Chapter 30:

PAX SYRIANA, Houbeika State Minister.

After General Aoun’s dramatic downfall, the Pax Syriana well established, the Lebanese Christians neutralized, deprived and depreciated, Elie Hobeika’s wildest dreams were fulfilled. He became a Lebanese Official established as State Minister in Omar Karameh’s Government. Very soon afterwards, social trouble began triggered by the Syndicates. Karameh was ousted, but Hobeika remained. Just Hobeika’s luck, his “generous benefactor” Rafik Hariri became Prime Minister and he picked Hobeika for the Social Affairs Ministry.

His star was rising. Hobeika had made his way up since his landslide when, kicked out of the “Karantina” head down, he turned into a Mafioso in the Lebanese Bekaa City of Zahleh. Hobeika ran his “world” from Damascus. Now he became a “Capo di Capi”, surrounded by an army of Capedocci, plus a layer of men to keep him out of reach of those who carried out his orders, the Lebanese Authorities, Foreign Nations and the Lebanese people at large.

He moved into big deals, rackets, and fraud. The zombi-killers stood by for orders, no questions asked. Whenever a problem came up, or someone got out of line, Hobeika would tell me to straighten this party out, which I did without turning a hair. I and the “layer of men” had no alternative, it was yield or croak. Hobeika was involved in every dirty business and fraud.

Hobeika was especially involved in insurance fraud and extortion. This became his main business. He had plenty of time because his duties as the Ministry work was almost nil.

I know I have horror stories to tell; real stories that have never been told before, but they have the unmistakable ring of truth, sustained by irrefutable and concrete evidence. I, Cobra, Robert M. Hatem, his troubleshooter and his pawn, have not decided to speak out, just out of pleasure, but out of duty and for justice, justice for everyone’s sake; and, before Hobeika demolishes what is left of the Christians of Lebanon.

I speak out especially now that Hobeika is aiming higher, and wants not only to recover the “Christian Street” as the “Only Christian Leader”, but to get the highest office, the Presidency. The readers may wonder why I have waited so long to react or should I say wake up and open my eyes. The problem lies in the fact that the Lebanese cannot live without a Zaim, a leader.

Hobeika’s followers cannot tear themselves away from him. He dwells in their thoughts and hearts. His desires are sheer orders. We stick by him and follow, falsely believing that we have our tiny little corner in the sun with him and we have it all made. We obey. We admire. We worship.

Our brains become numb and we turn into brainwashed dummies, indeed slaves. When for a second, a flash of rebellion or remorse crosses our minds, it is stopped short by our fear of being on the bread line. So we stick around. Moving around in upper spheres leads us to believe we were a part of it. A sense of importance shreds us and we have the world by the thumbs. I was up there, thinking for a moment that I had become Elie Hobeika himself, having everybody at my beck and call. And he used me, my muscles, my brains, my time, my house. As long as I remained his puppet, he was at ease. The moment, experience, maturity and above all frustration woke me up to reality, he started hating my guts unaware that I had built up useful connections.

Once General Aoun was out of the way, and Samir Geagea cast aside, Hobeika left West Beirut and moved in force into the Christian sector he hoped to recapture. He moved in on a red carpet. Rudy Edward Barudy paid him a year’s rent for a huge de luxe flat in Mar Takla/Hazmieh. It was on the third story right under his Syrian Brigadier Ali’s. Barudy knew what he was doing. He guaranteed all profitable projects he would want in future. Not once did Elie Hobeika fork out a penny for his own housing. All the apartments he resided in were either a present from the Syrians or swindled from his victims.

Problems developed when Hobeika started taking a lot of liberties with Brigadier Ali. One day, in my presence while in the Brigadier’s office as they were chatting, he scoffed at Bassil Al Assad, calling him names. Hobeika was harshly asked to leave and get out of the Syrian officer’s sight. He got the message and once again moved to another flat, in the vicinity of the Officers’ quarter in Mar Takla. This time, the rent was paid by the Ministry fund handled solely by Fady Saad Saroufim.

It was when Hobeika was State Minister in 1991, with Roger Dib representing Geagea in the Cabinet, that he recovered a Hawk Yacht confiscated after the “Intifada”. Geagea had meant to pamper him to mark a score with the Syrian now sole master of Lebanon. He asked me to register it in my brother Ernest’s name. I did not know then that he had schemed his first insurance fraud.

Ernest insured the motor launch with InCom Co. The financial director who signed all the checks was Richard Srour, Hobeika’s corrupt serviceman in all of his future insurance frauds. No sooner was it done than my brother was asked to “cause an accident” to destroy the Hawk. He complied and quickly collected $100,000 United States dollars from the insurance premium. The total sum was given to Gina, his wife for services rendered. The insurance fraud scheme expanded from there. It was money and power he was after.

