March 18th, 2003. Just hours before former President George W. Bush dropped the first bombs over Baghdad; shamed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein called a meeting among some of his closest confidants, including his own son – Qusay Hussein. Hussein had word that the US military was en route to Iraq with a direct order for his capture. Knowing that any accounts or assets Hussein had would be immediately seized, he ordered his son and Abid al-Haimd Mahmood, his personal assistant, to clean out the Iraqi Central Bank.
Following his father’s orders, Qusay and Mahmood; along with a handwritten note from his father, and several trucks, pulled up to the Iraqi Central Bank in the middle of the night. For nearly two hours, Hussein’s people worked on packing the money into metal briefcases and loading the trucks with cash. Bank officials did later confirm anonymously to US news outlets that it was Hussein that ordered the heist, but they refused to speak further of the incident for fear of retaliation by Hussein’s regime.
“When you get an order from Saddam Hussein, you do not discuss it,” – Anonymous Iraqi Official
Making away with nearly a quarter of the bank’s foreign currency reserves, $1billion total – $900million in US bills, along with another $100 in Euros, Hussein’s regime officially pulled off the largest bank heist of all time. What Hussein intended to do with, what former President Bush called, the “ill gotten funds” is uncertain. Most believe that some of the funds were transferred to Syria, perhaps to other family. There is also a general consensus that Hussein’s intention was to use a majority of the stolen loot to fund insurgents against the invading US troops.
With Hussein hiding or on the run, US forces invade Iraq and successfully overthrow the Hussein’s regime. In April of 2003, when a group of US soldiers stormed one of Saddam’s lavish palaces and went in search of a chainsaw, they made an astonishing discovery. The sergeant noticed a hole in a false wall within a smaller building on the premises. On the other side of the wall were metal containers. Upon opening these containers, military officials report finding $4million in neatly stacked US $100 bills. After scouring the area, 164 of these metal containers were uncovered. Tags on the containers indicated that the money originated from the Bank of Jordan, but it is believed by some that the money within the containers was possibly from the Iraqi Central Bank heist.
Great efforts were made to track down any and all assets Hussein had in banks throughout the Middle East, and even in countries as far as Japan. Officials believe that most of what Hussein had, except for cash that is thought to have been used in order to pay insurgents to fight on Hussein’s behalf, was recovered. Remarkably, although Hussein was responsible for the world’s largest bank heist, as the totalitarian leader of Iraq he could not technically be held accountable for his crime. Unfortunately for him, he was ruthlessly hunted down through efforts of the US military. Found penniless, dirty, and hiding in a hole in the ground in June of 2004, Hussein was held and interrogated for nearly two years. After being tried and found guilty of crimes against humanity, Hussein was hung on December 30th of 2006.