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Korea and the Iran-Contra Affair
[Part 2] Maligned and double-crossed by the American government
Robert Neff (neff)     Print Article 
Published 2007-12-04 06:58 (KST)   

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[Part 1] Korea and the Iran-Contra Affair

Californian businessman Albert Hakim and his partner Secord soon found themselves involved in a great number of scandals and business concerns of a dubious nature.

Hakim's Navy

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Hakim's role in what became known as the Iran-Contra affair is widely known. He and Secord, along with several others including Colonel Oliver North, were involved in trading weapons with Iran, using the profits to provide weapons to the Contras.

Perhaps one of the lesser-known incidents of the Iran-Contra affair was the Erria. The Erria has been referred to in the media as "Ollie North's Navy," but perhaps a better title would have been Hakim's Navy.

On April 28, 1986, Hakim, who represented Dolmy Business Inc., negotiated with Captain Arne Herup, a citizen of Denmark, to buy the Veralil, a 299-ton, 163-foot blue and white freighter, for $312,500. Dolmy Business Inc. was a dummy company of Compagnie des Services Fiduciares (CSF) in Geneva, Switzerland, which had connections with Stanford Technology Corp and Oliver North's Lake Resources Inc., both of which played key roles in the Iran-Contra affair.

Hakim and his associates were no strangers to Captain Herup and his crew. About a year earlier the ship had been hired to transport AK-47s from Poland to Honduras as part of the covert operation to support the contras. Perhaps because of Panama's lax laws in regards to flags of convenience and inspections or because of a particularly delicate operation they were planning, Hakim and his associates decided to purchase the Veralil.

After the Veralil was purchased and renamed the Erria, it was leased to Udall Research Corp., a Panamanian company with close ties to Hakim. The ship's crew was contracted through Queen Shipping, a firm based in Copenhagen. Although Queen Shipping was paid through CSF, it was apparent that Hakim was in charge of the operations -- operations that were deemed dangerous enough that crew members were insured for far more than the normal $75,000 policy (e.g., one was insured for $300,000).

Sven Andersen, one of the two partners of Queen Shipping, recalled, "It was always Hakim who called us, saying where the ship should go next." But other sources disagree. They insist Thomas G. Clines, a former member of the CIA and an associate of Secord's and Hakim's, "virtually ran the Erria's daily operations and appeared at several of the ship's ports of call to personally oversee its missions."

One of the first destinations of the newly christened Erria was Cyprus. In early May, the Erria arrived in Cyprus where four cots and a courier with $1,000,000 (reportedly supplied by Texas millionaire Ross Perot) were taken aboard. It then set sail for the coast of Lebanon. The money was to be exchanged as ransom for four American hostages held in Lebanon by pro-Iranian terrorists, but the deal never took place and the ship returned to Cyprus. The Erria "docked in Cyprus on the same day [May 20th] that North and other U.S. emissaries arrived in Tehran with a planeload of weapons to bargain with [sic] the hostages' release."

The Erria was later involved in transporting weapons from Poland and Israel before being seized in Korsor, Denmark, by Danish officials as collateral for money owed to Queen Shipping -- nearly $400,000. In April 1988, the ship was purchased by Queens Shipping in an auction for $240,000 -- the money was reimbursed to the company leaving an additional $160,000-claim to be reimbursed by the U.S. government.

Andersen immediately put the ship up for sale and jokingly told a Los Angeles Times reporter: "Maybe some crazy American would like to buy the ship for a night club - put it on the Potomac and call it Ollie's Disco."

Thus ended Hakim's secret naval operation that Henrik Berlau, then vice president of the Danish Seamen's Union, described as "very amateurish in many ways."

Hostage Rescue Attempts and Negotiations

The Erria incident was not the first or the last of Hakim's involvement in negotiating for and rescuing hostages.

An attempt to rescue 52 American hostages held by Muslim fundamentalists in the American embassy in Tehran took place in April 1980. It involved 8 helicopters, 6 C-130s, and 93 Delta Force commandoes, but was aborted after three of the helicopters crashed, resulting in the deaths of eight men. It was a feeble attempt that gained the media's disdain and has led some to believe that its failure was part of a conspiracy to hinder Jimmy Carter's reelection campaign.

Reportedly, Secord helped organize the mission and was the deputy director of a second mission that was never executed. Oliver North and Albert Hakim played their own roles in these early attempts. Hakim allegedly handled the logistics of the mission by purchasing trucks and vans to be used in the mission. These were hidden in a rented warehouse on the outskirts of Tehran, but they were never used.

A more successful attempt at securing the release of hostages took place in October 1986. A group of Americans including Secord, Hakim and North, secretly met in Frankfurt, West Germany, with Iranian officials to negotiate the release of the American hostages held by Shiite Muslims in Beirut, Lebanon. Secord, according to Hakim, assured the Iranian officials that the United States would cooperate with Iran "to depose" Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq. He also declared that in the event the Soviet Union invaded Iran, the United States was prepared to "fight the Russians in Iran."

Secord's notes support Hakim's allegations. "U.S. will fight Russians in Iran in case of incursion, with or without government of Iran assistance," read one note. Another read: "We will cooperate to depose S. Hussein."

Hakim insisted that Secord's assurances to the Iranians "was a bargaining method used to get the attention of the Iranians." But the negotiations did not go as well as Secord and North desired. Frustrated, they left Hakim with the Iranian officials to try and conclude the hostages' release.

