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Thu

04

Oct

2007

Special Report (Stephen P. Pizzo)
Thursday, 04 October 2007 23:22
by Stephen P.Pizzo

You may have noticed that we were recently treated to a full-scale Bill and Hillary charm offensive. Bill has been touting his charitable juggernaut — immodestly branded with the Clinton logo as "The Clinton Global Initiative. " And he has a new book out — just in time for the primary campaign season — with the warm and fuzzy title, "Giving. "

All that dovetailed nicely with Hillary's blitz of the mainstream media Sunday talk shows where, in a single morning, she held a rapid-fire round of high profile, prime time satellite interviews with every network that matters. She smiled - a lot, looked relaxed and laughed - a lot.

It was a Clinton Inc. media tour de force. This power couple have always been a team, and they still are. Anyone who thinks the timing of Bill's goodness offensive and Hillary's race for the Democratic Party nomination are mere coincidence just haven't been paying attention for the last twenty years or so.

As the couple knew they would, the media took bait. The Clintons called the tune and as they twirled to the that tune a real story lurked right under their lazy noses. a story that says a lot more about the Clintons than the puffy "did she laugh too much" pablum the media spun for public consumption.

It was during the height of that Hill-Bill media blit that an email popped into my box. It was from a well-connected old friend on the east coast. He wrote he was at a Clinton fund raiser rubbing elbows with, to quote him — “an old friend of yours.” Knowing this guy as I do I sensed sarcasm, and I was right.

“It's Farhad Azima,” he announced, knowing, I am sure, that the very mention of this character in any setting would get my attention, but at Clinton fund raiser! Holy cow!

I shot him an email back asking what that guy was doing anywhere near a Hillary Clinton fund raiser.

He replied, “Not Hillary. Bill.”

Ah, yes, it was one of Bill Clinton's Global Innovative fund raisers. The whole previous week had been all CGI all the time, as Bill hosted the rich and powerful from around the world all looking to do well by doing good.

But the question remained; what was Farhad Azima, doing there? Why would the Clintons expose themselves to bad publicity just a couple of weeks after Hillary was forced to return nearly a million bucks she took from felonious fugitive, Norman Hsu? (Another instance where a single Nexis/Lexis search by a curious reporter would have broken that story months ago.)

Admittedly Azima is a bit of a different kind of problem since he's never been charged or convicted of any crimes,as Hsu had. But, as you will see if read on, there might be a reason for that, a quite extraordinary reason. Still a few Google searches would net the curious reporter some pretty startling allegations — and lots of them. Sure it's just smoke, but so much smoke it would trigger a five-alarm response from any fire department worths it's salt.

In lieu of a real media vetting of Farhad Azima he has become grist for the conspiracy theorists, who have now woven him into nearly every murky event short of the Lindberg kidnapping. In the world of conspiracy theorists 6% of separation is enough to throw their own grandmothers into the mix.

Maybe that's what's kept real journalists away. Anyone who's been a reporter for very long knows that the fastest way to ruin their career is to e into one of these tales and try to sort the truth from the mis- and dis-information that swirl around characters like Farhad Azima. I personally knew two veteran reporters who were last seen following such bread crumbs sure they were onto the biggest stories of their lives. They're still out there — somewhere.

But, since I am retired and no longer have a career to ruin, what the hell.

Besides, Azima and I have a history.
Farhad Azima: Born in Iran in 1941, into a family that was reportedly close to the Shah.
My first encounter with Azima was sometime back in 1987. My co-authors (Mary Fricker and Paul Muolo) and I were researching for our book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans . We were trying to figure out why America's savings and loans were suddenly dropping like flies. When we looked at a small failed bank, Indian Springs State Bank in Kansas City, Mo., we found Azima on it's board of directors. We also found hundreds of thousands of dollars of the bank's money had been loaned to Azima's freight airline, Global International — loans which by then were in default.

What began as a routine probe into just another case of financial shenanigans sparked by thrift deregulation, took a hard right turn into a world swirling with allegations of gun and drug running, illegal Iranian arms shipments and CIA involvement. Azima and his airline were at the center of it all. Nevertheless, we would later learn, Azima seemed to enjoy a kind of prosecutorial forbearance back then that companies like Halliburton and Blackwater Security enjoy today.

