Chapter 24:

I kidnap Roger Tamraz by order of Hobeika.


Roger Tamraz knew Elie Hobeika well, but apparently not well enough. Now they had common allies and adversaries and business opportunities.

Hobeika was cunning and lustful, Tamraz was shrewd but trustful. The combination was explosive. That is how and why the “Tamraz Affair” happened.

Abdul Halim Khaddam was the manipulator. Khaddam was cruelty personified, and greed made this man. Syria’s number two man in command had set out from the very beginning of the war, to bleed the Christians. By the time he had Hobeika as an obedient executor, he schemed to kidnap persons for ransom. Tamraz, one of the richest Christian businessman in the area, open to all, was the right bird. Khaddam incited his arm, Hobeika, to work on Tamraz. The executant gloated and performed!

“Elie, I have a weak heart since I was a child,” Khaddam told Hobeika. “I used to faint in Church. Although I have no cash, I have assets and projects through my banks Elie. I have a weak heart since I was a child. I used to faint at Church. I am can longer handle it. I beg of you, give me a second chance in life. I will make it worth your while although I have no cash, I have assets and projects through my banks and we can get cash quite soon. Elie let’s consider the event that took place. [It was] God’s will he put us together in a period where I could help you and you can help me. We are a compliment to each other to achieve our goal. I [am] sincere.

That was the answer to two messages Hobeika had sent him. Hobeika also sent the message fixing and insisting on the amount of the ransom: Twelve million American dollars! Abdul Halim Khaddam provided the means to pressure and terrorize, even rummaging connections Tamraz had with top leaders in the Syrian Army; specifically, two generals, Adnan Ramhamdani and Ayad Mahmoud.

Grandeur and decline, that was Roger Tamraz’s situation nine years ago when, after his flight to West Beirut. He fled to West Beirut to shun growing pressures exerted on him by the Lebanese Forces of Samir Geagea to extort money. Tamraz was kidnapped by the Syrian backed Elie Hobeika’s outlawed dissident Lebanese Forces. It was February, 1989.

Roger Tamraz, a tycoon, businessman and banker had become the object of covetousness in eastern sectors, specially when he set up a Central Bank to serve the financial and monetary needs in the Christian fiefdom. Born, bred and educated in Cairo, Egypt, he had come to Lebanon in the early 1960’s and saved Intra and all the companies affiliated with it from bankruptcy. He was enterprising, upright and generous, specially with the Lebanese Christian leaders who, at one time, tried to bleed him dry and he honored, strongly believing in the Lebanese Christian cause.

Tamraz fled to West Beirut and opened channels with West Beirut leaders and the Syrians. He established strong ties with the Druze PSP leader, Walid Jumblatt, whom he helped with TMA “shares”, the Lebanese Air Freight Co. affiliated to Intra. Jumblatt, in return, coordinated with Tamraz for his personal protection during his stay at the Summerland Hotel. It was then that Tamraz managed to open up with the Syrian command and gain their confidence. The Syrian Defense Minister and Army Commander General Mustapha Tlass had provided him with an official pass to facilitate his moves through Syrian military lines.

In the early 1980’s, Roger Tamraz gained, through circumstance, close links with the Lebanese forces, in particular Hobeika’s Intelligence and Security Bureau. His contact then was Rend Kehdo Moawad, Hobeika’s right hand and brother-in-law. Tamraz, through Moawad had offered Hobeika personally 100 “shares” in the “Casino du Liban” and opened a personnel credit account for him.

Wanting to open up on Hobeika again, whom he considered Syria’s strongest ally of the moment, and a Christian leader, he naturally had recourse to Rend Moawad. Well aware that everything had to be cashed in on, and knowing his greed through and though, he bought a white armored Range Rover and asked him to offer it to Hobeika hoping he would accept it to start business with him.

In fact, Hobeika sensed big money he could extort again from the Lebanese tycoon and accepted to receive Tamraz. To show off his position with Syria’s number two man in command, Abdul Halim Khaddam, he accepted to see him, but in Damascus, not at his West Beirut residence. A date was fixed. Tamraz went to Damascus and stayed at the Sheraton Hotel, from where I was sent to drive him to Hobeika’s house in the Syrian capital’s neighborhood of Mazzd. They met four times at regular intervals and I always drove him back and forth.

