Kirk's campaign first leveled the accusation in a press blast after Alexi Giannoulias released a new campaign ad Monday morning. And then Monday, Kirk reiterated Alexi's supposed tie to the "Butcher of Baghdad" during a campaign question and answer session at the Sofitel Hotel, where he had addressed the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
“After misleading voters about loans to crime figures and felons like Tony Rezko and a former associate of Saddam Hussein, Alexi Giannoulias will do or say anything to distract voters from his past business relationships," the release read. "Voters deserve a thoughtful, independent leader like Mark Kirk who will oppose higher taxes, cut wasteful spending and put Illinois families first.”
The former associate he's talking about is Nadhmi Auchi, whom Kirk says sold arms to Hussein and received a loan from Giannoulias' Broadway Bank. Kirk's claims are based on a pair of articles -- one from the Observer of London and the other from the New York Times -- which are still available online, campaign aides said.
“According to the New York Times, he was a banker to Saddam Hussein,” Kirk said of Auchi. “And According to the Observer of London, he was a middleman in the billion-dollar naval arms deal between Hussein and the Italian Navy.”
Auchi's lawyers contested the claims made by Kirk and demanded an immediate retraction from the Senate candidate, saying the link to Hussein has long been debunked. Furthermore, Auchi's lawyers say their client left Iraq in 1980, never met with Hussein or anyone else in his administration; that he never played "banker to Saddam Hussein" and that in fact Saddam Hussein was responsible for murdering one of Auchi's brothers.
"We are writing to Mr. Kirk with regard to his reported claims about Mr. Auchi," the letter to Kirk states. "The source of your allegations," the letter to Kirk states. "Seem date back almost 10 years. Articles containing the same claims have been withdrawn by the Observer, and accepted by the newspaper to contain 'significant inaccuracies," and it is likely that a source of the New York Times article was that withdrawn material."
Auchi, who is listed at #397 on the Forbes 2009 list of Billionaires, does have a somewhat checkered past and has been tied to convicted influence peddler Tony Rezko. The Chicago Sun Times printed a lengthy article on the links between the two back in February 2008.
According to the paper, Auchi invested nearly $170 million in 2004 in a 62-acre real estate venture along the Chicago River in Chicago's South Loop which was headed by Rezko, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Later he was tied to Rezko during Rezko's corruption trial. Rezko received $3.5 million from Auchi's company in April 2007, but never told a judge about the money, the Sun-Times notes. Rezko was later convicted.
Auchi was convicted in France in 2003 on counts of fraud and bribery in connection with Elf-Aquitane, a French state-owned oil company. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison but the sentence was suspended as long as Auchi committed no crimes, the Sun-Times reports.
Because of the conviction, Auchi is considered an undesirable alien by the U.S. State Department and is barred from entering the United States.
The use of Auchi, and by proxy Saddam Hussein, is another notch in what is being called the nastiest senate race in the country. Giannoulias, for his part, compared Kirk to a fictional Saturday Night Live character who's defining trait is pathological lying.
The event wasn't entirely about Giannoulias, however.
In an odd moment during Kirk's speech while he was discussing tax cuts, a couple of people stood up and yelled "We want jobs. When do we want them? ..." but the group was quickly hushed.
Kirk also took a chance to position himself against President Barack Obama on a few issues. He said he disagrees with Obama's decision to have an arbitrary time limit on the war in Afghanistan.
He also said he worries about the future of our European allies.
"I worry Europe is not just losing the courage of its convictions but also its convictions themselves."
Since the publication of this article a law firm representing Nadhmi Auchi's, Carter-Ruck, has sent letters to various media outlets, including NBC, as well as the Kirk campaign contesting the veracity of Kirk's statements. The Kirk campaign forwarded the letter they received in an email blast (it can be read here).
The letter demands that retract his statements regarding Auchi, and requests that media outlets refrain from restating these allegedly false claims.
Auchi's lawyers contend that Kirk's statements were based on an article from 2001 from the London Observer that has since been retracted as a result of legal action brought by Auchi. The Guardian newspapers, which owns the Observer, told NBC, however, that the Article, which ran under the headline "A Tycoon, a Minister and Interpol' in May 2001 has not been retracted. A spokeswoman from the Guardian said they haven't received a complaint about the article.
There were a series of articles that ran in the Observer in 2003 that concerned Auchi. In some cases portions of those articles, and in other cases whole articles from the series were later retracted. The article Kirk cites in his speech was not among them. Carter Ruck declined to comment on the record, but indicated they would reach out to the Guardian concerning the 2001 article.