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Jawad Hashim raises his chin slightly, looking directly into the video camera recording his statement. Droves of lawyers hover. They all want to know just what Hashim did with several tens of millions of Arab dollars that disappeared more than a decade ago.
It's not the first time Hashim--a 57-year-old former Iraqi planning minister, a longtime confidant of President Saddam Hussein--has been questioned about the $50 million he stands convicted of embezzling from the Arab Monetary Fund.
Impeccably dressed in a dark-blue suit, his face tan and hair neatly groomed, Hashim exudes confidence. He seems almost amused as the deposition unfolds in the Arizona Center offices of the Phoenix law firm of Snell & Wilmer. After all, Hashim has dodged similar financial questions for 11 years, in court battles on three continents.
"If you are trying to wear me out, you can't," Hashim informs Snell & Wilmer's top bankruptcy attorney, Don Gaffney, who is just beginning to wade into Hashim's tangled financial web.
Gaffney, hired by the Arab Monetary Fund to track its assets, doesn't flinch.
"I'm glad you're in good health," he retorts.
Hashim has reason to be confident. He's already thumbed his nose at a court in the United Arab Emirates, refusing to attend a 1987 trial where he was convicted of defrauding the Arab Monetary Fund--an Abu Dhabi-based development agency--of $50 million. That proceeding also assessed him a 243-year prison sentence and an $80 million fine that Hashim, of course, never served or paid.
Instead, he fled to England. The Arab Monetary Fund eventually followed, filing a massive civil lawsuit. In 1993, the monetary fund won a $160 million judgment against Hashim and additional sums from his wife and two sons. Hashim slipped out of the country before the judgment was finalized. The courts later slapped him with a contempt of court charge that carries a two-year prison sentence, should Hashim be careless enough to step foot on British soil.
But he's out of Abu Dhabi. He's nowhere near England. Right now, Hashim's legal show has come to Arizona.
He's moved into plush quarters at the Phoenician resort. He's filed bankruptcy in an attempt to keep the AMF from collecting its money.
And he's doing what he has done well for a decade now. One of the world's great embezzlers is playing the victim.
"We came here thinking Saddam Hussein's reach could not get us," Hashim says. "But he is attacking us through the capacity of the Arab Monetary Fund."
Jawad Hashim and his wife left England in October 1993 and traveled to Canada before settling in Scottsdale to join their two sons, Omar and Jafar, who were already living in Arizona.
Omar was attending Arizona State University, and his older brother, Jafar, was finishing a master's degree at the American Graduate School of International Management in Glendale.
The family settled into a comfortable apartment off Civic Center Boulevard in downtown Scottsdale. Neither Hashim's conviction in Abu Dhabi nor the massive civil judgment entered in England could form the legal basis for extradition from the United States. Things were relatively peaceful.
They remained quiet until last fall, when the Arab Monetary Fund caught up with Hashim and filed a lawsuit in Phoenix, seeking to collect the $160 million that British courts said he owed.
In a crucial decision, Hashim elected not to fight the AMF in Maricopa County's Superior Court, where he might have kept the case tangled up for years. Instead he, his wife and their two sons decided to gamble by filing for bankruptcy protection.
Their goal was clear: quick declaration of bankruptcy, which would set aside the massive British judgment and let them get on with their financial affairs.
But filing bankruptcy also carried a risk.
It opened the door for the Arab Monetary Fund to contest any effort to nullify the British judgment and gave the fund the power to examine the assets of Hashim and his family.
The monetary fund seized on the bankruptcy filings with gusto. It hired Gaffney, one of the top bankruptcy attorneys in the state, and he has been methodically raking Hashim and family over the coals of pretrial discovery, hoping to find and recover at least some of the missing AMF millions.
Gaffney seems to take great pleasure in dissecting a case, bit by bit. During depositions, he bores in time and again, trying to clarify Hashim's evasive answers. A loan granted in December, a few weeks after Hashim filed for bankruptcy, becomes a target.
"Where did the $20,000 go?" Gaffney asks.
"On what I spent it, I really have to figure out," Hashim, who has master's and doctorate degrees from the London School of Economics, replies. "Because I don't know. I can't remember."
Gaffney rephrases the question.
"Did you buy anything?"
Hashim pauses, casts a glance toward his attorney, and replies: "Probably. I bought two shirts. Yes. Some socks. Shampoo."
And so it goes.
Hour after hour. Day after day. Gaffney presses Hashim for details. Slowly, very slowly, information starts to emerge. Sometimes, information that Hashim failed to disclose on his sworn bankruptcy filing. Sometimes, information that catches the attention of a federal bankruptcy fraud task force.
A bank account here. A few hundred thousand dollars over there. A mysterious offshore company. Complex real estate deals. Cash spirited out of Canada in suitcases. Bundles of checks, endorsed by other people, given to Hashim to cash whenever he wishes.