If Lt. Col. Oliver L. North and his boss, John M. Poindexter, saw the diversion of profits from the U.S.-Iran arms sales as a way to keep alive "the body and soul" of the Nicaraguan contras, why did most of the money not reach the rebels?
At a time when North was sending his superiors vivid and gloomy accounts of ragtag contra troops with no money for food or bullets, millions of dollars in profits from the Iran arms sales sat untouched in Swiss bank accounts controlled by North's chief assistant, retired Air Force major general Richard V. Secord, and Secord's business partner, Albert A. Hakim, according to records made available by the congressional Iran-contra committees.
Of $16 million available from the sales, just $3.5 million was spent directly on the contras, congressional investigators have concluded.
One of North's reports -- filed after what he called his "most depressing" visit to contra camps in Honduras -- said that "the entire force is back to one meal per day and no more boots, uniforms, packs, ponchos or weapons are available for the new recruits." His April 21, 1986, report urged that a new source of funds be found immediately or "there won't be a force to help when the Congress finally acts" on a White House request for $100 million in new aid.
Three months later, on July 15, North informed Poindexter that the need for money was so urgent that Secord had offered to borrow $2 million "to get food to the resistance."
But records for the Secord-Hakim operation show more than $4 million in the Swiss Iran-contra accounts on April 21 and more than $7 million on July 15.
Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), in reiterating observations made by others on the committees, noted that the diversion to aid the contras -- the "neat idea" that North and Poindexter risked their careers for -- actually turned out to be a "very, very small amount."
"You look through these numbers and you come flat out to the conclusion that the idea that somehow the arms-for-hostages deal . . . produced enough money to keep the contras going during the dark days didn't do it at all," said Aspin, who also observed that the diversion took place during congressional restrictions on U.S. military aid. "I find the whole puzzle very difficult to figure out."
Congressional investigators came up with the $3.5 million figure after a detailed analysis of the Swiss bank accounts used by the Secord-Hakim operation.
Other donations flowed through the accounts, including $3.8 million from two other sources: $2 million from the government of Taiwan and $1.8 million raised from private individuals by conservative activists Carl R. (Spitz) Channell and Richard R. Miller. In their analysis, the investigators treated these contributions as having been spent on the contras. To assume otherwise, they said, would be to accuse Secord and Hakim of taking that money and using it for purposes unrelated to the contras.
North and Poindexter testified that they were unaware that $8 million was left in the Swiss Iran-contra accounts until that information was brought out through records and testimony before the congressional panels. They said they knew little about the accounts, leaving it to Secord to manage the flow of money. They said they had no reason to question Secord's and Hakim's handling of the funds.
Two main explanations have emerged from the hearings as to why funds were stockpiled in the Swiss Iran-contra accounts.
The bulk of the money -- about $8 million -- went into accounts that Hakim set up for himself, Secord and others. Some members of the panels believe that Secord and Hakim saw the Iran-contra initiatives as an opportunity to make millions of dollars after being tapped by the administration to serve as exclusive agents to carry out operations outside of the Central Intelligence Agency and other normal channels.
Secord and Hakim have strongly denied seeking excessive profits, and Secord testified that he told Hakim he wanted to forsake his share in any profits. Secord also said that he depended on Hakim to handle the mechanics of transferring funds and maintaining financial records.
The other explanation is that a portion of the money was being set aside to pay for continuing the secret Iran and contra initiatives and to cover the cost of other future covert operations outside normal channels.
North testified that he and the late William J. Casey, who was the CIA director, discussed using profits from the Iran arms sales to establish a self-sustaining overseas organization to run future covert operations by the United States and friendly countries.
North noted that he had asked Secord on several occasions to set aside money for activities unrelated to the contra and Iran operations and that some of those funds were spent. In one instance, North said, a ship was purchased and used for several classified purposes that North outlined to the committees in executive session. Records show the ship was purchased for $350,000.
Hakim testified that among funds he set aside were $2 million for commissions owed to Iranian middlemen involved in helping gain the release of American hostages held in Lebanon and another $2 million for future covert activities North might ask him and Secord to perform.
Several panel members asserted in the hearings that the $8 million left in the accounts belongs to the U.S. government because it was generated by the sale of U.S. weapons to Iran.
However, Secord and Hakim argued that the money is the property of the "enterprise," Secord's name for the network of dummy corporations and overseas bank accounts set up for the Iran-contra operations. North and Poindexter said they agreed with that interpretation.
Secord offered to recommend to Hakim that the remaining funds be donated, after all outstanding obligations are met, to a fund to support the contras that has been established in Casey's memory.
Hakim declined to make a commitment during his testimony about what he would do.
Lt. Col. Oliver L. North has testified that the main goal of the Iran-contra diversion scheme was to keep the contras alive. To handle this task, retired Air Force major general Richard V. Secord and his business partner, Albert A. Hakim, set up "the enterprise," a network of dummy corporations and overseas bank accounts.
The sale of U.S. arms to Iran generated $31.1 million. Of that, $12.2 million was used to reimburse the U.S. Treasury for the arms, and $2.2 million was paid for transportation and other expenses related to the arms sales. What happened to the remaining $16.7 million?
Used for direct contra support, primarily the financing of an air resupply operation.
$3.8 million was treated as profit for Secord, Hakim and another associate, Thomas G. Clines.
$2 million was set aside for future covert operations.
$2 million was tagged for commissions for Iranian middlemen involved in an October 1986 arms deal.
$200,000 was set aside for unspecified purposes.
$200,000 was set aside as a death benefit fund for the North family.
Reimbursed to U.S. Treasury.
Paid for transportation and other expenses.
To Secord and Hakim's company, Stanford Technology Trading Group International Inc.
Held in accounts and never distributed.
Used for North-sponsored covert operations unrelated to the contra cause, including the purchase of a ship and radio equipment.
Disbursed for miscellaneous expenses, transportation costs and unknown purposes.
Still left in various accounts. This includes the $1.4 million never distributed and $6.6 million in profits from arms sales to Iran and the contras, plus accrued income.
SOURCE: "Summary of Hakim Accounting Records" as prepared by the Senate and House
Iran-contra committees, testimony by Albert A. Hakim, congressional investigators.