Osama bin Laden tried to purchase the world’s largest pearl, the Pearl of Allah, as a gift to Saddam Hussein “to unite the Arab cultures,” and Hussein was prepared to accept, according to the pearl’s owner.
Victor Barbish, who owns 66 percent of the pearl on behalf of his daughter, told WorldNetDaily he received an offer in 1999 from individuals who said they were “from bin Laden’s group” to purchase the pearl for $60 million to give to Hussein as an overture of unity between al-Qaida and the Iraqi government.
The Pearl of Allah, the largest pearl on record, was recovered from a giant clam on May 7, 1934, off the coast of Palawan Island, Philippines. The pearl is 9.4 inches long and weighs about 14 lbs. According to the “Guinness Book of Records,” the San Francisco Gem Laboratory has valued the pearl at $40 million. The Muslim diver who found the pearl said its surface bore the image of a turbaned face, and he named it the Pearl of Allah.
Barbish says the offer was presented to him in September 1999 by Allen Bhak and Alex Soria of Bhak Development, who at the time were reportedly soliciting an investment from Barbish in a business that promised large returns on a European program involving the buying and selling of bank debt, and who were asked by Barbish if they knew of anyone who might be interested in buying the pearl.
Barbish claims Soria and Bhak received the offer in 1999 from bin Laden through Latif Faed, an Iranian immigrant who was starting a chain of gasoline-station stores in California, and Faed’s friend Azad Amiri. He says Faed and Amiri told him they were a “direct connection” to bin Laden’s people, and that two bin Laden agents would meet Barbish in Denver to ensure he had the pearl and coordinate a $12 million deposit toward its purchase.
Barbish also says a man who identified himself as Muhammed Faed, a contact for Saddam Hussein in London, was involved in the negotiations and told Barbish that Hussein was prepared to accept the pearl as a token of unity with bin Laden.
Barbish provided WorldNetDaily with a series of signed faxes from Soria on Bhak Development stationery detailing the status of the purchase:
“Vic, I just spoke with Latiff, our contact man for Ben Laden [sic]. He said that he will know by Friday when Mr. Laden is contacted. Then it is just the matter of working out the logistics to sell and move the Pearl of Allah to the real buyer – Ben Laden,” read one document dated Sept. 8, 1999.
Another, dated Sept. 23, 1999, stated, “This is to officially inform you that we have an interested and serious buyer for the Pearl of Allah. The purchase price quoted directly to our buyer is $60,000,000 USD. There shall be a commission payable to Bhak Development of ten percent upon the consummation of the sale of said pearl …”
A letter on Oct.1, 1999, read, “Vic, please be advised that Latif Faed and his associate, Azad Amiri, are diligently working on making the necessary wire transfer of the $12 million USD into the account established for [Saddam’s contact Muhammed] Faed at Paine Webber in Boulder Creek, CO …”
Barbish claims after several exchanges between himself, Soria, Latif Faed, and Muhammed Faed, a meeting with two bin Laden agents coming from overseas was set up around December 1999. He says he told all parties involved he would want to meet personally with bin Laden before selling the pearl.
Barbish said he never heard anything further about the meeting. He said he was later told the two men, whose names he never knew, were caught trying to illegally enter the U.S. from Canada. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and FBI could not verify the arrests to WorldNetDaily without more specific information.
At the time, it was reported that an Algerian man, Ahmed Ressam, who was accused of trying to smuggle bomb-making materials into the United States from Canada and may have been an al-Qaida agent, was arrested at the border with Washington. The FBI suspected Ressam had an accomplice.
Grace Cook, a broker who introduced Barbish to Soria and told WorldNetDaily she was privy to some of the pearl negotiations, said she thought Ressam may have been one of the men sent to authenticate the pearl.
Bhak, who now heads Cosmopolitan Realty in Pleasant Hill, Calif., told WorldNetDaily he was not directly involved in the negotiations for the sale of the pearl, and doesn’t know of any bin Laden offer. He said he remembers an offer was made through Soria, who he says was an independent consultant for Bhak Development working from his offices, but he claims he doesn’t know from where the offer originated.
“Everything went through Alex,” said Bhak. “I do remember the names Latif Faed and Amiri, but I never talked to them. I had nothing to do with them.”
Barbish claims Bhak was directly involved in all aspects of the purchase offer, and that Bhak told him he met in his offices several times with Faed and Amiri.
Barbish, together with other associates, is now suing Soria and Bhak, along with the Wells Fargo Bank, alleging a trading scheme he says they headed, in which Barbish says he invested over $9 million, was a fraud.