As we sorted through the ashes of Indian Springs State Bank we asked the Kansas City federal prosecutor assigned the case, Lloyd Monroe, if he was investigating Azima's activities at the looted bank. He told us he had tried to open an FBI investigation into Azima and Global International, but immediately received a call form FBI headquarters in Washington.

“They told me to forget about it. Azima had a get-out-of-jail-free-card.”
(Rather than drag you through that entire tale here, I suggest — even encourage — you to read that chapter from out book reproduced on this page. It will enhance your understanding of what follows — I guarantee it. (link...) — Don't worry. I'll be here when you return ;-)
Azima dismisses what continues to be a steady flow of allegations that his airlines (he has more than one, some held under his umbrella corporation, Aviation Leasing Group, ALG .) are or have ever been used for US intelligence operations — like Reagan's illegal "Iran/Contra" arms shipments. It's his story and to this day, he's sticking to it.

But then there's things like this that keep the curious, curious. When then-CIA director William Webster testified before Congress about the failure of Indian Springs State Bank and Global Internationals involvement, he declined to answer questions about Azima's involvement or the loans to his airline in public session. Inste (link...) ad he testified about in closed session before the House Intelligence Committee (October 25, 1990.)

And then there's the fact that Azima's world seems to be one filled with the kind of strange coincidences that just don't happened to ordinary folk. For example, an SEC search of companies listing Azima as a shareholder and/or officer, shows that Farhad Azima and Huffman Aviation's Wallace J Hilliard, are heavily invested together in the same company, SPATIALIGHT INC. . Hilliard and Azima are (link...) major stockholders.. Huffman aviation, you may recall, was the flying school where Mohammad Atta studied.

If your read the chapter linked above, you already know that Azima was not the only colorful character who attached himself to Indian Springs State Bank's vault. There mob money movers out of New York and one of the bank's "business development," executives was a debarred attorney for the Kansas City-based Nick Civella mob family . The whole thing had a Goodfellas aire about it. Just before federal regulators closed in on the bank it's president, William Everett Lemaster, was incinerated in a single car auto accident family members claim was highly suspicious. (Lemaster and another bank executive with ties to Kansas City Civella crime family, also shared positions on Azima's Global Airways Board of advisers.)

In 1983 the Federal Aviation Administration suspended operations of his Global International Airways for safety reasons. Embarrassingly one of its planes carrying TV crews accompanying Reagan to Brazil had made a crash landing. Azima later put Global into bankruptcy. Another of his companies, Buffalo Airways of Waco, Texas, settled a tax lien with the Internal Revenue Service in 2000 and reportedly was fighting with the Justice (link...) Department over a $1.4 million bill for cargo service provided to the Pentagon during the Gulf War.

A world in turmoil is a profitable world for the kinds of shadowy, no-questions-asked, airfreight operations like Azima's. (It's no coincidence, after all, that Blackwater has formed it's own, Presidential Airways:
Wall Street Journal, Sept. 30, 2007 — Even as security contractor Blackwater USA faces scrutiny over its actions in Iraq, the U.S. government is deepening ties to its parent company by awarding an aviation affiliate a contract valued at as much as $92 million to operate a fleet of airplanes on missions throughout Central Asia. ... The four-year contract with Presidential Airways Inc. calls for the company to supply specialized airplanes, crews and equipment for flight operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Presidential Airways is owned by Blackwater's corporate parent, Prince Group LLC. (link...)
Gunrunning allegations have swirled around Azima and his various airlines since the mid-1980s. Besides swashbuckling tales from former Global pilots of being paid with bags of cash and boxes marked as “cabbages” actually containing mortars, Azima's planes, now under the umbrella of his Aircraft Leasing Group, (ALG) have also showed up in interesting places, leased to interesting people, doing some mighty (link...) interesting things. Whatever Azima's airlines are, they are anything but ordinary. Example here...

