Rosslyn developer Mohamed A. Hadid is bidding for the big time. Hadid has gone from selling classic cars in Georgetown to developing hotels and office buildings worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He has bought or is developing five hotels around the country, including the Ritz-Carltons in Washington and New York and a new Ritz in Aspen, Colo., where he outmaneuvered New York dealmeister Donald Trump for the development rights. Just last week, he emerged as a potential bidder for troubled Eastern Air Lines. And recently his representatives have been looking at the books of the National Bank of Washington, which has been shopping for a buyer. Still, this 40-year-old Palestinian emigre, sitting Friday in his elegant Rosslyn office overlooking the Potomac and official Washington, is surprised by the attention he has attracted and more than a bit annoyed by the aura of mystery surrounding him. "Why me?" he asks plaintively. "Why now?" Much of the mystery comes from Hadid's Middle Eastern connections. Among his earlyventures was a company that exported equipment to the Middle East. And much of his financial clout has come from the Saar Foundation, a Herndon-based foundation with Saudi roots that supports humanitarian projects ranging from schools in developing countries to a Herndon senior citizens' housing project. The foundation is a 50-50 partner in many of Hadid's ventures. Hadid's closest friends and associates shake their heads about the rumors and air of mystery that seem to surround him. "People think he is mysterious, and he's not," said Dr. Safa Rifka, a close friend of Hadid. "If his name were Chuck or Bill, he would be linked to less mysteriousness ... As far as I'm concerned, he's an all-American success story." He is certainly the picture of the American standard of success. Hadid has homes in McLean and Aspen in addition to an estate on the Maryland Eastern Shore, to which he pilots one of his planes. He drives around in a Mercedes or a cream-colored convertible Rolls-Royce, dresses impeccably and expensively and has a reputation for liking expensive things. He estimates his net worth at $90 million. In business, too, he boasts some establishment connections. No less a mainline firm than Morgan Stanley has helped Hadid arrange the financing for the $70 million construction project in Aspen, which will be done by the Industrial Bank of Japan Ltd. And Mitsubishi Bank Ltd. provided a $60 million acquisition and construction loan for Hadid's new building at 1001 New York Ave. NW in the District. But Hadid's rise has not been without controversy. Over the last several years, he has had to fight off a series of 30 or more lawsuits from creditors and banks who claimed he had not fulfilled various financial obligations. Many of the suits flowed from the breakup of a development partnership, and, according to his attorney, all but about 11 have been settled. Hadid shrugs off the suits, calling them "growing pains" and noting that all developers have cash-flow problems. But others don't dismiss the problems so easily -- among them the Smithy Braedon realty firm, to which Hadid, after a lengthy court battle, agreed to pay about $400,000 in disputed fees. James Eichberg, president of the company, said some of the money still has not been paid. "I just don't feel that he's been honorable with us," said Eichberg last week. "It's a very arrogant approach to owing money. It's unfortunate and it's unfair to those he strings out." Hadid sees it differently. "Smithy Braedon had some confusion over payments, that's all," he explained, adding that the confusion has been cleared up. But both admirers and detractors agree that Hadid has been masterful at seeing value in projects that many wouldn't touch. "He's a genius at packaging and dealmaking," said John G. Sarpa, senior vice president of Hadid Development Cos. "He smells a good deal. He can analyze it a lot faster than the rest of us. The accountants come along and say 'don't do it,' and later he's proved right ... He takes incredible risks." Hadid was an infant when his family left Palestine. His father, Anwar Hadid, said he did not want the family "to live under the Israeli occupation." The parents walked for two nights to reach the Lebanese border -- with Hadid's mother carrying her oldest son. The family finally settled in Damascus, where Anwar Hadid went to work as a translator for Voice of America and traveled widely. The family eventually made its way to Washington, and Mohamed Hadid became an American citizen. "He dreams of big things," said the elder Hadid of his son, the fourth of eight children. "He was a clever boy," he said, with a "very good imagination." Hadid attended Washington and Lee High School in Arlington, and soon developed an eye for business opportunities. Among his first was a classic car business in Georgetown, followed by the export business that allowed him to expand his international contacts. Nine years ago he went into the development business, matching available properties with willing investors and taking pieces of the deals for himself. According to his lawyer, Richard Gross, Hadid has been involved in about 50 deals over the last four years. His most ambitious venture came in the summer of 1987, when he outmaneuvered billionaire developer Trump and paid $42.9 million for a prime development parcel at the base of the main ski mountain in Aspen. Trump had signed a contract to buy the site from a creditor in a foreclosure proceeding, but Hadid made use of an obscure Colorado law and preempted Trump's deal. In the process Hadid became known as a major-league dealmaker. As a result, Hadid says, people who had never heard of him three years ago now come to him with more deals than he can possibly handle. Hadid also became a celebrity in Aspen -- a city of