According to Hakim, a nine-point plan was worked out and approved by U.S. and Iranian officials that involved selling 500 TOW missiles to Iran to be used in its war with Iraq. The United States would also work for the release of 17 Muslim prisoners held in Kuwait and southern Lebanon. In exchange the Iranians agreed to secure the release of one American hostage. Later, one American government official caustically referred to Hakim's nine-point plan as the "Hakim accords."

In late October the TOW missiles were sent to Iran and David P. Jacobsen, an American hostage, was released in Lebanon. Later, during Hakim's trial for his role in the Iran-Contra affair, Jacobsen wrote a letter in Hakim's defense in which he stated: "I would be in my fifth year of captivity had it not been for his [Hakim's] extraordinary efforts in negotiating with the Iranian representatives. Other American negotiators had given up, but Mr. Hakim continued."

The Fall

By the end of 1986 Hakim's world had begun to collapse around him. The media was filled with stories of secret arms transfers, illegal funding for the Contras and covert operations undertaken by officials of the United States that had not been sanctioned by the government. In many of these stories Hakim's name was prominently displayed.

In November 1989, Hakim, through a plea bargain, pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of making illegal payments to an American government employee -- Oliver North. A little over two months later he was sentenced by Judge Gerhard A. Gessell to two years' probation and fined $5,000. He was also forced to give up his claim to more than 7.3 million dollars worth of profits from the arms sales.

Hakim was extremely bitter. According to an acquaintance, Hakim felt like he had been maligned and double-crossed by the American government. Hakim declared after his trial that he was not an arms dealer but an international trader in high-tech products who was used as a pawn in the dispute between the Republican White House and the Democratic Congress.

"I have been abused by two presidents," he declared, the first being President Reagan and the second "President Walsh" -- the independent counsel in charge of the Iran-Contra prosecution. Apparently Judge Gesell agreed that Hakim had been abused by the government.

"Indeed, you were brought into the situation you find yourself in by the U.S. government," Judge Gesell stated in court, and then went on to commend Hakim for his role in negotiating the release of Jacobsen. It "was the result of your conduct, not the result of others who have taken credit for it." According to his lawyer and family friend, Karen L. Hawkins, "He was quite proud of the role he was able to play" in rescuing Jacobsen.

But were Hakim's efforts truly noble? According to Anthony S. Musladin, a business associate, "He's not going to do anything for patriotism. Anything he did, he did to make money." When Secord offered to donate the arms profits to a memorial fund for Contras, Hakim scoffed at the idea, noting that Secord would "never make a good businessman; he was born a general, and he will die a general." When asked if he would be willing to give up the money in support of the memorial he stated:

"It's not a question of doing the heroic thing and passing an acid test, it's a business situation and it should be treated as such."

Korea: A New Beginning and Ending

In the years following his conviction, Hakim struggled to rebuild his business, but he met with failure. The taint of his role in the Iran-Contra affair was too much and business opportunities, once abundant, were few and far between. His health also began to fail.

In 1996 he was forced to file for bankruptcy. He lost his luxurious home and was forced to move to Los Angeles. Sometime in the late 1990s he moved to Inchon, South Korea, with his wife and established an English academy. Efforts to locate his English Academy and his residence in Korea have all failed.

However, it is hard to imagine that a man such as Hakim, who once commanded millions of dollars in transactions and was involved with some of the most controversial figures in America's recent history, could be satisfied with quietly operating an English academy. Perhaps he wasn't.

In December 2005, Robert E. Quinn, a vice president of Clark Material Handling Company, a Korean-owned American company that builds heavy forklifts, was convicted of illegally selling forklift parts to Iran in late 2002 or early 2003. Is it coincidental that Hakim was in Korea at the time?

According to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times, as well as other newspapers, Hakim continued to wheel and deal in international business circles, helping small businesses trade in the Middle East. Efforts to find out what business and firms he was involved in have failed. Some of the businessmen and reporters who have lived in Korea since the late 1990s claim they might have seen him but none remember much about him or his business.

However, Hawkins, in a recent e-mail correspondence, seems to indicate that Hakim's presence in Korea was for a different and more noble purpose:

"Albert always believed that global peace was only possible if the common citizens of each nation demanded it -- for this they needed education and knowledge. He also strongly believed that education of the world's youth was the answer to eliminating the ignorance and prejudice which so often interferes with communication. The English school was his small way of trying to make a difference to at least some of the impoverished South Korean children. As I understood it, his school was nearly free for those who attended."

In the last years of his life, Hakim remained a man of mystery -- few people were even aware that he resided in Korea until his untimely death. In late April 2003, Albert A. Hakim died of a heart attack at the age of 66 in Inchon, South Korea. Described as a man who "always had time for his family" and was "adored" by them, his body was flown back to the United States -- his adopted homeland.

When Hakim died, his English school and his dream of helping impoverished South Korean children died as well. "The English school simply disbanded in the wake of Albert's death as there was no longer the strong personality and fierce dedication to keep it going -- for him it was a labor of love."

A review of Hakim's life is a study of contradictions: a patriot abused by his adopted country or a wheeler and dealer who abused the trust of his adopted country -- only the passage of time will tell which description was correct.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Robert Neff

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