When he was in West Beirut, Hobeika planned for his grand return to the political arena. He created a political party, Al Wa’ad, meaning the “Promise”. He claimed it was secular and included Moslems and Christians, Leftist and Right Wing members. His hidden adjenda was in fact to do away with the Kataeb Party and acquire all of its assets. He thought he could con, unpunished, which he partly did. He robbed from the Kataeb Party an immense plot in Byblos, money from the Party’s National Fund, and the one million square meter Hamat Airport inaugurated by Bashir Gemayel and the Lebanese Front. He took the Hamat Airport as an escape hatch for the Christians in 1977 and now wants to turn into a tourist center.

The first meeting of Al Wa’ad took place at his residence. He elected himself President, and Assaad Shaftari became Vice President. The members of the polit bureau were at first, Ahmad Matar, Michel Riachi, Nicolas Maacaron, Hassan Kanso, Rida Yaghi, Ahmad Hojeili, George Kfoury, and Hamza Abou Zeid. I went to the Interior Ministry to submit the application for an official permit. Later, there were some new members: Joseph Asmar; Rudy Barudy; Louis Abou Khalil; Kamal Feghali; Fady Khattar; Joseph Abou Nader; George Zeitouni; Paul Ariss; Touma Suidane; Raymond Helou; and, Louis Karam. Fadi Saroufim was kept out of the membership because Hobeika did not think highly of him and only needed him to run his dirty deals.

The king of contradictions and reversals, Hobeika now lives in fear of the Palestinians and the Israelis, and a large part of the American Public Opinion and media journalist who accuse Hobeika of being behind the Assassination of Bashir Gemayel, has adversely effected his presidential campaign. He shrinks back and shuns anybody who rummages into his “past”. How can this past be wiped out when so many individuals and families are still suffering agonies as a consequence of his pernicious actions? He thinks people forget what he did, because he despicably underestimates the Christians! They keep their mouth shut and their opinion dull out of sheer fear.

Blind to the truth, over confident in his lucky star, on a sunny Sunday morning, on February 2, 1997, at the Beirut Hall, nine years after his January 16, 1986, bitter defeat, so called “friends”, or rather profiteers, organized a rally to boost his popularity with the Christians. It did not work. In his public speech, he revived the old tune his forerunners played, and touched upon the sensible subject of the “Lebanese Christian society, its fears and security”. He sounded more like a bird of ill omen. It was an outrage to all because nobody has ever forgotten.

After the Government reshuffled, Elie Hobeika was appointed Minister of Social Affairs. He had more power and greater freedom of action. He was not a socialite, but was turning into a downright lady-killer. Impudently overstepping priorities and seniority, he appointed Neemat Kanaan as Director General of the Ministry. Hobeika was hooked on her beautiful young daughter with whom he was having an affair. Every now and then, just to ring a bell, he would go on pompous visits to Charity Associations and Medical Centers to be applauded for his participation. He was building up his next move, a lucrative portfolio that could yield big money.

He achieved it without effort. The Displaced People portfolio was a new bridge to his “empire”. All he needed, in the offices assigned to the Ministry in Dekuaneh, was a man like Kamal Feghali. He appointed him Ministry Director with all the prerogatives. High-handed extortions were set into motion.

Kamal Feghali, a most despicable character, was banned from Christian Eastern regions as an active member of the Communist Action Party, all through the war. His hands are smeared with the blood of many Christians, militia and innocent people. He is Hobeika’s twister who, after General Aoun’s collapse and our return to the eastern regions, plundered President Amin Gemayel’s daily paper “Le Reveil”. This was a brand new printing plant with, among other things, a rotary printing press worth millions. He filled two containers with stolen valuable books and stationery. The books were hidden in a depot under “Deyr Al Salib-Zalka”, the stationary was forwarded to the Zahleh headquarters. Most of the printing plant was sold and the rest went to a printing plant he owned under his sister’s name, in Zalka.

Elie Hobeika began deluding displaced people. He began by taking their problems to heart and deceived them with census of population, lists and false promises regarding payment of due compensation for the losses sustained during the war of the mountain. Feghali from his post, knew all the tricks of the trade and swindled the inhabitants of three Chouf villages in collusion with Fadi Saroufim. No sooner was all set than Walid Jumblat took over from him and kept Hobeika’s protégé, Feghali in his job. He paid off Hobeika with $1,000 dollars to be disposed of as he wished, each worth $3,000 United States dollars.

Feghali indemnified only 40 persons totaling $120,000 United States dollars. He pocketed the remaining $2,880,000 United States dollars with falsified Civil Status Certificates, taken from the Interior Ministry after the 1992 legislative elections. Fadi Saroufim was also in on this “coup” to secure Hobeika’s cut.To be on the safe side, Elie Hobeika has always pocketed cash in other person’s names, but they could not swindle him because they were dumb accessories or he held something over them. Only liquid assets were placed in his son’s name. The country was in ruin and 80 percent of the people existed under the poverty line while Hobeika wore kilos of gold, smoked 25 cm long Havana cigars and own three or four 500 or 600 square meter apartments in Lebanon. His wardrobe contained expensive foreign suits. He owned secret Swiss bank accounts and a stable of luxury cars.

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