Probing Iran-contra dealing. Hakim testimony angers congressional panels
Chomping on a cigar, Texas Democratic Rep. Jack Brooks regarded the witness in front of him with some disapproval. For days, the witness - Iranian-born businessman Albert Hakim - had been talking of his deep involvement in the Iran-contra affair. Representative Brooks obviously did not care for what he had been hearing of Mr. Hakim's methods.
``They'd shoot me in East Texas if I did business like that,'' Brooks said. ``But I guess it sure works good in a lot of other places.''
As Brooks's comment shows, disclosures about the role of private businessmen such as Hakim in the Iran-contra affair have clearly upset many members of the congressional panels jointly investigating government involvement in the affair.
Members have long known that a private company run by Hakim and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard Secord was central to both United States arms sales to Iran and private support of the contra fighters in Nicaragua. But in recent days, they have learned new details about:
Profits. It is clear that when Mr. Hakim and General Secord sold weapons to the contras, they did not dump them at cost.
One shipment of arms flown out of Lisbon was marked up 60 percent, according to documents released by the congressional panels, resulting in a profit of $118,900.
In this shipment, among other items, 60mm mortar rounds bought by Secord and Hakim for $23.50 apiece were resold for $41.00.
The contras, in addition to the cost of the arms, had to pay freight and insurance for the whole load.
Hakim said he had no idea at the time that they were making so much. ``All along I was under the impression that markup was about 30 percent,'' he told the congressional panels.
Purchases. Secord, in his appearance before investigators last month, maintained that he had forsworn personal interest in Iran-contra deals in hopes of some day returning to the government.
By uncovering evidence that Secord purchased a Porsche sports car and a private plane with money from his and Hakim's enterprise, congressional investigators have called this contention into question.
Many members of the congressional panels say they now think Secord misled them. There is a good chance he will be recalled for a second appearance, said Sen. Warren Rudman (R) of New Hampshire. Secord, for his part, said he would welcome the opportunity to come before the panel again to tell his side of the story.
``I don't see how they can call me a profiteer,'' Secord said in a New York Times interview. ``I'm not a profiteer, and to keep on claiming that is simply false. We were trying to do a job for the President, and we did the best we could.''
Promises. Hakim, born in Iran but a US citizen and a resident of this country for many years, is a man comfortable in two business cultures.
He freely admitted that when he does business in the Middle East, he must be ready to dispense bribes to get things done.
In light of this admission, many panel members were clearly suspicious of his attempts to establish a trust fund for the education of the children of Lt. Col. Oliver North, the former national-security aide.
Questions indicated that the lawmakers believed Hakim was far too sophisticated a businessman not to know that even exploring whether or not such a fund was possible could ruin Colonel North's reputation.
Hakim claimed ruefully that he had not thought of that possibility and denied that he had ever tried to bribe anyone in the United States.
Beyond the question of money, however, was the issue of Hakim's role in shaping American foreign policy. As his appearance progressed last week, it became clear that it was Hakim - not North or any other US government representative - who negotiated the release of American hostage David Jacobsen in late 1986.
Mr. Jacobsen was the second of two hostages held in Lebanon to gain release through US contacts with Iran. In arranging Jacobsen's freedom, Hakim apparently made promises that were directly contradictory to US policy, such as promising efforts to win freedom for 17 terrorism suspects held by Kuwait. The US has in the past adamantly refused to exert pressure on Kuwait to free these suspects.
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D) of Hawaii, chairman of the Senate investigating panel, said that he found this aspect of the Iran-contra affair ``sad, ... stranger than fiction.''
Senator Inouye complained that Hakim, a man with no security clearance, had been allowed freely to share US secrets with representatives of foreign governments. The senator gruffly ordered Hakim to return a US coding communication device in his possession.
Many members of the committees did praise Hakim for being forthright in his testimony.
Some said the American public should not be so quick to condemn private citizens who offer their services to the government. Rep. Henry Hyde (R) of Illinois noted that Hakim could speak to the Iranians in their own language - somthing almost no one in the US government could do.
``He deserves something more than condemnation,'' Mr. Hyde said.