Saddam Hussein ordered his younger son Qusai and a trusted aide to remove $900 million in U.S. and European currency, confirms a State Department spokesman.
"We are working to hunt down the assets that were stolen by the regime of Saddam Hussein," said Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher. "We'll actively follow up on all the leads. All these assets are the property of the Iraqi people."
It took three tractor-trailers to haul away the loot from Iraq's Central Bank a few days before the United States began bombing Baghdad, reports a newspaper.
Where Saddam, his son and the cash are now is the subject of speculation. One report cited by The New York Times says a convoy of tractor-trailers crossed into Syria, but the contents of the trucks was unknown.
A U.S. Treasury official, however, says the approximately $650 million found by U.S. forces in one of Saddam's palaces last month might have been from the Central Bank, but an Iraqi banking official said he doubts it: Saddam's oldest son Odai was known for hoarding large sums of cash.
The bank operation, which an Iraqi official said took place at 4 a.m. on March 18, was confirmed by U.S. Treasury official George Mullinax, who is assigned to help rebuild Iraq's banking system.
The money was in euros and U.S. $100 bills, and represents about a fourth of the Iraqi treasury.
In other developments: President Bush Tuesday named L. Paul Bremer, a former ambassador and head of the State Department's counterterrorism office, to become civilian administrator in Iraq and oversee the country's transition to democratic rule. Bremer will head the transition team that includes retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, currently the top-ranking U.S. civilian in Iraq. He will oversee all political and reconstruction efforts, including Garner's.
In taking the job, Bremer is leaving a private-sector crisis consulting firm, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller. He also has extensive government experiencem including three years as ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism under Ronald Reagan. Poland pledged to help in Iraq's postwar reconstruction and urged Germany and other European nations to sign up, as well. Bulgaria's defense minister said that Bulgaria would deploy 450 soldiers to Iraq by mid-June to serve as peacekeepers — a much larger commitment to the U.S.-led effort than initially planned. Attorney General John Ashcroft accused organized criminal groups of involvement in the looting of Iraq's national museum, and promised the United States will fully back international efforts to retrieve the artifacts, The comments came at a conference of art experts and law enforcement officials in Lyon, France, aimed at creating a database listing items looted in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The U.S. commander in charge of securing the national museum told CBS Radio he saw few signs of looting after first entering the main gallery on April 16 and rejected reports that the bulk of Iraqi antiquities in the national museum were stolen or broken during the war. The Iraqi president overthrown 35 years ago in a coup orchestrated by Saddam Hussein's Baath Party said that his people must open a new chapter by letting the past go and working toward a better future. Abdel-Rahman Aref, 86, followed his own advice, refusing to speak in a rare interview about the Baath Party, the coup or Saddam Hussein. The European Union's top humanitarian aid official arrived in Baghdad with a message of support for the Iraqi people and a proposal that the United Nations act as the "cornerstone" for coordinating aid across the country. Poul Nielson, the EU's development commissioner, is expected to remain in Baghdad for two days to assess the aid situation. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz sharply criticized Turkey for not backing the United States in its war against Iraq and urged the country to now follow Washington's line in its relations with Iran and Syria.
Qusai, Saddam's younger son, and Abid al-Haimd Mahmood, Saddam's personal assistant, organized the removal of the cash, the Times report said, quoting an Iraqi banking official who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from Saddam's Baath Party.
No financial rationale was offered to bank officials for the removal of the money, which would amount to one of the largest bank robberies in history, and none was needed.
"When you get an order from Saddam Hussein, you do not discuss it," said the Iraqi official.
The newspaper said the billion dollars taken by Saddam was nearly twice the amount looted by Iraqis from the bank after the April 9 collapse of Saddam's regime.
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