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Bob Levinson: The Dubai connection


I'm starting to think that what Bob Levinson was doing on Iran's Kish Island may be a less important question than what he may have been up to in Dubai, prior to his disappearance.

Former FBI agent Levinson, as we've learned, was an authority on money laundering and the Russian mafia, both of which seem to be ineluctably drawn to Dubai.

From a 2005 article in U.S. News & World Report:

Dubai … serves as the [Middle East's] criminal crossroads, a hub for smuggling, money laundering, and underground banking. There are Russian and Indian mobsters, Iranian arms traffickers, and Arab jihadists. Funds for the 9/11 hijackers and African embassy bombers were transferred through the city. It was the heart of Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan's black market in nuclear technology and other proliferation cases. Half of all applications to buy U.S. military equipment from Dubai are from bogus front companies, officials say. "Iran," adds one U.S. official, "is building a bomb through Dubai." Last year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents thwarted the shipment of 3,000 U.S. military night-vision goggles by an Iranian pair based in Dubai. Moving goods undetected is not hard. Dhows--rickety wooden boats that have plowed the Arabian Sea for centuries--move along the city center, uninspected, down the aptly named Smuggler's Creek.

By an interesting coincidence, shortly before Levinson disappeared, a symposium took place in Dubai (sponsored by Eurofinance Conferences), entitled "Trade, Treasury and Cash Management in the Middle East." The meeting was to have featured a session on doing business with Iran, but this was canceled on short notice, probably as the result of the growing impasse over Iran's nuclear program.

One speaker at the conference, however, was Stuart Levey, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department, who (in remarks delivered on March 7, just a day or two before Levinson made his ill-timed trip to Kish) praised the organizers for scrubbing the Iran session:

I understand that a session was planned yesterday to examine the case for doing business in Iran, but that it was cancelled. This is a good indication of the prevailing view in the business community. It is clear that many businesses are taking it upon themselves to scale back. At first glance, this may appear to present a tempting business opportunity for other corporations to step in. However, there is a reason that these other companies are pulling back: they have decided that the risks of business with Iran outweigh any potential gain.

The world is well aware of Iran's defiance of the international community in pursuing its nuclear program and its sponsorship of terrorist organizations that maim and murder innocent civilians. Iran disguises its activities through an array of deceptive techniques specifically designed to evade the controls of responsible financial institutions and avoid suspicion. For example, we have seen Iranian banks request that other financial institutions take their names off of transactions when processing them in the international financial system.

Iran also works to make its procurement efforts for its nuclear program appear to be unrelated and innocent commercial activities. Iranian entities form front companies in other countries for the sole purpose of exporting dual-use items to Iran that can be used in illicit nuclear and missile programs. These front companies enable the regime to obtain materials that the country of origin would typically prohibit from being exported to Iran.

I have no way of knowing whether Bob Levinson attended the conference or whether Undersecretary Levey's presence in Dubai to talk about the money laundering activities of Iranian financial institutions—such Bank Sepah—was merely coincidental. (Bank Sepah does have a branch office on Kish Island, however, only a 45 minute plane trip from Dubai.)

As a point of interest, Levinson is himself scheduled as a panelist at an April 24-25 conference in Miami, sponsored by OffshoreAlert newsletter. The subject of his session: "Russian Clients: How To Evaluate Them."

An April 4 story by James Gordon Meek in the New York Daily News quotes an unnamed U.S. official as saying that Levinson never checked out of his hotel in Dubai. (This is consistent with a subsequent report on the website of Iranian PressTV saying that Levinson's "visit to Kish was supposed to be a one day affair.")

This leads me to suspect that the excursion to Kish to meet David Belfield was a last-minute affair—and perhaps only tangentially related to his business in Dubai.

Don't forget to sign the Free Bobby! petition.

Posted by Rodger on April 13, 2007 at 05:16 PM | Permalink


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