Prominent in Democratic Party fundraising since Bill Clinton’s second term in the White House is an Iranian-American now serving time in federal prison for criminal bank fraud whose family fortune in Iran traces back to the shipping of Iranian opium to China that began in the mid-1800s.
New York-based Hassan Nemazee is serving a 12-year federal prison sentence for defrauding several major banks, including Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, better know as HSBC, which was at the center of the opium trade to China when Nemazee’s father and grandfather were running opium from Iran to the Far East.
Nemazee’s success raising money for Democratic Party presidential hopefuls is impressive.
In 2004, he served as John Kerry’s presidential campaign fundraising chairman in New York, and in 2008 he served prominently as one of Hillary Clinton’s most productive national presidential campaign fundraising chairmen.
When Clinton dropped out of the race in 2008, Nemazee raised $500,000 bundling campaign contributions for Barack Obama, topped off by a sizable contribution to the Obama inauguration committee.
Of note is that President Obama’s top aide, Valerie Jarrett, was born at Nemazee Hospital in Shiraz, Iran, named after Hassan Nemazee’s father, who led the Nemazee family opium trade with the Far East into the 20th century.
A close examination of the role played by Hassan Nemazee with various Democratic Party presidential hopefuls makes clear that Nemazee’s influence extended beyond merely raising money to involving himself in controversial foreign policy issues concerning Iran.
His involvement resulted in at least one legal action in which he sued an American-Iranian opponent of the theocratic regime in Iran who had characterized Nemazee as “a friend of the mullahs.”
Nemazee family opium trade
Haj Mohammad Nemazee, 1895-1972, lived much of his life abroad in India, Hong Kong and China. He returned to Shiraz, Iran, at the end of World War II and devoted much of his wealth to charitable affairs, including the establishment of a waterworks system in Shiraz in 1952 and the founding of Nemazee Hospital in Shiraz in 1955.
The fortune ultimately devoted to philanthropy was made by Haj Mohammad Nemazee in the family opium business, which he took over from his uncle in 1889. The family shipping enterprise, based in Hong Kong with offices in India, shipped opium illegally from Iran into China during the period between World War I and World War II.
Arnold Wright, in a 1908 book published in London titled “Twentieth Century Impressions of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports of China,” described on page 654 the Nemazee business: “For over half a century Messrs. H. M. H. Nemazee & Co. have been actively engaged in the import and export trade of China,” going on to note “they import chiefly opium and piece goods, and export tea, silk, and Chinese products.”
Wright says the successor to H. M. K. Nemazee, “who established a branch in Hong Kong in 1855, and personally managed it for a while,” was his nephew, Haj Mohammed Nemazee, who Wright noted “succeeded to the business in 1889, and, except for brief absences occasioned by visits to the Company’s headquarters at Shiraz, Persia, he has been in charge of the Hong Kong office since that time.”
Wright further noted that the Shanghai branch of the Nemazee business was opened in 1895 and for more than 100 years, “the firm have been represented in India, and they have numerous agents in Persia as well as in the Far East.”
Hassan Nemazee was born in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27, 1950.
After graduating from Harvard University in 1972, Hassan Nemazee became chairman of Nemazee Capital in New York City and followed the family tradition of philanthropic giving, eventually becoming a top-tier, fundraising bundler for the Democratic Party.
Nemazee’s rising star came to an inglorious halt in 2009 when he was arrested and convicted for bank fraud and sentenced to 12 years in federal prison.
The offense that brought an end to his reputation in New York as a “multi-millionaire philanthropist” who lived in a $19.5 million Park Avenue penthouse apartment with six full bedrooms, six full bathrooms and two half bathrooms was defrauding HSBC of $75 million.
In a lawsuit filed in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Sept. 2, 2009, HSBC alleged Nemazee drew down $75 million of his available $100 million line of credit from the London-based bank in order to make a federal wire transfer repaying $74 million in loan repayments due to Citibank. It was a cruel irony, as HSBC dominated the financing of the opium trade in China in the years during which Haj Mohammad Nemazee amassed a fortune shipping opium from Iran.
When Hassan Nemazee was under house arrest in his Manhattan penthouse apartment on a $25 million bond, public watchdog groups detailed his Democratic Party fundraising activities that culminated in 2008 with bundling $100,000 for Hillary Clinton. Nemazee served as one of Clinton’s several national campaign finance chairmen then brought in $500,000 in bundled funds for Barack Obama after Clinton dropped out of the presidential campaign. Nemazee donated personally $50,000 to Obama’s inauguration committee, a sum cited by the New York Times as “the allowable.”
The same New York Times article published Aug. 26, 2009, reported that after raising money for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Nemazee hosted a fundraiser in his Park Avenue penthouse that featured Clinton at a cost of $28,500 per couple.
Nemazee’s rise to prominence in Democratic Party fundraising started in the second term of the Bill Clinton presidency.
In 1998, President Clinton nominated Nemazee to be ambassador to Argentina. Clinton withdrew the nomination, however, after Forbes magazine published an extremely damaging review of Nemazee’s business career.
On May 3, 1999, Forbes wrote: “Over the past four years Nemazee and his family have given more than $150,000 to Democratic politicians and the DNC. Six of Nemazee’s friends and relatives have given $10,000 apiece – the maximum allowable per year – to Bill Clinton’s legal defense fund.”
In 2004, Nemazee served as New York finance chairman for then Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign, a position in which he raised approximately $500,000 in bundled campaign contributions.
Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign website listed Nemazee as being in the top tier of Kerry’s contributors nationwide. Nemazee was one of some 60 people credited with raising $100,000 or more for the campaign, earning him the designation of vice chair to Kerry’s campaign.
In 2006, Nemazee was the national finance chair to Kerry’s Senate re-election campaign committee. That same year, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., asked Nemazee to serve as finance chairman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The New York Times Aug. 26, 2009, noted the committee “ultimately raised $119 million, significantly outpacing its Republican counterpart and helping Democrats regain control of the Senate.”
For Hillary Clinton, Hassan Nemazee’s importance was not limited to fundraising.
Eli Lake in the New York Sun Feb. 15, 2008, reported Hassan Nemazee, identified as “one of the national finance chairmen for Senator Clinton’s presidential campaign,” had traveled to Damascus, Syria, to meet with Syrian President Assad, in a group that included a delegation from the RAND Corporation and Zbigniew Brzezinski, identified as “a foreign policy rival to Mrs. Clinton’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Obama,” while also noting that Brzezinski had served as the national security adviser to President Carter.
The New York Sun noted that Nemazee’s visit with Assad was controversial. Hillary Clinton called Obama “naïve” for saying he was willing to meet with foreign adversaries, while Brzezinski, in endorsing Obama for president, advocated for the United States to engage Syria and Iran as part of a “grand bargain to stabilize Iraq.” The policy option “was a key recommendation of the bipartisan Iraq Study group and has been a Democratic default position on the war since last January.”
‘Let’s provide Iran nuclear fuel’
As WND previously reported, during the first presidential debate between Kerry and President George W. Bush Sept. 30, 2004, in Coral Gables, Florida, debate moderator Jim Lehrer, then the anchor and executive editor of the PBS “The Newshour” program, asked whether “diplomacy and sanctions could resolve the nuclear problems with North Korea and Iran.”
Bush answered first, recalling that when the United States determined North Korea was not honoring nuclear agreements signed with his father’s administration, he decided to recruit China, South Korea, Russia and Japan to join in the negotiations to create a “nuclear-weapons-free” Korean Peninsula.
“On Iran, hope we can do the same thing, continue to work with the world to convince the Iranian mullahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions,” Bush responded.
Kerry’s answer to Lehrer’s question was very different.
“With respect to Iran, the British, French and Germans were the ones who initiated an effort without the United States, regrettably, to begin to try to move to curb the nuclear possibilities in Iran,” Kerry began his answer.
“I believe we could have done better,” Kerry continued. “I think the United States should have offered the opportunity to provide the nuclear fuel, test them, see whether or not they were actually looking for it for peaceful purposes. If they weren’t willing to work a deal, then we could have put sanctions together. The president did nothing.”
Kerry’s response belied experience with North Korea demonstrating rogue states allowed nuclear fuel for “peaceful purposes” could not be trusted.
In the early 1970s, Pyongyang had begun to acquire nuclear fuel and plutonium processing technology from the Soviet Union to expand its IRT-2000 research reactor that was gradually diverted to nuclear weapons development.
Then, in October 1994, during the Clinton administration, former President Jimmy Carter intervened and announced from Pyongyang that Kim Jong Il had accepted the broad deal later formalized as the Agreed Framework. But within less than a decade, North Korea withdrew from the Nonproliferation Treaty and barred U.N. International Atomic Energy Administration inspections.
On Oct. 14, 2004, investigative journalist Ken Timmerman in an article titled “Kerry’s Iran Scandal” published in the Washington Times, contended the Islamic Republic of Iran was funneling campaign contributions to the Kerry-Edwards campaign, “seeking from Mr. Kerry a series of concessions that would allow them to become a nuclear weapons power.”
Timmerman said Kerry “is headed toward a campaign finance scandal involving contributions on behalf of a foreign power” by accepting campaign donations “from people with close ties to mullahs in Tehran.”
On Oct. 18, 2004, WND attended a deposition in New York City in which Nemazee was questioned under oath by legal counsel for Aryo Pirouznia, the leader of the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran.
Nemazee had sued Pirouznia in a $10 million defamation suit in which Nemazee charged that Pirouznia had defamed him by calling him an agent of the religious clerics ruling Iran.
The lawsuit was settled ultimately out of court.
Pirouznia was particularly upset with Nemazee because of a speech Nemazee gave June 1, 2002, to the American Iranian Council, or AIC, at a conference in San Francisco where John Kerry delivered the keynote address.
Nemazee, in his speech to the AIC, argued for a resumption of normal diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran. Relations were disrupted in the Carter administration after Ayatollah Khomeini in his 1979 Islamic revolution seized and held captive U.S. Embassy personnel in Tehran for 444 days in a crisis not resolved until the hostages were freed the day Ronald Reagan gave his inaugural address, March 20, 1981.
Kerry, in his keynote address to the AIC, lamented President Bush’s inclusion of Iran in his “Axis of Evil” in his State of the Union Address on Jan. 29, 2002. Kerry insisted the U.S. should allow Iran into the World Trade Organization, effectively ending all possibility of sanctions being used to induce Iran to abandon nuclear-weapons ambitions.
Kerry referenced his experience in Vietnam, a major theme of his 2004 presidential campaign.
“And we have always had a rather isolationist, xenophobic, self-interest definitional problem in trying to do that [seeing foreigners through the eyes of the foreigners] properly,” Kerry said. “It’s one of the reasons we did what we did in Vietnam. It’s one of the reasons why we have trouble today dealing more effectively in the Middle East, particularly the Arab world, and needless to say, of course, in Iran.”