SAN DIEGO — It took one of the world’s biggest gold-mining frauds to lead Yasin Al-Qadi, a Saudi businessman with suspected ties to Osama bin Laden’s terror network, to the board of a small California diamond mining firm.
Bre-X Minerals Ltd., a Canadian mining firm once valued at $4.5 billion at its peak, collapsed in early 1997 when an independent survey revealed that its rich Indonesian gold deposit was a hoax.
The Bre-X collapse caused mining stocks to dive, a market crunch that hit Global Diamond Resources Inc., a San Diego firm with mines in South Africa. Potential investors stopped buying Global Diamond, leaving the company with no way of financing a deal to tap a new mine in South Africa.
“We were up a little creek,” recalled Johann de Villiers, Global Diamond’s chairman, an American citizen from South Africa who lives in San Diego.
So, Global Diamond went looking for private investors, a search that led to Al-Qadi, one of 39 people and groups named by the U.S. Treasury Department Oct. 12 as providing financial help to bin Laden.
The path between Al-Qadi and Global Diamond shows the challenge U.S. officials face in trying to untangle the complicated terrorist fund-raising network, experts said. Also, it illustrates how some accused of helping bin Laden can have legitimate activities while also allegedly backing terrorism.
Global Diamond officials found the Saudi millionaire a charming, honorable businessman who filed the appropriate regulatory paperwork and provided essential financing. Behind the scenes, U.S. officials said, Al-Qadi ran a charity that financed terrorism.
“That’s what makes it so difficult. It’s not about money laundering. A lot of this is clean money,” said Reyko Huang, a terrorism researcher at the Washington-based Center for Defense Information. “What makes it so difficult to track is all these things are happening behind the scenes.”
With the help of a London-based investment firm, the company met in May 1997 with executives of the Bin Laden Group, a Saudi conglomerate. That December, the group invested $6 million in Global Diamond and installed three executives on the board.
Owned by relatives of Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Al-Qaida terrorist organization, the Bin Laden Group has estimated revenues of $5 billion. It has also severed ties to Osama bin Laden, a man the Bush administration calls the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. No direct evidence has surfaced to tie the Saudi exile to the company.
It’s uncertain if the Bin Laden Group knew of Al-Qadi’s alleged ties to Osama bin Laden. But it was through a Bin Laden Group executive that Al-Qadi joined the board, interviews and court records show.
In 1998, despite the $6 million Bin Laden Group investment, Global Diamond still had financial problems. The board sought between $4 million and $10 million in new money, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego in a lawsuit filed against Global Diamond.
Abu-Bakr Mood, Global Diamond’s vice chairman and also a Bin Laden Group executive, lined up two investors willing to invest $3 million each. One was Al-Qadi.
Treasury officials say Al-Qadi’s Saudi-based Muwafaq (“Blessed Relief”) Foundation has funneled money from Saudi businessmen to Al Qaida.
Peter Carter-Ruck, Al-Qadi’s London-based lawyer, said his client was “horrified and shocked” that his name has been tied to bin Laden. Al-Qadi “has never been involved with, supported or provided funds for any terrorist or extremist activities,” Carter-Ruck said.
Al-Qadi told The New York Times the allegation was “nonsense.”
However, it’s not the first time Al-Qadi’s name has been attached to money that allegedly supported terrorist activity. The FBI claims in court documents that part of an $820,000 loan Al-Qadi made in 1991 to the Quranic Literacy Institute in Chicago went to Hamas, the militant Palestinian group.
Steven Haney, Mood’s attorney, said his client knew little about Al-Qadi when he joined the Global Diamond and certainly nothing about any link to Osama bin Laden. Mood’s contact with Al-Qadi came through a Saudi business acquaintance, Ahmed Basodan.
In December 1998, Al-Qadi agreed to buy 17 percent of Global Diamond, an investment that came through New Diamond Holdings, Al-Qadi’s shell company registered in the British Virgin Islands. Basodan and Al-Qadi joined Global Diamond’s board.
Global Diamond records describe Al-Qadi as the chairman of the Saudi National Consulting Center and Qordoba Real Estate Co. based in Saudi Arabia. He also is listed as chairman of the Caravan Co., based in Turkey and a board member of both Himont Chemical of Pakistan and Kazakhstan’s Cariba Bank.
In 1999, Haney said a Bin Laden Group representative forced Mood to resign from the Global Diamond board. Mood then sued the company, claiming the Bin Laden Group deprived him of his finder’s fee for attracting the $6 million investment.
Mood claims the “Bin Laden Group controls and manages that company,” Haney said, an allegation de Villiers denies.
Basodan and Al-Qadi have also split, de Villiers said. Basodan left the company’s board earlier this year.
Al-Qadi remains on Global Diamond’s board, although the chances of him making any more investments in the company are dim. The Treasury Department froze Al-Qadi’s assets last month, something that de Villiers said will have little effect on his company.
In 1999, Al-Qadi also invested $750,000 in a Canadian diamond exploration firm, MIT Ventures, which has mines in Ontario and Botswana, company records show.
MIT Ventures’ attorney, William Schmidt, said its dealings with Al-Qadi went through Basodan. No one in the company has ever talked to Al-Qadi, he said.
Schmidt and de Villiers said Global Diamond and MIT Ventures had no relationship, despite Al-Qadi’s investment in both.
Other MIT Ventures investors include the Saudi multinational firm, Al Murjan Group, owned by the bin Mahfouz family.
The Al Murjan Group was represented on the board by Dr. Abdullah Basodan, the uncle of Ahmed Basodan and a prominent Saudi businessman, Schmidt said.
Sultan Khalid bin Mahfouz, chairman of the Al Murjan Group, is a former chairman of the Saudi National Commercial Bank, the nation’s largest, which was investigated in 1998 for allegedly transferring $3 million to Osama bin Laden, according to news reports.
Mahfouz’s son, Abdul Rahman Khalid bin Mahfouz, was on the board of the Muwafaq Foundation.
“They were interested in going into mining ventures,” Schmidt said of Al-Qadi. “This particular investment was part of their learning curve.”
On the Net:
Global Diamond, www.globaldiamond.com
MIT Ventures, www.mitventures.com