About a week after Tamraz return to West Beirut, Hobeika instructed me to set up a plan to kidnap him and submit it for approval. As a most loyal “watchdog” and “underdog” I took leave of him and went to West Beirut where I set out to watch him like his shadow for four days round the clock.

I concluded that force cannot be used. We had to resort to guile. The man had a tight proof protection as he shuttled between the Summerland suite and the Verdun apartment he was currently restoring. Tamraz was always accompanied by his chauffeur and a guard. He used to move around either in a dark blue armored Mercedes, or a Honda Accord.

When I reported the information to Hobeika, he decided to lure him into a false secret appointment. We were to tell him he had an appointment with Bassel Al Assad, Hobeika decided. He telephoned him and told him about it and insisted that his own men would pick him up and conduct him to the Bekaa for safety reasons. Tamraz believed him. The operation was set in motion.

As scheduled, I went to the Summerland Hotel with some of my guys and told him the appointment was fixed at 7:00 p.m.. Tamraz dismissed his chauffeur and his guard in full confidence. Zouheir, one of my men, drove Tamraz’s own Mercedes. I placed three other security guards with him. I drove the escort car with a man called “Bob”.

We arrived at my apartment in Zahleh, Salma Touma’s requisitioned apartment. We offered him a cup of coffee and bluntly told him he was our captive. Only then did he realize he had been trapped. Though it was ice cold up in Zahleh and no fuel available for heating, we ordered him to take off all his clothes and put all his papers and personal stuff in an envelope. Then I locked him up in the bathroom and put two guys on watch at the door, Samir and Bob. As I had to report to Hobeika in Damascus, I instructed Samir and Bob not to let anyone in during my absence.

Hobeika, trusting no one but me, told me to get Assaad Shaftari and Paul Ariss to conduct the inquiry with him and cut and run back to my house where Tamraz was detained. It was clear that Hobeika and Shaftari had agreed on a specific plan of action to swindle Tamraz. By the time Shaftari and Ariss came to see Tamraz, it was well past 10:00 p.m..

Shivering with cold and fear, Tamraz told them that he was currently in conflict with the Governor of the Central Bank, Edmond Naim. But they could care less. All they were after was cash. He would not yield and they would not give up. The questioning extended till 8:00 a.m.. Tamraz was washed out, hungry, and cold. Nevertheless, I took him back to the ice cold bathroom and locked him up again.

Hobeika summoned me to Damascus where the minute I arrived he gave me a hand-written message which Tamraz had to answer and another one which he had to think over. For two days, Shaftari and Ariss conducted their muscled questioning. Tamraz was firmly repeating, “Money is for investment not for storage. I do not have liquid assets. Twelve million US dollars, this is an exorbitant amount I can’t gather”.

Tamraz also proposed to finance important projects that could breed them fortunes and offer job opportunities. Shaftari and Ariss were adamant. Cash money was their objective.

In despair, Elie Hobeika who was pulling the strings, instructed us to increase pressure by torture and starvation. We obliged. He was deprived of food and water, physically tortured him with electric waves and ice cold water. He brushed death twice as I was dealing with him. I was in full admiration for his physical resistance despite his age.

I remember in his unbearable agony, he used to whisper to me, “Cobra, these men don’t know how to deal with anyone. All they care for is their own interests” or, “Cobra, my biggest problem in Edmond Naim. Ask them to help me find a solution with him. Naim doesn’t care a rap about Al Mashrek or other banks in Paris and Switzerland. All he thinks about is my destruction.”

In the end, this tough and determined man, crushed by pain, accepted to pay five million United States dollars in cash. He knew he could no longer count on his Syrian friends, nor on Walid Jumblatt. Hobeika had informed him that no one cared and no one would step in to help him. “If he dies, nobody would blame us.” Hobeika kept repeating to us, “we will spread it around that he was an Israeli agent.”

