MemoGate businessman's towering tycoon image rests on weak foundations

Ijaz's liabilities come to over $4 million which means his net worth is fragile

Updated - July 24, 2016 03:47 am IST

Published - February 27, 2012 03:01 am IST - NEW YORK:

In 1996, a little known investment banker from New York set out on a mission that might have changed the course of modern history. Mansoor Ijaz would later claim that he had come within a hair's breadth of persuading Sudan's government to extradite Osama bin Laden to the United States — before obdurate State department officials sabotaged the enterprise.

The next years would see the banker, who claimed to have built a fortune out of a mathematical model he developed for currency, interest rate and equity risk management, emerge as a backroom player in crisis across the world — from Kashmir to Pakistan, and even Iraq. He was reputed to be close to the former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey, and a plethora of figures in President Bill Clinton's administration.

Mr. Ijaz's career even included a dash of playboy colour: in 2004, he infamously appeared in a music video put together by DJ Junior Jack, which featured him judging a wrestling match featuring naked models.

A fictitious fortune?

Emerging from papers filed before a New York court by San Marino-based bank Banca Sammarinese di Investimento, which was seeking to recover a $1.74 million loan from the businessman, is a rather different picture: Mr. Ijaz's fortune, the documents suggest, is fictitious.

In a 2007 consolidated financial statement, Mr. Ijaz told BSI his net worth was around $15 million — at least $11.8 million of that in stock of Crescent Investments and EcoDrive, neither of which are publicly traded, making their worth hard to verify.

EcoDrive was set up, according to papers filed by Mr. Ijaz with BSI, with an $10,000,000 million investment from a mysterious Indian business family with political connections. It never, however, manufactured the efficient power-trains it was set up to produce — and never appears to have done any business.

The rest of Mr. Ijaz's fortune consists mainly of a New York apartment then valued at $5.9 million, which public records show has since come down to $4.4 million.

His liabilities, made up of two mortgages and the BSI loan, come to over $4 million — which means Mr. Ijaz's net worth is in fact fragile.

Figures in President Asif Ali Zardari's inner circle have long claimed that Mr. Ijaz fabricated the controversial memo in which Pakistan's civilian government sought seeking American help against the military, on behalf of the ISI, noting that he has admitted that all his visits to Pakistan in the last five years were to meet with the intelligence service's officials.

They were, however, unable to advocate an explanation for why an apparently successful businessman might have worked for the ISI. The BSI revelations might just provide an answer.

In an e-mail to The Hindu , Mr. Ijaz argued that the BSI controversy has been manufactured by Pakistan's government to defame him. “They cannot stand the fact that I have been able to hit them so hard,” he said, “so when you cannot attack the message, attack the messenger. You are shrewd enough to see through all of that”.

“I'm not done presenting the facts yet,” he continued. “Direct complicity of Z. [Zardari] in all this is next on the agenda and it will be brought out next week”.

Controversial operations

Mr. Ijaz for long used his image as a politically well-connected tycoon to cultivate ties with intelligence services and governments. In 2000, for example, Mr. Ijaz approached the former Research and Analysis Wing chief C.D. Sahay, claiming to have the blessings of the White House for a secret India-Pakistan peace deal.

RAW courted the businessman briefly, flying him to Srinagar to meet one-on-one with then-Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, only to later discover his claims were baseless.

His initiative in Sudan also ended in controversy. Mr. Ijaz claimed the Sudanese government of President Omar Bashir offered the Clinton administration several opportunities to arrest bin Laden. These opportunities, he said, were welcomed by secretary of state Madeleine Albright, but spurned by President Clinton's special advisor on Africa, Susan Rice, counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger.

The 9/11 Commission, though, held that there was no reliable evidence to support the “claim that Sudan offered to expel bin Laden to the United States.”

Mr. Ijaz was then to controversially claim that he had evidence Iraq's former ruler, Saddam Hussain, had manufactured weapons of mass destruction. In 2006, he asserted Iran already had a nuclear bomb.

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