A public interest website in Belgium, "Clean Ostend," wants shadowy airlines, including Azima's, to stop using the former US Air Force Base:
"At Ostend Airport, Johnson's Air itself shares since the end of 2003 office, station manager and PO box with HeavyLift, which is part of Christopher Foyle’s airline company Air Foyle, as recounted earlier, known from its two-year business partnership with arms dealer Victor Bout. HeavyLift seems to be the air broker, who organises from Ostend the Johnsons Air flights. However, both companies recently left the Ostend airport after a few adverse publications. ...Johnsons Air was formed in 1995 by Farhad Azima, a native of Iran, resident in the U.S. since the 1950s...At the time of HeavyLift’s shutdown, Azima was its chairman. Reputed as a mayor gunrunner, he is also suspected to have had close ties to the CIA and has been linked to the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal ... Also Race Cargo Airlines (another Azima operation) has for years an office at Ostend Airport and even a full-owned warehouse. (Lots more here — (link...)
During the years when Republicans held the White House Azima's campaign contributions flowed largely to Republican candidates and causes. That changed once Bill Clinton became President.

Despite the bankruptcy of Global International Airways, Azima always seemed to have money to spread around. By 1995 Azima was back. He was head of Airline Leasing Group (ALG) with air freight operations and cargo jets scattered around the world. He also seemed to have enough excess cash on hand to grease the palms of whoever in charge at the time. And now it the Democrats and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Remember, we're talking 1995 now, six years after our book was released. And where was Farad Azima now? Well at the White House, of course, sipping coffee with President Bill Clinton at three of of Bill's coffee clutch awards for major DNC contributors.
White House Coffees:
HOST: President Clinton
ATTENDING: DNC Supporters
LOCATION: Map Room


Farhad Azima, listed as attending on:

October 2, 1995: (Link...)

August 6, 1996: (Link...)

March 28, 1996: (Link...)
But by 1997 someone at the DNC apparently caught wind of the colorful side of their newly generous contributor and hustled to get rid of his contributions by giving him his money back. Azima was offended:
MAN FORCES CASH ON DEMOCRATS
DONATION WAS RETURNED UNDER CLOUD, DONOR PUSHES TO GIVE IT BAC
K

AP - Rocky Mountain News — 10-01-1997: Most people hire lawyers to get their money back, but Kansas City, Mo., businessman Farhad Azima used his attorney to persuade the Democratic Party to keep his $143,000 donation. In February, in the midst of its fund-raising furor, the Democratic National Committee announced that Azima's donation was among $3 million being returned because it was ``deemed inappropriate.'' Azima asked his attorney, E. Lawrence Barcella Jr., ...
Azima's attorney said he had received no explanation for why the DNC was returning his client's money, and assumed that the money was being returned because of "misleading and inaccurate news reports" about Azima's past.

Azima's attorney, E. Larry Barcella, Jr., (Link...) served a US Attorney for the District of Columbia during Reagan years and later was Chief Counsel to House Republicans during the so-call “October Surprise” investigation, which looked into allegations that Reagan operatives had convinced the Iranians to hold US hostages until after the Reagan/Carter presidential race... which is precisely what the Iranians did. Those who believed it, still do. Those who don't believe it, still don't. In any case, it's a tale for another day.)

Azima appears determined to hedge his political bets. Not to say there weren't still some potentially useful Republicans around, like US Senatorial candidate Fred Thompson. Azima held a fund raiser for Thompson. Thompson also served, at the time on the board of one of Azima's airlines, Tennessee-based Capital Airways. Azima came to know Thompson after Azima bought Capitol Airways to Smyrna, Tenn., in 1983. Thompson served on the board of the company and also represented it in legal matters. According to Federal Election Commission records, Azima raised $9,500 for Thompson's campaign at a 1996 fund-raiser at his Missouri home. (Link...)

A year later, in 1997, Thompson returned about half of the money raised at the Azima fund raiser. (But FEC records show Azima and his partners at ALG, Mansour Rasnavad, contributed $1000 and $500 respectively to Thompson during the 2000 election cycle. That time Thompson kept it all.)

There was apparently a flurry of reports about Azima's past and around the time Thompson gave back some of Azima's contributions because the Clinton/Gore campaign committee did so as well. Clinton/Gore returned $143,000 the campaign had accepted from Azima and his airline companies.

In response to a question at the White House Daily Press Briefing, Clinton-Gore Campaign Counsel Lyn Utrecht explained the money was being returned because Azima was deemed to be “an inappropriate contributor.” (Link...)

