The American Embassy in Vienna says funds in Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's bank accounts in Austria could be used to help pay for the reconstruction of post-war Iraq.
U.S. officials say they asked the Austrian Finance Ministry last month to identify and freeze assets of Saddam Hussein's regime that are held in Viennese bank accounts. The sum is estimated at around $46 million.
The U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control is known to have a record of names of firms, banks and individuals linked to the Iraqi dictator worldwide.
The Iraqi leader's funds in Europe are allegedly administered by his half-brother, who reportedly travels between Switzerland and Austria investing money from oil revenue in stocks and companies. The Austrian Finance Ministry says it has frozen Iraqi assets in accordance with a U.N. resolution passed in 1991. Any confiscation of funds would require a change of government in Baghdad. Such confiscation would be handled by the Austrian Finance Ministry, with the money being placed in a fund that could be used for reconstruction under a new government in Baghdad. Lee Brudvig, counselor for economic and political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, says vested property could be used to benefit the Iraqi people after the war.
"There are a lot of possibilities," said Mr. Brudvig. "These are funds to be used by the new authorities in Iraq. They could be used for government payrolls. They could be used for resources of the central bank. They could be used for reconstruction and humanitarian relief. I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that the funds are to be used for the Iraqi people."
Mr. Brudvig says the Austrian authorities are providing full support in tracking the funds.
The Iraqi embassy in Vienna is Baghdad's largest in Europe. Last month, at the request of the United States, three diplomats were expelled on suspicion of spying.