celebrities. He hosted a party to celebrate his proposal under a white tent filled with flowers, ice sculptures and crystal. While hundreds of guests sipped champagne, a half dozen models served as hostesses. But the real spectacle was yet to come. Hadid's development proposal became the city's most divisive issue. Trump sued to invalidate Hadid's title to the land. Meanwhile, a group led by the owner of two Aspen hotels sued to deny him zoning approval and launched an initiative to derail Hadid's Ritz at the ballot box. As the fight unfolded, Hadid sponsored Aspen sporting events and pledged $100,000 to a local cultural group. He spent thousands of dollars on opinion polls and advertising to influence the political outcome. Hadid won the votes of both the Aspen City Council and a public initiative on the project last fall. While the development is now under construction, it is not yet in the clear. The lawsuits have clouded the picture for the loans Hadid needs. And with three council seats up for grabs next month, Hadid's plans could be jeopardized if the political balance of power shifts, according to Aspen Daily News editor Andrew Bigford. Trump said last week he thinks Hadid is "a wonderful man ... but as a businessman, I believe he pays far too much for property." He cites the Aspen land, for which he says Hadid paid "a huge premium over what I had been willing to pay." Hadid says he's not worried about the Trump suit. "Trump wants to be a partner in Aspen," Hadid said. "I told him, 'first, settle, then we'll do a deal.' When the time comes, either he'll settle or I'll win." At the same time that Hadid is proceeding on the risky Aspen deal, he has $20 million tied up in his $141 million deal to buy the Ritz-Carlton hotels in Washington and New York (where the Ritz sits on land controlled by Trump). Hadid made a deal with the hotels' current owner, John B. Coleman, to bring the hotels out of the protection of the bankruptcy court. If the court does not approve Hadid's deal, he could lose $4.7 million in good-faith money. There are those who marvel at Hadid's ability to raise funds for such projects when only two years had passed since the messy breakup of his partnership with Walter Cheatle, and the lawsuits that ensued. Among them is the Smithy Braedon suit. The realty firm sued Hadid in July 1986, claiming he owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid commissions. Hadid charged that Smithy Braedon was not entitled to the money because it had allowed a former Hadid employee to siphon money from Hadid's company through Smithy Braedon's billings. Explaining how the scheme could have escaped Hadid's attention, his lawyer told the court that Hadid and his associates "were sloppy and they were careless and they were moving too fast." Although the case was settled, the payments have been slow in coming. The firm recently received a partial payment from Hadid only after threatening to go after his personal assets, such as his car and his house, said a source close to the dispute. "He always comes to the table in the end," said one source in the financial community, "but he winds up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in late fees and attorneys' fees ... He's sitting there with a $10 million loan past maturity and you find out he's out buying another piece of property." Others say Hadid can be extremely generous. D.C. real estate broker John Kyle, for example, who has done several deals with Hadid, recalls the day Hadid concluded his purchase of a site on New York Avenue in the District. A last-minute snafu increased the price by $65,000. Kyle, who had brokered the sale, said Hadid could have turned to him and he would have paid half without hesitation, but Hadid never asked. "It demonstrates ... a perspective for the long term versus the short term" in business relationships, Kyle said. "I know I can trust him." If there is a common thread in some of his latest forays -- Eastern Air Lines and the National Bank of Washington -- it is certainly a requirement for a long-term view. In the case of Eastern, Hadid is one of several people who have expressed interest, but he has yet to make a formal bid. Hadid plays the talks down as "very preliminary," but notes that an airline would fit well with the hotel empire he is building. Others, including Hadid's closest associates, say that Hadid is serious about the airline and should not be counted out. "I don't think anybody thought that there was a snowball's chance in hell that he could do" all he's done in recent years, said J. Fernando Barrueta, a District real estate broker who is leasing one of Hadid's buildings. "He's pulled off stuff before that looked impossible." In the case of NBW, sources said last week that Hadid and a group of unnamed partners are interested in buying the $2 billion bank. Neither Hadid nor bank officials would comment, saying that there is a confidentiality agreement for both sides. Hadid owns minority interests in several other banks, but with NBW he would join a long list of developers who control banks. In pursuing both the bank and the airline, however, Hadid continues a lifelong penchant for risk taking. A friend recalls the time Hadid was piloting a single-engine plane back from New York when the power for the plane's lights and instrument panel went out. Hadid flew the plane to the Montgomery County Airport by moonlight, joking with his three passengers to ease their minds. "I trusted him," said Rifka, who was on the plane. "He doesn't do things he doesn't know how to do," said Rifka. "He is not rash." Hadid is nonchalant about the risk he took that night. "I don't do anything where I don't have a contingency plan," he said last week. "That night I had a truck battery on which I could operate the instruments. It's like in business. I always have a way out."