You may recall that, at the time, Clinton was using White House access as a reward for contributions to the DNC. Clinton insider, Harold Ickes had even prepared a list of Presidential privileges that could be marketed as rewards to large contributors. including selling rides on Air Force One.
“White House officials have acknowledged that they used events there to encourage and reward donors, but say no solicitation of money ever occurred at the executive mansion. It is illegal to solicit donations on federal property. The White House earlier this week released several hundred pages of documents from Ickes' files, including records showing Clinton liked proposals to use White House sleep-overs and coffees to reward big-ticket donors.” (link...)
Even though the DNC and the Clinton/Gore campaign had scrambled in 1997 to disgorge Azima's contributions because he was deemed “appropriate,”a year later they were apparently ready to let bygones be bygones – though they didn't appear to be particular eager to brag about it:
Azima Donates $10,000 to the Clinton Legal Defense Fund

....Donors were required to fill in a form certifying that they met the criteria and listing their name, address, occupation, and employer. Trustees said careful efforts were taken to vet large donations. Yet, no occupations or employers were listed for several of the $10,000 donors, including some regular - and easily identified — major political donors....For example, the occupation and employer of $10,000 donor Farhad Azima of Kansas City ... were left blank. Azima, who heads Aviation Leasing Group Inc. attended three White House coffees before the 1996 election and let Democratic National Committee party officials use his private jet on several occasions. In fact, 12 of the 39 $10,000 donors (to the Clinton legal defense fund) in the last half of 1998 attended White House coffees during the 1996 campaign. (link...)
Azima was no longer “inappropriate,” at least as far as the Clinton's were concerned. Two years later he was hosting a fund raiser for the former First Lady and would-be US Senator at his Kansas City home, at which President Bill Clinton himself made an appearance.
President Clinton will attend fund-raiser in Kansas City for first lady

Kansas City Star — October 9, 2000 — President Clinton will visit Kansas City on Friday to raise money for his wife's campaign for the U.S. Senate from New York. The president will attend a 3:30 p.m. tea at the Ward Parkway home of Farhad Azima, an aviation executive. The suggested donation to the first lady's campaign: $1,000 a person.

Azima said he expected that about 100 persons would attend, meaning that the event would raise at least $100,000 for Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign. The first lady is in a tight race against Rep. Rick Lazio, a New York Republican.

"I've been in his house many times, so he can come to my house," said Azima, who has visited the president at the White House.

The DNC had also decided it was no longer inappropriate to accept money from Farhad Azima, because beginning in 2000, FEC records show, Azima donated $25,000 to the DNC — and this time they kept the dough. (link...)
A Global Initiative and a Presidential Library

I know it's been a while, so let me remind the reader what sparked this article; that email from an old friend informing me that he'd run in Azima at a fund raiser for Bill Clinton's Global Initiative. What was he doing there? A simple check of the CGI website is all it took to find the answer. There he was, Farhad Azima, listed as of September 9, 2007 as a member in good standing in Bill's CGI. (link...)

Why? Well, a guy owns or controls over 50 cargo jets based around the world, and had reputation for making no-questions-asked deliveries to world hotspots, could come in handy – not just to the CGI's charity efforts, but to a future President Hillary Clinton.

Finally, what's the best way to weasle one's way into the heart of any former President? Obvious answer — cough a huge hunk of cash for his Presidential library.

Bill Clinton has steadfastly refused to disclose the names of major donors to his Clinton Library. The reason for the secrecy, he claims, is that the donors were not told their names would be made public and he did not want to embarrass anyone. But enterprising reporters in Arkansas were able to discover who some of those donors were, and — yep — you guessed it. There listed among those who have donated “over $1 million” to the Clinton Presidential Library is Farhad Azima. (link...)

Now he's working on Mrs. Clinton's affections. In 2005 Azima tested the waters donating $1000 to “Friends of Hillary Clinton.” (link...)

Maybe Bill and Hillary should task one of their dozens of opposition research mavens to take the time to check up on what Farhad may be up to when not attending their fund raisers. Allegations of gun running, legal and otherwise, by Azima's many airlines, abound on the web. Chatter among commercial pilots on websites they maintain to share industry information also abound with references to Azima's swashbuckling airlines.

