Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Sugar Fix: Is St. Louis County Sponsoring Terrorism? 

at left Khalid bin Mahfouz

A foreign company linked to an alleged terrorist financier is set to open up shop in St. Louis County – with taxpayer support.

A brief news item published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Metro Digest on Wednesday Oct. 4 reported that the St. Louis County, Mo. government plans to give tax breaks to Kerry Inc., to help the Irish-based company reopen a shuttered candy factory.

The St. Louis County Council passed a resolution supporting a 10-year, 35 percent tax abatement on real estate and personal property for Kerry Inc., a subsidiary of the Kerry Group, which is headquartered in Tralee, County Kerry, according to the news account. In return, Kerry Inc., intends to invest $3 million in real estate and up to $7 million in equipment at the former Nestle plant located at 8012 New Hampshire Avenue in Affton, a suburb in South St. Louis County.

The plant formerly manufactured Sweet Tarts brand candy. The County Council based its decision to help subsidize the plant on a report issued by the St. Louis County Economic Council.

The Kerry Group, a food processing conglomerate, had revenues of more than 4 billion Euros last year.

The Post-Dispatch story failed to report any further details of the Irish company’s corporate history.

Press accounts published in Ireland over the past decade, however, have linked the company to an influence-peddling scandal that rocked the Irish political establishment during the 1990s.

The scandal involved the granting of Irish citizenship and passports to Saudi Sheik Khalid bin Mahfouz and others in return for his investment in development schemes of political supporters of high-ranking Irish politicians, including the late Charles Haughey, the former teoiseach or prime minister of Ireland.

As part of the schemes, bin Mahfouz is reported to have invested substantially in the Kerry Airport along with the Kerry Group, whose then-head Denis Bosnan was chief of the airport board. The corporation and the bin Mahfouz family are still listed as investors in the airport.

Bin Mahfouz, who controlled Saudi Arabia’s only private financial institution, National Commerce Bank, and acted as the royal family’s banker, was later fined $225,000,000 for his involvement in the fraud that led to the collapse of Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI), which operated in more than 70 countries. The BCCI scandal involved a complex money laundering operation that supported drug trafficking, illegal weapons transfers, terrorism, espionage and organized crime. The CIA is known to have used the BCCI to finance some of its covert operations, including its secret war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980s. In 1999, the Saudis eventually placed bin Mahfouz under house arrest after he was implicated in helping to finance terrorism through Islamic charities that had direct ties to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

Moreover, bin Mahfouz is married to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s sister. He also has past business ties to President George W. Bush.

While bin Mahfouz was buying his Irish citizenship by helping develop the Kerry Airport, he put all his American investments in the hands of Jim Bath of Houston. Bath, a self-professed CIA agent, is a former Texas Air National Guard buddy and business associate of George W. Bush. In the 1980s, while representing bin Mahfouz’s business interests, Bath invested $50,000 in Arbusto, a Texas oil company then owned by Bush. Bin Mahfouz’s financial ties continued through BCCI’s investments in Harken Energy. Bush cronies William DeWitt and Mercer Reynolds, owners of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball club, bailed Bush out in 1984, merging his failed business with their company, Spectrum 7, which was bought by Harken Engery in 1986. Bush became a board member of Harken and sat on the finance audit committee.

Besides the Kerry Airport, bin Mahfouz invested in the Houston Gulf Airport through a $1.4 million loan to Bath.

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