CHICAGO | Antoin "Tony" Rezko, the indicted fundraiser who raised millions of dollars for Illinois politicians, was accused by federal prosecutors in a private meeting of paying a $1.5 million bribe to land a $50 million Iraqi government contract, according to a new court filing.
The Iraqi electricity ministry awarded the $50 million contract in 2005 to a startup company owned in part by Rezko called Companion Security, the Chicago Sun-Times reported last summer. The contract, which called for security guards at Iraqi power stations to be trained in the United States, has been dormant following changes in the Iraqi government.
Federal prosecutors accused Rezko of paying the $1.5 million bribe in exchange for the contract, Rezko's attorneys said in a little-noticed court filing last week. They say the allegation was raised during a closed-door meeting with the judge.
The attorneys said the allegation was based solely on the word of former Rezko partner Dan Mahru -- and it was wrong.
"Had the government investigated Mahru's claim before regurgitating it, the government would have learned that just about every aspect of Mahru's story is demonstrably false," the defense said in a footnote to an evidentiary filing.
The court filing said the bribe was paid from an escrow account held by the Bryan Cave law firm, an international company with a huge roster of clients. The footnote and its surprising contents were first reported Tuesday by the Chicago Tribune.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, Randall Samborn, said he would have no comment on the allegation. A message left for the head of Bryan Cave's Chicago office, Jeffrey Morof, was not returned.
Rezko is charged with scheming to shake down companies hoping to do business with two state government boards, allegedly landing millions of dollars in bogus finder's fees. Jury selection began Monday, and Mahru is expected to testify against Rezko.
According to the filing, the alleged bribe was paid to a "Dr. Alsammarae" -- believed to be former Iraqi electricity minister Aiham Al-Samaraie.
Al-Samaraie, who holds both U.S. and Iraqi citizenship, was convicted of corruption and sentenced to two years in prison. He slipped out of an Iraqi-run jail in Baghdad in 2006 and turned up in Chicago, where he said the Americans helped him escape. A woman who answered the phone Tuesday at a Chicago-area home listed in Al-Samaraie's name said he is overseas and can't be reached for comment.
Rezko, 52, a Syrian-born real estate developer and fast-food tycoon, faces money laundering, attempted extortion, fraud and aiding bribery counts.