In November 2006, veteran intelligence reporter and author, Wayne Madsen, reported on his site, Wayne Madsen Reports, the following:
November 21, 2006 — On Nov. 17/18/19, 2006, WMR reported on the presence of an aircraft linked to Viktor Bout's international weapons smuggling network at Mogadishu airport. WMR reported that the "Boeing-707, registered in Ghana with registry number 9G-GAL, marked with “SACHA” on the fuselage, used the call sign 9QCTA. The plane landed in Mogadishu at 0700 GMT on November 13, 2006. The plane reportedly made previous stops with arms and ammunition at Mogadishu."

WMR has recently learned the aircraft, which is actually registered "9G-OAL," is owned by Johnson's Air of Ghana. Johnson's Air appears to have been founded around 1995 by Kansas City-based Farhad Azima (and may now be operated by Farzin (also spelled Farsin) Azima, Farhad's brother). Azima is well known for his connections to highly placed (and "well-oiled") American friends in Houston and Washington, DC and first became known for his role in the Iran Contra scandal of the 1980's.

Johnson's Air bases a number of its aircraft at Sharjah International Airport, the same location where Viktor Bout's various airline companies base their operations. On Nov. 22, 2005, a Johnson's Air DC-8 (9G-PEL) at Sharjah was spotted with its cockpit windows blown out and covered with cardboard. Buckets were noticed under the engines collecting leaking engine oil. Both are signs that the plane was fired upon in a war zone. Other Johnson's Air planes have been spotted in Maastricht, Netherlands; Ostend, Belgium; Dubai, UAE; Accra, Ghana; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Budapest Ferihegy; Recife, Brazil; and Nottingham-East Midlands, England.

(See also NYTimes re: Bout & Ostead airbase.)
Maybe some of all that is just so much conspiracy theory nonsense. But there sure is a lot of it. And it comes from so many sources and directions that one has wonder. Web sites dedicated to professional commercial pilots are full of chatter about Azima and his mysterious airlines. (link...)

In my quarter centure of experience chasing these kinds of stories, where there's that much smoke there's almost always hell of story lurking.

If any of the tales about Farhad Azima's business dealings are true, there's only one explanation for how he's not only gotten away with so much, but continues to prosper and hobnob with some of America's most prominent and powerful iniduals — Azima really does have a get-out-jail-free card.

Which finally brings us to tiny Azerbaijan . Azerbaijan may not be on the minds of many ordinary folks or the media these days, it has not escaped the attention of some of America's premier movers and shakers. The reason is simple — Azerbaijan is rich in just the kind of strategic resources most needed by the US right now including oil, natural gas, gold, silver, iron, copper, titanium, chromium, manganese, cobalt and molybdenum.

With all those goodies up for grabs someone in Washington decided that what little Azerbaijan needed most right now was a Chamber of Commerce. Of course, not their own chamber of commerce but a US/Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce. From the USACC website:
ABOUT US

The United States - Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce (USACC) is an independent, nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C., whose purpose is to facilitate business and cooperation between the United States and Azerbaijan. Established in 1995, the Chamber has grown to become a major Azerbaijan-focused organization in the United States.

Among the US luminaries making up the Azerbaijan/US Chamber's “Honorary Counsel of advisers,”
  • James Baker III
  • Henry Kissenger
  • Brent Scowcroft
  • John Sununu Sr.
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski
Listed as “Former Members of the Honorary Counsel of Advisers,”
Dick Cheney
Richard Armatige
And who do we find right up there at the top of the list of members of the board of directors? Yes. Farhad Azima. Also listed is GOP presidential hopeful, Sen. Sam Brownback. And there too is one of the chief Neo-Con Iraq War architects, Richard Perle.

Some company for a guy suddenly cozying up to Bill and Hillary Clinton, wouldn't you say? Could Farhad Azima be positioning himself to be the Ahmed Chalabi of a new Clinton administration? Or is that giving the guy more credit than he deserves? I sure don't know. But Hillary did vote to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guards "terrorists," as the White House wanted. And she did so despite the political damage she still suffers for her vote four years ago that gave Bush the authority to go to war against Iraq. Interesting. Just a coincidence. Another one.

What's it all mean? That's the question working reporters should be asking, not a retired one.

So, why aren't they? Inquiring minds want to know; would a "President Hillary Clinton" be the agent of change the nation seems to be yearning for? Or would she just be more of the same in skirt?

Iranian expatriate, Farhad Azima, at least, seems to be betting it's the latter.
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