articles about him published in the Observer and the Guardian in 2003.
Investigators working on the biggest fraud trial in French history have called for the extradition of a British-based Iraqi billionaire with links to the Blair government.
Opposition MPs have demanded a full explanation for Britain's refusal to deport Nadhmi Auchi, one of Britain's richest men, who was once a senior official in the Iraqi oil ministry.
Questions will also be raised over the precise nature of the billionaire's relationship with the Baghdad regime. The Observer has discovered that Auchi met Saddam's number two, Tariq Aziz, as recently as last October at a gala dinner in Beirut. But Auchi also has links with British intelligence, through the former senior MI6 officer Anthony Cavendish, who acts a consultant to Auchi's business empire.
An international arrest warrant was issued for Auchi three years ago, after he was alleged to have received a multi-million-franc kickback from the oil giant Elf-Aquitaine during the sale of a Spanish refinery. The Interpol arrest warrant issued by the French in 2000 states that Auchi is suspected of 'complicity in the misuse of company assets and receiving embezzled company assets'.
In March he is due to stand trial for his role in the affair, but has refused to go to France for questioning. The Government's refusal to deport Auchi flies in the face of legislation going through Parliament to introduce a fast-track extradition process to all European countries.
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said: 'This failure to extradite seems to undermine all the strong statements by the Government about the need for solidarity across Europe in enforcing criminal justice. At the very moment that the new extradition Bill is is going through Parliament, making the case for more streamlined measures, there should be an immediate explanation why the principles are not bring applied in this case.'
Despite continued questions about his relationship with Baghdad, Auchi remains well placed to act as a middle-man in any negotiations with Western companies over Iraq's oil fields. Sources close to his empire claim that Tony Blair met him to discuss Iraq shortly before his Christmas holiday in Egypt. A Downing Street spokesman said: 'We have no record of a meeting with the Prime Minister.' But he said that he could not rule out the possibility that they may have met socially.
In April 1999, Science Minister Lord Sainsbury presented Auchi with a painting of the Commons, signed by Blair and leading parliamentarians, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Auchi's General Mediterranean Holdings.
Sainsbury later said he did this as a favour for the controversial former Minister Keith Vaz, who acted as Auchi's political fixer. As a junior Foreign Office Minister, Vaz made inquiries about the extradition procedure after a request for help from Auchi.
Auchi's relationship with the Iraq regime has always been shrouded in mystery. He came to Britain in the early 1980s after falling out of favour with the Saddam regime.
He claims that two of his brothers were killed by the Iraqi dictator, but, in the early years of the Ba'athist revolution, he was in a senior position in Baghdad. While in exile, Auchi received a $16.5 million (£10m) commission on an Italo-French bid to build a pipeline for Saddam in 1986, say Italian fraud investigators.
Auchi is Britain's 13th richest man, with an estimated £1.2 billion hotel and shipping empire. The opening of his latest venture, Le Royal, a luxury hotel in the Jordanian capital, Amman, modelled on a famous Iraqi spiral minaret, was attended by King Abdullah and the speaker of the Scottish Parliament, Sir David Steel.
Observer special reports
Iraq: Observer special
Terrorism crisis: special report
More from Guardian Unlimited
Special report: Iraq
Special report: the anti-war movement
Iraq crisis news
02.02.2003: US bombers to start war with onslaught on Saddam palace
02.02.2003: How Saddam hides illegal weapon sites
02.02.2003: Labour blocks extradition of Iraqi tycoon
Focus: Countdown to conflict
02.02.2003: Special relationship: The brothers in arms
02.02.2003: The evidence? False trails that lead to the al-Qaeda 'links'
02.02.2003: Iraq's minorities: Exiled Turkmen lay claim to oil riches
Comment and analysis
02.02.2003: David Aaronovitch: Why the Left is wrong on Saddam
02.02.2003: Peter Preston: Drawing up press battle lines
Business special: the economics of war
02.02.2003: War 'would mean biggest oil shock ever'
02.02.2003: What happens when markets go to war?
02.02.2003: Economy: The high price of toppling Saddam
02.02.2003: Savers: Don't panic - take cover
02.02.2003: Forecasters: Recovery 'could take two decades'
02.02.2003: Vincent Cable: The economic consequences of war
More World Today Essays
Online comment special
02.02.2003: Gil Loescher: Failure to prepare for the refugee crisis
02.02.2003: Duncan McLaren: What will happen to Iraq's oil?
02.02.2003: Ian Kearns: Blair's failure of leadership
Observer Leader - and your responses
26.01.2003: Letters: What you say about our stand on Iraq
26.01.2003: More views: international feedback
19.01.2003: Leader: Why force may be needed
19.01.2003: Debate: What prominent Britons think
19.01.2003: The public: What do Britons think about war?
Talk: Where do you stand on Iraq?
Email your views to firstname.lastname@example.org
Observer highlights: the broadest debate
26.01.2003: Andrew Rawnsley: Crunch time at Camp David
26.01.2003: Charles Kennedy: We're being bulldozed into war
26.01.2003: Mary Riddell: Don't disdain the doves
26.01.2003: Terry Jones: I'm losing patience with my neighbours, Mr Bush
05.01.2003: Nick Cohen: Saddam won't run
14.07.2002: John Pilger: The great charade
29.12.2002: Ken Nichols: Back to Iraq as a human shield
22.12.2002: Leader: If it's war, it has to be legitimate
15.09.2002: Jason Burke: Return to Kurdistan
01.09.2002: Dilip Hiro: When US turned a blind eye to poison gas
11.08.2002: Nick Cohen: Who will save Iraq?
04.08.2002: Richard Harries: Not a just war
25.08.2002: Christopher Hitchens: With friends like these
22.09.2002: Terry Jones: The audacious courage of Mr Blair
22.09.2002: Rosemary Hollis: Hawks won't stop with Baghdad
11.08.2002: Mark Leonard: Could the left back war?
17.03.2002: John Lloyd: Anti-Americanism betrays the left
24.02.2002: Andrew Rawnsley: How to deal with the American goliath
17.02.2002: Terry Jones: OK, George, make with the friendly bombs
02.12.2001: David Rose: The doves are wrong - again
Iraq: Observer special
Islam and the West
More global commentary
More from Peter Beaumont
More from Jason Burke
More from Ed Vulliamy
More from Mark Leonard
More from Dan Plesch
Worldview highlights: debating American power
UN resolutions on Iraq
British Foreign Office: Relations with Iraq
US State Department Iraq Update
Arab.net - Iraq resources
Campaign against Sanctions on Iraq
Centre for non-proliferation studies