The Man Who Armed Iraq

Chinn's theory remains mere speculation, and Soghanalian's information about Israel's role has not been confirmed. All Chinn knows with certainty is that he couldn't get the Phantom in the air, he didn't get to fly a Soviet MIG, and when he returned to Miami, he discovered that a number of people were interested in talking to him about his trip.

Before he left for Baghdad, Chinn called a former military colleague who was then working for a defense contractor in California. Chinn says his friend, in an effort to determine the legality of such a trip, checked with specialists at his company and also contacted a California office of the FBI for advice. The reply: When Chinn returned, he should call the Miami office of the FBI. Chinn interpreted the response to mean that, as far as federal law enforcement officials were concerned, his journey was perfectly fine. When he returned, he did as he'd been advised - he called the FBI here. He met with agents and went over the details of his trip.

Chinn also informed Air Force officials that he'd just returned from Baghdad. Officers from the Air Force's intelligence and investigations divisions were dispatched by the Pentagon to debrief him in great detail, though they have since claimed they had no advance knowledge of his trip.

Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami also were interested in talking with Chinn, but not immediately. More than two years after his visit to Baghdad, he was called before a federal grand jury, where he testified that the Air Force intelligence officer to whom he'd spoken before his trip had said there was no problem with his traveling to Iraq. He also testified about the conversation with his friend in California. The two people Chinn named, sources say, also testified before the grand jury, but they denied that Chinn told them of his plans ahead of time. Whatever the case, in exchange for his testimony, Chinn was granted immunity from prosecution, and he will be a star witness for the federal government if and when Sarkis Soghanalian's criminal case ever comes before a jury. The Justice Department is thus implicitly endorsing Chinn's credibility, which could prove problematic for prosecutors. After all, Chinn claims that he witnessed Soghanalian discuss plans for the Baghdad trip with a top official of the State Department. Further, Chinn has made no secret of the fact that he greatly admires Soghanalian and would never knowingly do anything to injure him.

That sort of loyalty might be expected of a military man like Michael Chinn, but it's more difficult to explain when it comes from an important defense contractor that needs to stay in the government's good graces. Still, Hughes Aircraft executives continued to express faith and trust in Soghanalian, even after they had blown the whistle to federal authorities in 1983 about his alleged plans to violate the arms embargo against Iraq by arranging to ship military helicopters to Saddam Hussein. In l985 Hughes did not hesitate to use Soghanalian again, as a broker for the sale of 26 helicopters to Saddam.

Such a transaction required State Department approval, so Soghanalian turned again to Global Research International, the firm headed by Col. Jack Brennan and former Attorney General John Mitchell. After Iraq pledged that the helicopters would be used only for civilian purposes (despite the fact that the Hughes model in question, the 500MD, is easily converted to military use), the State Department granted approval of the sale.

Global, of course, was to be compensated for its involvement in the sale, but never was. On August 2, l985, John Mitchell wrote Soghanalian complaining that Global hadn't been paid: "Congratulations on your arranging deliveries of the...Hughes helicopters so soon after U.S. government approval for the transfer. We are pleased to learn that both the helicopters and spare parts are being delivered upon a fixed and orderly schedule.

"We are advised the...contract covers 26 helicopters at total contract price of Twenty Seven Million Four Hundred Thousand Dollars ($27,400,000) and that payments are being made...upon inspection and approval after delivery in Iraq." Mitchell went on to say that he understood Soghanalian had already received a hefty commission from the sale, and added, "Now that Pan Aviation is receiving its money..., we would appreciated your remitting to us...Global's share."

Mitchell died in December l988, never having collected his fee from Soghanalian. Records in the District of Columbia probate court show that at the time of his death Mitchell had only $157,000 in assets while leaving $141,000 in debts. Still, his heirs sued each other to determine who would oversee his estate. Why engage in legal wrangling for control of such a paltry sum? Because the estate is currently suing Soghanalian for several million dollars in commissions it is alleged to be owed from a business venture to sell military uniforms to Saddam Hussein.

The cast of characters involved in the sale includes not only Soghanalian, Brennan, and Mitchell, but also former Vice President Spiro Agnew and the late Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The sale price was equally impressive: $181 million.

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