Houbeika and Kanso; smugling and counterfeiting.
Geagea’s long arm finally reached Zahleh. Infiltrators kept us on the alert around the clock, harrying us with time bombs and explosive devices. Hobeika remained in Damascus. Rarely and only for important meetings with Khalil Hraoui, Elie Ferzli, and Monsignor Haddad would he dare show up in Zahleh. I would then go with him back to Damascus, in Elie el Murr’s armored Mercedes, which Zouheir drove. His mistress at this point, Marlene Bejjani, was staying, at the Meridien Hotel, at his own expense. His love affair with her was costing him a great deal of time and money.
Our headquarters at the former “Fuad Abou Nader’s stone-built Base” was the target of an explosive charge. I was in Paris with Hobeika at the time. Fady Saroufim was wounded. There were also some slight casualties. The building collapsed as a result of the explosion. Elie’s father sold the stones, steam generators and boilers to the Bekaa inhabitants with the help of his chauffeur, Naim Saikali. The money he made was put into his own pocket, without even tips to the boys who watched the operation. The new headquarters was moved to a safer spot on the Zahleh hilltop.
Hobeika was piling up a fortune, presiding over his Mini Republic where everything was under control with Syrian backing and Hariri’s money. Geagea was Master of the shrinking Christian “empire”. To consolidate his authority and power, he itched to give a blow to Amin Gemayel, but he still needed him.
A swindler and a spendthrift, Hobeika lusted for more money. For some reason Hariri had decided to turn off the tap. Hobeika and his lieutenants resorted to other sources of revenue and new means to obtain it. That was when drugs, counterfeit and kidnapping for ransom started on a very large scale.
To begin with, Paul Ariss and Assad Shaftari purchased a printing plant from a Baalbek Member of Parliament, Yehia Shamass. Yehia Shamass was arrested for drug smuggling in 1997. Two experts were entrusted with the job of printing counterfeit United States dollars and Saudi Rials, Adel el Asmar and Michel el Fanni. I needed money desperately, the boys were in straits. We felt we were being had. I first asked Paul Ariss to pay us. He turned me down. In anger, I drove to Damascus to present the problem to Hobeika who pretended he did not know anything about it.
Towards the end of our stay in Zahleh, we had made contacts with Ayn Remaneh. That same night, I called up the middle man from Ayn Remaneh, took some boys with tractors and trucks, emptied the printing plant and drove down to Ayn Remaneh where the presses were later sold for $15,000 United States dollars which we shared.
Assad Shaftari was raving mad, but could not get near me. I had him by the neck. None of us obeyed nor respected him. To us he was a thief, but a cowardly one. With the counterfeit business dead, they resorted to drugs.
Paul Ariss and René Moawad had a common friend, Assem Kanso who had at his Rafss Baalbek ranch, a laboratory to produce heroin. Kanso was known for his “big operations”. Later Kanso’s wife, Boshra Osseirane, would become Hobeika’s mistress. He had dropped Marlene, and began to show up in West Beirut to meet her. Kanso could care less. He had his dirty business to deal with.
It was during this time that Rudy Edward Barudy came into the picture. Through his uncle “Chico”, who had strong links with foreign laboratories, they obtained huge quantities, about eight to nine hundred thousand pills, of “Captagon” which they smuggled to Saudi Arabia and from which they made a fortune. The real trouble began when they had to split the cuts between Rudy Baroudy, René Moawad, Paul Ariss, Assem Kanso and top flight Syrian Intelligence officers, knowing that the "Governor-General of Zahleh" was Ghazi Kanaan.
At this time, Elie Hobeika had so much on his conscience that he distrusted all of his lieutenants. His objective was to get rid of them. On the other hand, his closest officers were getting nervous, they realized they were being used for no “noble cause” except Hobeika’s forces.