Fadi Saroufim gave him a bank account number under a false name at the Wedge Bank, Shtaura Branch and a cellular phone to contact his family, friends and business associates. His first call was to his wife in New York. Then he phoned secretary, Noha, in Paris, and his friend Philip Tabet from the TMA.

When the ransom money started coming in, Hobeika and his associates breathed. They gave us instructions to ease the pressure and start feeding Tamraz. It was I, Cobra, who would report to Hobeika, the conversation I had with my captive regarding Edmond Naim. He would not listen. All he wanted to hear was whether the bank transfer had arrived or not.

I have met General Ramhamadani through P. Elie Bitar about three years ago. The object was as Bitar said, to make an investment in Syria for a joint agriculture project 50 percent for the Syrian government and 50 percent for the Mashrek, the capital to be five million. The Mashrek Party was to put up the foreign cash and bring American agricultural know how to Syria, partly to be the local currency required and the land. On my side were a team of three: myself and John Hilken, a United States agricultural expert with whom I had already done a project similar in Egypt; and, Fouad Faral, an accounting expert from INTRA on the Syrian Side.

Bitar never appeared at the official meetings but General Ramhamadani arranged for meetings with the Prime Minister Kasm and with the minister of the economy Al Emadi and with the minister of agriculture. I forgot his name, but it was of Kurdish origin. These series of meetings took place three times during an interval of two months. The meetings ended by signing a protocol agreement, similar to a letter of intent between the two parties. Two points remained unresolved; one which was important and one which also was important but not a condition to break. Al Emadi promised to the two points points agreed upon. One point concerned whether I could use TMA to move the agricultural fresh produce from Syria to Europe while the Syrians were insisting on Syrian Arab airlines.

The money arrived at the bank. Saroufim stashed it in briefcases and handed it to Hobeika for distribution. René Kehdo Moawad cashed $500,000, Paul Ariss and Assad Shaftari, each received $300,000, his brother Charles, Pierre Yazbeck, and his wife, Gina Nashati received $200,000 each. His wife flew to Paris to do her shopping twice. He also kept Zaher and Rabih Al Khatib’s Al Mashrek Television afloat. I know that Ghazi Kanaan and Assaad Hardane collected about a million United States dollars each.

Some 25 days later, the full ransom was paid. Hobeika asked me to drive Tamraz back to his West Beirut residence. On the way, he told me that Hobeika did not care about the boys working for him otherwise he would have accepted his propositions regarding economic and financial projects. He stressed that had he been in Europe, he would not have let Edmond Naim bankrupt his banks in Paris and Switzerland.

A short while later, we heard that Tamraz left Lebanon for good. Hobeika implicated me entirely in the kidnapping of Roger Tamraz. What he did not expect though was that strong ties always bind the victim and the hangman. I, Cobra, gained the confidence and friendship of the international tycoon, and we became friends. Moreover, Roger Tamraz sent me and the three boys, Bob, Samir and Zouheir $50,000 dollars which we never received. Fadi Saroufim kept the money for himself.

In the summer of 1989, Rudy Edward Barudy, now “Minister” and Elie Hobeika’s adviser, returned to Beirut and pressed for his share in the loot. Hobeika gave him Roger Tamraz’s armored Mercedes. He had falsified the papers in Charles Hobeika’s name.

The vehicle was then passed to Joseph Antipa who sold it. Once again, Hobeika’s wife received $50,000 United States dollars. Rudy E. Barudy also seized Tamraz’s Verdun apartment. However, they left it to the legal owner against $50,000 United Statesdollars, key money.

Hobeika sent me over to Miami, Florida in the United States to buy computer programs and materials. Unfortunately, I was arrested, jailed, and judged as a terrorist there. Hobeika paid my lawyer $10,000 dollars and obtained my extradition. Today, I am still on the United States authorities’ blacklist, thanks to Elie Hobeika, who in the eyes of the United States authorities is clean. All his dirty work was done by his underdogs. He took the credit and the money and we took nothing but a bad name, a dark future, poverty and destitution.

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