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Lobbyist David Wimer says he pulled out all the stops for his wealthy client. A former Nixon administration aide who is now president of the Arlington, Va.-based Columbus Group, Wimer enlisted three former U.S. ambassadors, one former White House official, and two former congressmen in his efforts to retrieve $900 million allegedly diverted from his client, Saudi Arabian Sheik Mohamed Oboud Al-Amoudi. Along the way he got himself tossed out of the palace of Saudi bank mogul Khalid bin Mafouz — and reached behind the veil of the U.S. intelligence community. His reward, he says, was supposed to be a bonus of five percent of the $900 million, a cool $45 million, on top of a $25,000 monthly retainer. Though Wimer says the sheik got his money, he claims he was cut out of the deal. And that’s what brought him to the witness stand before U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema last week with a relatively straightforward contract dispute wrapped in international intrigue and allegations of fraud. Wimer lost. The two-day bench trial boiled down to his word against that of his former client, and Brinkema tossed the case, giving Wimer leave to file again if he can produce financial documents to back his claims. “We will get the additional information required to show that the facts as presented by Al-Amoudi are completely inaccurate,” Wimer said in an interview after the trial. Wimer was represented by Vernon Johnson III of Washington, D.C.’s Jackson & Campbell. Al-Amoudi, who was deposed but did not appear at the trial, tapped litigators Thomas Watson and Curtis Renner of D.C.’s Watson & Renner, as well as partners Anthony Trenga and Charles McAleer Jr., counsel Brian Hill, and associates from Miller & Chevalier. To Wimer and Johnson, the size of Al-Amoudi’s team provided additional fodder for their belief that Al-Amoudi owes the money they seek. Al-Amoudi “put an awful lot of resources on this case for it to be one where there’s nothing there,” Johnson says. OIL IN THE DESERT The case stems from a sensitive oil project hatched in the early 1980s, when the Saudi Arabian government decided to build a top-secret petroleum reserve that would maintain Saudi oil supplies even during a war. The Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation awarded Al-Amoudi the role of local manager for the project, which would be handled by a Swedish firm. The first phase of the project would cost up to $6 billion, and Al-Amoudi expected to receive a $900 million commission. The money for the project was held in the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, which is controlled by bin Mafouz, who famously paid a $225 million fine in the United States in 1993 for his role in the Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI) bank scandal. But the project didn’t go as anticipated for Al-Amoudi. Bin Mafouz, along with Al-Amoudi’s cousin, took control of Al-Amoudi’s role and commission, according to both the sheik’s attorneys and Wimer. Wimer — whose public affairs shop handles work for the likes of Amway Corp., Norsk Hydro, Microsoft Corp., and the American Gaming Association — was personnel director in the Nixon White House and adviser to the administrations of both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. Before taking on the work, he checked out Al-Amoudi with his own sources. They told him the sheik was both “trustworthy and rich,” Wimer says. He signed a contract with a company financed by the sheik in June 1996. Within a year, the sheik asked Wimer to resolve what they termed the “collection matter” with bin Mafouz’s bank. Wimer claimed at trial that he had a “success fee” agreement with the sheik for 5 percent of the recovery. But the documentation of what he contends was his deal with Al-Amoudi is, at best, vague. The most explicit statement in the contract calls for Wimer to “calm down” activity related to the oil reserve project and National Commercial Bank. The $25,000 a month retainer is mentioned, but there is nary a word about the success fee. The plan for getting Al-Amoudi’s money back, Wimer says, was fairly straightforward. He had gathered an abundance of information that implicated bin Mafouz and others in the transfer of Al-Amoudi’s windfall from the oil project. He would present the information to Prince Sultan, the Minister of Defense and Aviation and a brother to Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd, and the prince would help pressure bin Mafouz into returning the money. In all, Wimer says, he visited Saudi Arabia 10 or 11 times. Among those who went along to assist Wimer in his task were former Reps. Stephen Solarz, D-N.Y., and Dennis Eckart, D-Ohio; former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Charles Freeman; former director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Kenneth Adelman, who is a shareholder in the Columbus Group; and former George Bush administration official Richard Haass. In the fall of 1996, on one of Wimer’s earlier visits, he met with Prince Sultan. “He agreed that the work we’d done with private eyes supported what we had told him, and he said, ‘I’ll arrange for you to meet with bin Mafouz,’ ” Wimer says. Half an hour later, Wimer and two Saudi officials who agreed to help him went to bin Mafouz’s palace in Jeddah. Wimer launched his pitch. But bin Mafouz, Wimer says, denied any involvement. Wimer says he raised the stakes by referencing the BCCI scandal and rumors of bin Mafouz’s support of presumed terrorist Osama bin Laden, as well as rumors that bin Mafouz had been laundering drug money. “He started shaking and said ‘Leave my house!’ ” says Wimer. “I never had another meeting with Khalid,” Wimer says. As the investigative work continued, Wimer says, he and Al-Amoudi developed a close relationship. They called each other on birthdays and holidays. And on visits to Saudi Arabia, Wimer recalls, “Sheikh Al-Amoudi greeted me with multiple kisses on each cheek and at least two kisses on the mouth and hugs. You don’t do that unless you’re a close friend.” By the fall of 1998, Wimer and others began to suspect that the missing money was quietly filtering back to Al-Amoudi. Wimer had gotten hold of a National Commercial Bank account number said to be Al-Amoudi’s with a balance totaling about $430 million — a portion of the commission, Wimer thought. In early 1999, Wimer confronted Al-Amoudi about the $430 million bank account in a meeting with the sheik in Jeddah. According to testimony offered by Wimer and a former Al-Amoudi associate, Al-Amoudi acknowledged that it was his account, but declared that he had no access to the funds. Another participant in the meeting, a current employee of the sheik, testified that Al-Amoudi had denied ownership of the account. In his deposition for the trial, Al-Amoudi claimed that the account was not his. Al Amoudi’s attorneys say that to this day, their client has received not a penny of his commission. A NOTE FROM THE CIA During his own deposition in December 2000, Wimer refused to name a source who had confirmed Al-Amoudi’s ownership of the $430 million account. He couldn’t, he said, “due to confidentiality statements with officials of the United States Government.” It was a matter, Wimer contended, “of national security.” After Al-Amoudi’s attorneys attempted to compel him to reveal the secret source, CIA Director George Tenet submitted to the court a confidential declaration of the agency’s security concerns, according to the court record. Wimer’s deposition eventually went forward with the stipulation that no questions be answered that might elicit information about any relationship with the U.S. intelligence community. The secret source remained a secret. At that time of the deposition, the Columbus Group’s client list included the CIA, according to the sheik’s attorneys. The group of Washington power players who helped the Columbus Group along the way were never called to the witness stand. And counsel for Al-Amoudi never tried to depose them. “Sometimes it’s better to fly under the radar screen,” Watson says. Ultimately, and perhaps because Wimer’s source could not be revealed, the Columbus Group failed to convince Judge Brinkema that Al-Amoudi had recovered his missing money. As a result, Brinkema ruled that the contract dispute is “not ripe” for consideration. Johnson, Wimer’s counsel, notes that as Saudi Arabia is beyond the subpoena power of the U.S. courts, “it’s nearly impossible to get information from Saudi Arabia in a form admissible under our rules of evidence.” And when asked to turn over his bank account information in discovery, Johnson says, Al-Amoudi refused. But Johnson says he and his client will continue to dig for the evidence they need. “What happened here doesn’t mean that we aren’t right,” Johnson says. “The day of reckoning didn’t come this week, but it will come eventually.”

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