Ransom abduction in series: Simonides, Chalouhi, Edmond Assaf, Abou Diwan and Tbaili.
After the successful “Tamraz Affair”, Hobeika asked me to put together a list of people who could be abducted as a lucrative source of revenue. I had been up to my neck in trouble in the United States because of him. I had been arrested and tried for terrorism in the United States. For the first and last time in his life Hobeika had paid $10,000 United States dollars to an American lawyer to have me released. Instead, I was expelled from the United States within 24 hours of my arrest, my name put down on the American black list.
When I returned home, I was stuck with him; I was his vassal. I had to come around to his way of thinking. It was obey him or he would hang me by my thumbs. He now wanted Mario Simonidis, a former mate and close friend, who sided with Hobeika ever since the creation of “Al Amn” the Security Organism of the Lebanese Forces.
Mario had gone into business with Emile Moawad, his father. As such, we often called on him at his Zghorta Residence. Hobeika was boiling with rage. Hobeika’s wife, Gina, paid regular visits to her sister, Marie-Jeanne, who was René's wife. She was always escorted by four bodyguards, Bouba, Karim, E.T and El Hajj. I worked out a plan to kidnap Simonides, and the four boys were entrusted with the execution.
On D-Day, they carried out my orders to the letter, held up Simonides unaware of the attack and stashed him in the car trunk, according to the “rules”. They brought him over to Zahleh where he was kept in confinement, in an apartment under heavy guard and sustained torture. He was finally released once he paid a $150,000 United States dollars ransom. Assad Shaftari had his share of the booty but only after pressing Hobeika for his cut, in writing.
Charles Chalouhi, another wealthy man who fled from East Beirut to West Beirut, was Hobeika’s regular scapegoat. Among one of his assets was a huge moll in Sin El Fil “Myrna Chalouhi Centre”. Since 1983, Chalouhi, Hobeika and René Moawad’s were associates in an important trading company. Hobeika asked me to sink one of the cargoes loaded with their own merchandise in order to collect the insurance premium. The cargo was anchored off the port of Junieh. On a moonless night, I, and a couple of my boys, carried the explosives aboard a dinghy and managed to go aboard the vessel. In collusion with the Captain, we stashed the explosives in the engine, then girdled the cargo and blew her up. The insurance company, Abraham Matossian and Co., paid off one million United States dollars without delay. They never honored the promise to pay me $50,000 dollars for the job.
In 1990, during the war between Aoun and Geagea, Charles Chalouhi had settled in West Beirut, at the Summerland Marina Hotel Compound. Hobeika decided to kidnap Chalouhi again. I went over and told Chalouhi that Hobeika wanted to see him on an urgent business matter. At first he thought the meeting was at Hobeika’s West Beirut residence in Ramlat el Bayda. The kidnapping procedure had actually been polished and run through with Roger Tamraz kidnapping. As Tamraz had done, Chalouhi came along trustfully. However, the minute he realized we were going to Zahleh, the man collapsed! He wept and begged for his life. I would not listen. I did not react. I had strict orders to confine him in “my house”, the notorious den of crime and iniquity.
At my house, we stripped him of all his clothes, dumped him in the bathroom and applied the usual torture techniques. He was allowed to contact his brothers to provide him with the ransom. The demand was for $200,000 United States dollars in small bills.
Hobeika laid hands on the whole amount considering it the payment for his apartment in Adma. Once the ransom was delivered, I innocently thought it was all over and I let Chalouhi go. When Hobeika learned what I had done, he went into a blazing fury. “How dare you take the initiative, you bastard, son of a bitch.” He called me names and threatened to bump me off.
That is when I learned, as I was standing at the door, that Chalouhi should have been tortured until we squeezed René Moawad’s cut. There was no choice. Chalouhi had to be held up again. He had kept him on his list of suckers even after he was appointed Cabinet Minister.
In 1992, René Moawad tipped off Hobeika that Chalouhi had embezzled funds from their joint company, and it was time to teach him a lesson. I got orders to kidnap him again, torture him, and pester him for money, and even shoot him down if necessary. Chalouhi who had high-level connections heard about the conspiracy. He reported it to Amn el Dawla, a state organism set up by the Second Republic. The Amn el Dawla had Syrian guidelines, as in every police state, which was to spy on citizens and terrorize them. He pin pointed that I, Cobra, was plotting to kill him. The business was getting too big for me and again Hobeika turned me down and sent me packing.
Hobeika was Minister and had to preserve his saintly image, as long as he had his henchmen. With my poor education, I was at his beck and call totally subdued, ruled by him, and thought it was an honor to do my boss favors. I conceived other means of pressure on Chalouhi and carried out my plan, after Elie Hobeika’s okay. I blew up his supermarket in the Italy Mall at Myrna Chalouhi Center. He decided to pay, but this time in stocks and bonds and real estate. He officially gave away, to Hobeika and Moawad, his rights to one of his companies on the third floor of the Myrna Chalouhi Building in Sin El Fil, a building, as I recall, was already mortgaged, by a number of banks. He gave Moawad the entire 15th story. The whole deal was worth $750,000 United States dollars, but that was not all as far as Chalouhi was concerned.
