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On the trail of Doug Wood
John Watkinson remembers the day when his business partnership with Douglas Wood turned ugly. Driving down to the Dead Sea on holiday in Jordan in April 2004, he received a distressed phone call from his assistant in Baghdad.
She said Wood was mishandling a large payment of money they had received for a construction contract for a building they were refurbishing in the US-administered Baghdad safe haven otherwise known as the Green Zone
Watkinson alleges Wood absconded with $US50,000 of the company's money and fled Baghdad in a taxi to Georgia, via Turkey.
Watkinson, who severed his business relationship with Wood 14 months ago, strongly disputes many of Wood's claims of business success in Iraq, claiming Wood had been kicked off projects and sidelined from others after offering a financial inducement to secure a construction contract. He regards claims by Wood that he was about to secure an oil- related contract on the day he was taken hostage as highly fanciful. "And how does anyone get into an oil deal? The Iraqis have been trading oil for years - why would they need Doug?"
Watkinson says Wood was nearly destitute and living in a derelict building when he was kidnapped in controversial circumstances. An Iraqi businessman, who declined to be identified and who has closely studied many hostage snatches for his own protection, says that kidnappings are usually highly organised, target people with connections who will attract a lot of attention and are often carried out in broad daylight. Wood was taken in a prearranged meeting at a private house.
Watkinson is also puzzled by the circumstances of the kidnapping, believing Wood may have been an easy target because he was living in the highly dangerous Red Zone, but added that he was of no commercial value because of his parlous financial position.
Interviewed by Federal Police and Australian officials after Wood disappeared on 29 April, Watkinson says police told him they believed Wood got himself into trouble and if he had been more careful would never have been taken hostage. "I had a feeling that the Australian Federal Police were just as puzzled as I was about the nature and circumstances of the kidnapping," he says.
After a far-reaching investigation into Wood's business activities in Baghdad and London, and into the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and astonishingly coincidental discovery by Iraqi troops on the day he was due to be released, The Sunday Age can reveal for the first time:
- Wood's company International Projekts Management Limited, registered with US authorities in Iraq for contract work, has not filed a financial return with British regulators because it has never made any money. The company has been dormant since 1996 when it was first registered. It has paid-up share capital of ££1000 (A$2336).
- Despite claims that he made money in Georgia, Watkinson and friends of Wood say he arrived in Baghdad broke after claiming he had $5000 stolen from his luggage on his flight from the former Soviet republic. Inquiries reveal that he owed money not only to his former employees Faris Shakir and Adel Najm (taken hostage with Wood but executed before he was picked up by Iraqi soldiers on 15 June), but also to hotels and other businesses in Baghdad.
- Despite repeated assurances that he would send money to the families of Faris Shakir and Adel Najm, Wood has only compensated the family of Faris with a payment of $US5000. Adel Najm's widow, Moona Jasmin Mohammed, told The Sunday Age Wood had not contacted her even though it is a month since he returned to Australia. Hayder Faris, the son of Faris Shakir, says he is yet to receive an "unspecified sum" Wood promised.
- There is evidence to suggest Wood's kidnappers were not the Shura Council of the Mujahideen as portrayed on the video tapes sent to al-Jazeera television and the Australian Embassy in Baghdad, but members of a criminal gang.
The gang initially wanted $US25 million, but later moderated this to $US100,000. Both Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali, the senior Australian Muslim cleric, and his guide in Iraq, Qusai Abdulaziz, a Sydney businessman, who went to Iraq to negotiate Wood's release, said intermediaries and other sheikhs they contacted in Baghdad while searching for Wood told them the kidnapping was not the work of the Shura Council. "We were told this was an unusual case, that the circumstances were rather extraordinary," said Abdulaziz.
- Sheikh Hilali and Abdulaziz said on May 16 after the intermediaries told them that the gang holding Wood may target them.
- Sheikh Hilali told The Sunday Age he was shown by intermediaries at a secret rendezvous a yet-to-be-released video of Wood being viciously interrogated by his kidnappers, in which Wood made a number of "disturbing" claims about his activities in Iraq. He said he had briefed Nick Warner, the Australian diplomat in charge of the response team, on the contents of the tape and had agreed to keep it confidential.
· Sheikh Hilali also said that the Wood family had asked that all correspondence with them remain confidential, and was legally copyright and not be released to the public. It is believed some of the correspondence referred to the ransom being demanded and how that might be paid to secure Wood's release.
If Wood was ever successful in business there is little evidence of it. A search of Wood's UK-registered company, which is also registered at the US Government's Central Contracting Registry, confirms the company has been listed as a non-trading dormant company for the last five years.
If Wood had been bidding and winning contracts in Iraq as he claims to have done, he has been posing as an active company while registered as inactive. The May 2005 company returns lists no financial dealings for the previous year.
His determination to cash in on his harrowing 47 days as a hostage suggests he needs money. It has been reported Wood was paid in excess of $A400,000 for the Channel Ten interview and is likely to make another $500,000 from a book deal and other spin-offs. He told ABC radio on July 3: "So if I can make a little money sharing some of the pain and agony, then why not? Because I am a kind of victim, I'm not the bloody - I don't feel I am a . . . money grubber. I feel I'm a poor bugger who had a tough time and is now out of work."
Originally posted by Djarums
I'd be interested to see a massive full background report on the guys claiming mistreatment in Gitmo. I'd like to know their financial dealings from the past and how trustworthy they are considered, and why their word is considered gold by the press.
Fair is fair, isn't it? If you're going to X-ray Lynch and Wood, keep it an even playing field.
That's good investigative journalism, how could you possibly take issue with that Djarums?
Seems like you're just upset about them not picking another story.