Both Bhak and Barbish say they have not heard from Soria since 2001 and don’t know of his whereabouts. Associates of Soria told WorldNetDaily he is in Las Vegas. An address there was found in his name, but attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.
Latif Faed, who now owns a chain of gasoline stations in California, denied he ever made contact with any bin Laden associates. He says he was approached in 1999 by Soria, who at the time was trying to get Faed a loan to open a chain of gasoline stores.
“Alex said maybe bin Laden might buy the pearl, he has a lot of money. I said if I find someone who knows bin Laden I’d let them know. I thought I would know someone. I asked Amiri, who was my friend from Berkeley, and he said no. And that was it.”
Bruce Svihus, president of Renaissance Brokerage International in Colorado and a consultant and adviser to Barbish, told WorldNetDaily he listened on the phone in October 1999 from Barbish’s house during several conversations between Barbish, Bhak, Soria, Latif Faed, Muhammed Faed and Amiri, all, he says, discussing in detail the coordination of a bin Laden offer, and through Muhammad Faed, the transfer of the pearl to Hussein.
Both Barbish and Svihus say they reported the offer when it was received to the FBI and several other U.S. agencies in California, Washington, D.C., and Florida. They sent WorldNetDaily a letter addressed to U.S. Customs and to an FBI agent in Concord, Calif., near Bhak’s business.
A spokeswoman for the FBI in San Francisco told WND the agency received contacts from Svihus, but couldn’t elaborate. An agent in the FBI’s Concord satellite office remembers receiving a memo from Svihus, but said it was referred to the FBI in Denver.
Barbish said he was told not to go public about this sooner “because of ongoing investigations into Bhak, Faed and Soria.”
The Pearl of Allah has been ensconced in an ocean of legend.
The chief of Palawan took possession of the pearl when it was found near his island and it is said that around 1939 a man named Wilburn Dowell Cobb saved the life of the chief’s son and received the pearl in gratitude. Cobb’s heirs sold it in 1980 to Peter Hofman, a jeweler from Beverly Hills who still owns a 33 percent interest in the pearl. Replicas of the pearl are on display at various museums around the world.
The giant pearl has also been called the Pearl of Lao Tsu, named after the legendary sixth-century B.C. philosopher known as the father of Taoism.
There are stories in which Lao Tsu, before his death, became weary of the evils of mankind and handed his nephew a small amulet upon which the philosopher had carved representations of Buddha, Confucius and himself – the legendary Three Friends. He told his nephew to place the amulet securely in a clam. Doing so would bring great wealth and fortune to his family, he said.
The pearl, the story goes, was handed down from generation to generation growing larger and larger as it was transplanted into Tridacna clams of ever-increasing size until the pearl reached is present size.
The pearl is said to have influenced China’s history. During the waning years of the Sui dynasty, a direct decedent of Lao-Tse named Lee, legend tells, had a dream in which the pearl spoke to him as a message of the Three Friends, foretelling a new dynasty distinguished by a more humane attitude then had prevailed before, and said a boy to whom Lee had recently offered shelter would become the second emperor. The story says the boy was Li Shih-Min, son of the Duke of Tang and founder of the Tang Dynasty.
One day, while the clam that held the pearl was being transported on a trading ship, according to the story, a typhoon struck the ship off the shores of the Philippines and the clam and its precious contents were lost at sea.
Barbish said he has fielded other offers to purchase the pearl, including one for $40 million from a group in Europe made through an excommunicated Iranian princess, as well as a group of casino owners in Las Vegas.
If Barbish’s story is accurate, the purchase offer and the intent for it to be a symbol of unity toward Iraq would be a significant and important link between bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
Perhaps the most highly publicized evidence of an al-Qaida-Iraq link has been an alleged meeting between Sept. 11 terrorist Muhammad Atta and Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, a senior Iraqi intelligence officer, in Prague in April 2001.
The Sept. 11 commission reported in June that it found no “collaborative relationship” between Iraq and al-Qaida, challenging one of the Bush administration’s justifications for the war in Iraq.
Presidential candidate John F. Kerry sought to profit from the commission’s finding. “The administration misled America, and the administration reached too far,” Kerry told Michigan Public Radio. “I believe that the 9/11 report, the early evidence, is that they’re going to indicate that we didn’t have the kind of terrorists links that this administration was asserting.”
Barbish said, “In spite of ongoing investigations, I just couldn’t sit back and listen to these lies about our government and President Bush. There was a connection between Saddam Hussein and bin Laden. Bin Laden tried to purchase my pearl as a gift to Saddam, and Saddam wanted to accept it, and I want the truth to get out there.”