In 1996, Minister Elie Hobeika, in collusion with Moawad, decided to kill Chalouhi, to lay their hands on the rest of the mall and get away with it. I had to deal with this dirty affair. We went to his hometown residence in North Lebanon and fired three shots at him. He was badly wounded. Similar to the Parliament elections of 1996, the Lebanese authorities hushed the event which was pinned on the untouchable Franjieh.
Hobeika, the mastermind, had earlier been relentlessly brewing up criminal deals and torts. We were growing stronger with General Michel Aoun’s control over part of the Christian Eastern Regions. We had passes from the “General” and it was a cinch we could commit a wide range of felonies and misdemeanors against the Christians without punishment. He believed he would not be blamed because of the prevailing chaos.
In this context, whatever he could not work out and carry through, the Syrians, via Assaad Herdane did. He wanted to get Rafik Abou Saleh, a rich leading citizen from the Kessrouan. He was to be pinned from his residence in Adma. The boys entrusted with the operation were dressed in Lebanese army uniforms, with a bogus army officer driving the jeep. His connections, notified him of the plan a couple of hours before we arrived and managed to take off to Cyprus safely.
As the newly appointed Minister, Hobeika asked me to hold up Edmond Assaf who, he claimed owed René Moawad a lot of money. I baited and harried him so much that he cracked down and wailed, “Please stop throwing me in the mud, I‘ll pay him.”
Once, they picked on the Armenian community. René Moawad pestered Hobeika to kidnap Le Baron, a leading citizen from the Armenian fiefdom of Borj Hammoud, who owned a number of shops in Kaslik, in association with Mike Nassar. I kidnapped him.
When Hobeika was staying in West Beirut, on the seventh floor of the Al Sarabi Building, above the Syrian Intelligence officer Rustom el Ghazali, he thought he had the world in his arms. Whenever he decided to pick and pinch someone, he would send me, his tough right arm to carry out the orders. I simply cannot forget how we swooped down on Roger Karam, a nice chap, who had been close to him when he was an officer in the Lebanese Forces Police and Hobeika, Chief of Intelligence.
We nabbed him at his Raboueh, Naccashe, residence in the North Matn. He offered resistance, so we knocked him out and drove him over to headquarters. This was the true “den of vice and terror” in Zahleh. He was manhandled and shot at. His leg bled heavily and he passed out. Seized by fear, we called in a doctor who said his condition was extremely serious and had to be rushed to hospital or die. When we reported this information to Hobeika, Hobeika, for the first time in his life, fear took over his greed. Hobeika had dreamed of extorting at least one million United States dollars from him.
He summoned us to lay off and leave him. We dropped him in the street. Some good souls must have picked him up in the nick of time. He came through the physical injuries and lives in Ashrafieh today.
Frustrated, Hobeika instructed me to scheme the kidnapping of Ibrahim Abou Diwan. Diwan owned a large gas station in Sin el Fil, opposite Najjar Cafe and was a notorious gun dealer. Semaan Hobeika a relative, and an officer of the Surete Generale, the Lebanese Scotland Yard, was assigned to watch him. I had a pass from General Aoun to move freely within the Eastern areas under his control. However, the operation was foiled, because double agents swarm within the Christians ranks, and our man Semaan double crossed us and gave us away to Abou Diwan. Aoun‘s military police and army intelligence were furious because they had given us passes to help the Christians, not to kidnap for ransom. Shortly afterwards, they ambushed us and 15 of my men were almost killed. Later, they set an ambush for me, but I was notified and disappeared for a while. That however, did not mean Abou Diwan’s kidnapping was dropped. The Syrians had an eye on him.
On Palm Sunday, following our foiled attempt while he was in the middle of the Church in Mar Takla Hazmieh with his children, he was abducted and taken to a jail in Damascus where he was held for over a year. He finally paid.
The next victim was the Head of the Jewish Community in Lebanon, Albert Tbaily. Here too, the Syrians tripped Hobeika and nabbed him before he could carry out his own action. The victim was kidnapped by Assaad Hardane, and dragged to Dhour Choueir under SNSP control. He was then handed over to the Syrians who broke his bones, and left him half dead after swindling him out of about a million United States dollars. They pinned it on me, Hobeika’s official kidnapper who could not deny it, for fear of his master.
Here were Elie Hobeika’s “high principles”. He used his henchmen to do the dirty jobs for him without anything in return. What was more, we became the criminals, they the Saints, we the misfits, they the power-holders, we the vagrants, and they the established big shots.