Homicide detectives working on the slayings of an Iraqi native and his family in McLean said yesterday they are investigating whether the attack could be related to a business deal the man arranged last month between Iraq and a Columbia company.
Fuad K. Taima was acting as a middleman for Valmet Automation Inc., lining up a deal to sell computerized equipment for the aging oil pipeline running from Iraq to Turkey, police and company officials said. The deal apparently would have netted Taima between $15,000 and $20,000, but he was telling friends "his money worries are over," said Fairfax County police Detective Bob Murphy.
Police Lt. Bruce Guth said Taima's trip to Baghdad for Valmet -- for three weeks beginning April 23 -- was too close to the killings to ignore. "May 17, he comes back. May 26, he's killed," Guth said. "Is that coincidence? No."
Still, detectives said, Taima worked on the Valmet transaction for only a week, then spent another two weeks in Baghdad. So the motive for the shooting could be rooted in something else that happened while he was in Iraq, they said.
Taima, 63, his wife, Dorothy M. Taima, 54, and their son, Leith, 16, were found shot to death in their Broyhill Street home May 28. Police believe they were killed two days earlier, shortly after a witness saw a man, believed to be of Middle Eastern descent, visit the family.
Police have released a sketch of the man, who detectives say arrived unannounced about 8:30 p.m. Dorothy Taima paged her son, who returned home with a friend around 9 p.m. The friend later told police that the visitor clearly was someone the Taimas had known for some time, and who visited occasionally.
The man was still there when the friend left the house around 10:35 p.m., police said. Fuad Taima arrived home minutes later. Neighbors heard a sound like gunfire about 10:45 p.m.
Fairfax police, who are working with the FBI, said they are increasingly convinced that the deaths are related to Fuad Taima's business, rather than his politics, even though Taima was involved in Iraqi-American politics in the early 1990s. Detectives also said they have turned up no evidence that Taima had any espionage connections.
Taima's main links to Baghdad, police said, were his two Iraqi brothers-in-law, who have uncertain influence with the Saddam Hussein regime. In recent years, Taima launched fusillades of e-mails throughout the oil industry, hungry for a nibble of action as a Middle Eastern middleman, but he got little or no response, Guth said.
With Taima providing minimal income, his family was financially desperate. Dorothy Taima taught English as a second language at several area schools and earned additional money working for the McLean soccer league. Two days before the triple homicide, she spoke with a loan officer about taking out a second mortgage on their house, police said. "She was supporting the family, clearly," Murphy said.
Initially, investigators considered whether Fuad Taima might have crossed the regime of Saddam Hussein at some point and become an assassination target, even though he had been widely identified as a pro-Saddam expatriate. In recent years, longtime friend Robert Schneider said, Taima "had commented to me many times that he was in danger. He said there had been a breach between him and the government."
But when Schneider reminded him of those remarks before Taima's latest trip, Taima waved it off, telling Schneider: "All is forgiven." And even though there was an anti-Saddam conference in Washington shortly before the slayings, investigators do not believe there is any link.
Schneider, a former neighbor and soccer league colleague of Taima's, is also an international business consultant with experience in the Middle East. "On numerous occasions, he tried to get me involved with Iraq," Schneider said. "He was just running in too dangerous of a crowd. When you do business in Iraq, it's a very dangerous situation," he said, because a few cartels control nearly all the business dealings of the country.
In addition, most formal trade with the country is prohibited because of a United Nations embargo since Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. "Nowadays, embargo-running is big business," Schneider said. "I don't think Fuad was involved in that. Fuad was very frightened of danger. He wanted to be friendly to both sides" and wanted to be well positioned should the embargo end.
In Valmet, Taima found a company that was seeking to exploit a legal opening in the embargo, the United Nations "Oil for Food" program, which allows Iraq to sell its oil in order to purchase food. Valmet, based in Finland, last year purchased GSE Systems Inc., of Columbia.
David P. Jardine, a senior vice president of Valmet, said the Columbia division makes computer systems that allow an operator to control the flow of an oil pipeline from a central location. Taima was negotiating with Iraq to sell such a system, a deal that would require approval from the Oil for Food program.
Jardine said Valmet regularly uses independent agents in countries around the world, and none had ever been killed. He said he did not believe Taima's business with Valmet was connected to his death.
"This deal is too small for this to have provoked this man's demise," Jardine said. "Surely he has bigger deals than this."
CAPTION: Fuad K. Taima returned from Iraq nine days before the triple slaying. (1975)