Behind the Curtain -- Christopher Byron

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Babak, Dec 18, 2002.

  1. Babak


    December 16, 2002 -- THE other day, a curious press release crossed my desk. It announced that an obscure Vancouver penny stock company named Imagis Technologies, Inc., had agreed to acquire another, and even more obscure, Canadian outfit named Briyante Software Corp. in a $4.3 million stock-swap deal.
    Normally, such a small transaction would not be worth a second thought. But this is different.

    Behind the curtain in this deal lurk murky and disturbing links to the worlds of espionage, terrorism, and Middle Eastern money - and some of those connections are suddenly coming into view.

    The merger involves two companies that claim to be in the "Homeland Security" business, which is a matter of great importance to all Americans. One of the two companies in the deal - Imagis - has a software program for picking terrorists out of crowds at airports. The other company (Briyante) says it has developed a system of data-sharing for the "justice and public safety markets."

    According to the release, merging the companies will create the only company with a product able to facilitate data sharing throughout America's justice and intelligence-gathering infrastructure.

    ONE of the two companies in the deal - Imagis - filed suit against me, in Canada, several months ago concerning a story I wrote in Red Herring magazine back in September. The story argued that an Imagis board member named Treyton L. Thomas had a questionable past that was fully in view on the public record, and that the company, which is headed by a former top counter-terrorism official at the FBI named Oliver ("Buck") Revell, should have checked him out more carefully before giving him a seat on its board.

    Subsequently, phone records identifying my sources for the story were stolen from an AT & T call center in Irving, Tex., which AT & T officials have now confirmed.

    Imagis has denied involvement in the theft, and AT & T has turned the case over to the FBI.

    The Imagis deal with Briyante, which brings to light a web of financial relationships involving Canadian penny stocks and Middle Eastern money men, is the latest in a series of recent disclosures regarding Islamic world investments in the equity markets of North America.

    Last week, the Boston Globe newspaper reported that a Saudi money man named Yasin al-Kadi, who has already been named by the Bush Administration as a financial backer of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, was a major and founding investor, in 1995, in a Massachusetts company named Ptech, Inc.

    Ptech sells computer programs to federal agencies, including the White House and the F.B.I.

    THE Globe reported that the investment had been funneled through an identity-hiding Isle of Man shell company named Sarmany Ltd., where al-Kadi served as a director.

    Now, the Imagis-Briyante deal - first examined last week by - reveals a separate trail of dollars to the Middle East. The trail leads from Vancouver to Saudi Arabia, where it ends at the feet of the Desert Kingdom's pro-Palestinian chief of intelligence, Saudi Prince Nawaf bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud.

    The merger itself is typical of the sorts of penny stock arrangements that pass muster with Canadian regulators. Technically, Imagis and Briyante are separate and independent. In practical terms, they're both part of a network of more than two dozen similar companies - each with large and often controlling blocks of shares held by the same relative handful of promoters.

    The new element of Islamic world financing emerges by way of a Vancouver money man named Altaf Nazerali, who turns up frequently as an investor in Canadian penny stocks and who holds investments in both Briyante and Imagis through a Geneva-based company named Valor Invest Ltd.

    Valor Invest, in turn, is linked to the world of Islamic money via a Swiss financier named Pierre Besuchet, who currently serves as a director on its board, as well as on the board of a private bank known as Faisal Finance (Switzerland) S.A., which is also based in Geneva.

    Faisal Finance, with a reported $542 million of funds under management as of Dec. 31, 2001 (latest numbers available), is one of numerous such entities in Europe and the Islamic world. They form a Geneva-based banking network known as the Dar Al-Maal Al-Islamic group, and Besuchet is a director of that entity also.

    The Dar Al-Maal Al-Islamic group's assets are reported to include a 19 percent stake in a Sudanese bank - Faisal Islamic Bank - that in turn is widely reported to be a shareholder in yet another Geneva bank: the Al Shamal Islamic Bank. A 1996 report by the U.S. State Department says the Al Shamal Bank was co-founded by super-terrorist Osama bin Laden.

    There is no evidence that Besuchet either knew of or approved the al-Shamal transaction. By press time, he had failed to respond to an interview request placed with his secretary in Geneva, who said his office was checking with "the Nazerali brothers" for guidance.

    A call for comment from Imagis and Nazerali was also not returned.

    NAZERALI is likewise identified in Canadian securities filings as a director of Valor Invest Ltd., and is also listed - along with Besuchet - as both a shareholder and director of a Canadian penny stock predecessor to Briyante known as Even Resources.

    In the summer of 1993, Even Resources - which at the time had balance sheet cash of roughly $85,000 - began talking up plans for a big mineral development project in Saudi Arabia. And in October of 1994, Nazerali told reporters a deal had been reached in which Even Resources would take a 40 percent stake in a $240 million to $280 million project to develop a Saudi Arabian copper mine.

    According to a company press release, the 60 percent partner in the project was to be a Saudi industrial development company known as Alujain Corp. According to published reports, Alujain's shareholders include the Dallah al-Baraka Group, and the family-run "Bin Laden Group."

    Although Osama bin Laden himself is said to have been estranged from his family for years, Alujain's chairman, Prince Nawaf bin Abdul al-Aziz al-Saud, is a pro-Palestinian conservative member of the ruling family who took over as head of Saudi Intelligence on the eve of the 9/11 attacks.

    IT was not possible by press time to confirm whether Nawaf held the Alujain post from the time of the company's founding in 1991, but three separate sources with extensive business contacts in Saudi Arabia say it is highly likely.

    In any case, the excitement generated by the Alujain deal caused Even Resources' stock price to double, to roughly $1.20 (Canadian) per share. But neither the excitement nor the stock price lasted for long, and when the deal failed to materialize, the stock eventually drifted back to barely 20 cents per share.

    Thereafter, Even Resources changed its name to Plata Minerals, then merged with a private Canadian company called Benchmark Technologies and renamed itself Briyante Software Corp.

    Now Briyante is merging with Imagis.

    This is how the penny stock game is played in Canada, and it seems to be entirely legal, according to Canadian law. But it can hardly make Americans comfortable to know that their neighbor to the north may be holding open a door through which money is flowing into the U.S. from an area of the world that is seething with America's enemies.