CHICAGO—From a white-carpeted Jiddah office, 11 stories above the sun-spangled Red Sea, Yassin Kadi oversees a portfolio of business ventures and charitable projects that span the globe.
The Saudi's days are punctuated five times by prayer, and by racquetball matches with influential friends.
But over the past decade, U.S. officials say in court filings and Treasury Department reports, the tall, soft-spoken millionaire has patiently financed a web of terrorist organizations.
U.S. government reports allege that Kadi's money has stretched from Osama bin Laden's military camps to the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview, where a cell of Hamas operatives recruited "martyrs" for their campaign against Israel.
This month the Treasury Department froze Kadi's assets, along with those of 38 other people, charities and firms said to support terrorism. As evidence, a U.S. government official cites a 1998 Saudi bank audit that allegedly shows Kadi's Blessed Relief charity funneled $3 million to bin Laden, drawing the cash from some of that oil-rich country's wealthiest capitalists.
The bank and the influential Mahfouz family that founded it say no such audit exists, and Kadi said no transfer of money to bin Laden took place. Kadi has said he will take legal action to strike his name from the Treasury list, but he had not done so by Friday. In a letter to British treasury officials, Kadi's lawyers demanded proof of his links to terrorism after his accounts were frozen there.
Kadi's business partners include some of his country's most prominent business and civic leaders, and his standoff with Treasury has exacerbated American strains with Saudi Arabia, a vital component in the Bush administration's coalition against terrorism. Of the 19 hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. officials say they have identified 14 as Saudi citizens.
By freezing Kadi's assets, and the assets of a Saudi based charity, U.S. intelligence is suggesting that bin Laden was backed not only by certain Saudi nationals, but also by Saudi wealth, a charge that angers residents there.
Kevin Taecker, a former financial attache to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh who now consults for Saudi companies, said Kadi's inclusion on the list without a disclosure of evidence will drive Muslim entrepreneurs away from the United States. "Everybody else is suddenly afraid their names are going to pop up now," Taecker said.
"If a citizen in your country was accused of a crime and your government said, `Sorry, we cannot tell you the basis of the charges because that is classified,' you would not accept it," said Jamal Khashoggi, deputy editor in chief of the Jiddah-based Arab News. "This is undemocratic and un-American."
Denies bin Laden connection
Kadi denies any connection to bin Laden. But during the past decade, as intelligence agencies worked to choke off the financing of terrorism, Kadi's finances repeatedly have come under scrutiny.
His extensive investment portfolio has ranged from a La Jolla, Calif.-based diamond company that runs three South African mines to a Saudi trading company that shipped medical equipment from Evanston. Kadi has endowed Pakistan's largest public hospital and a path-breaking Saudi women's college.
He has advised some of the world's wealthiest dealmakers on the Islamic propriety of their far-flung ventures, according to a banker for one of Kadi's business partners. And he has helped the National Commercial Bank, Saudi Arabia's largest, develop Islamic financial instruments.
"We devised systems of leasing and ways to borrow money" that could be used by pious Muslims, who are not allowed to charge interest, Kadi told the Tribune.
Born to a successful Jiddah merchant family, Yassin Abdulla Azizuddin Kadi, which sometimes is spelled al-Qadi, earned a bachelor's degree in engineering. He lived on Lake Shore Drive from July 1979 to February 1981 when he worked as a student trainee for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the international architectural firm.
During the 1980s, Kadi returned to the city often as vice president of a family company, Jamjoom, that represented Evanston's American Hospital Supply in Saudi Arabia, among other clients. Kadi, 45, will not talk in detail about the many businesses he directed over the past two decades, a time when he widened the circle of international cities where he felt at home and cemented partnerships with Saudi Arabia's influential business houses.
Johann de Villiers, chairman of Global Diamond Resources, was struck by Kadi's self-assurance and intelligence.
De Villiers was introduced to Kadi in 1998 by a ranking executive of the Saudi bin Laden Group, a multinational consortium of businesses owned by the bin Laden family, which has cut its ties with Osama bin Laden.