LAST YEAR, WHEN SYRIAN intelligence operatives were implicated in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, their motive seemed clear: to neutralize a political opponent of Syria's three-decade occupation of Lebanon. But United Nations investigators and other sources have told FORTUNE there may have been an additional reason for the hit. The February 2005 car bombing in Beirut, the sources say, may have been partly intended to cover up a corruption and bank fraud scandal that siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars to top Syrian and Lebanese officials.From a Fortune article reproduced on Syria Comment.
Bank documents, court filings, and interviews with investigators and other sources show that some of the officials were deeply involved from the late 1990s until early 2003 in a kickback scheme that supplied them with cash, real estate, cars, and jewelry in exchange for protecting and facilitating a multibillion-dollar money- laundering operation at Lebanon's Bank al-Madina that allowed terrorist organizations, peddlers of West African "blood diamonds," Saddam Hussein, and Russian gangsters to hide income and convert hot money into legitimate bank accounts around the world. Despite efforts to cover up the details surrounding the bank's collapse in early 2003, these sources say, the Syrian and Lebanese officials allegedly involved in the fraud feared that Hariri could return to power and reveal their role in one of the biggest illegal banking operations in the Middle East since the Bank of Credit & Commerce International scandal in the early 1990s.