Friday, September 12, 2014

Austrian Court Unblocks Assets of Former U.S. Ambassador’s Wife --- BERLIN — A Vienna court has unfrozen assets belonging to the wife of Zalmay Khalilzad, a former United States ambassador reportedly under investigation by the Justice Department on suspicion of tax evasion and money laundering, according to a statement from the couple and their lawyer on Thursday. -- Holger Bielesz, a lawyer for the couple, said in a telephone interview that a higher Vienna court ordered the accounts unfrozen on Sept. 3, but that the decision was conveyed to him only on Wednesday. --- The case surfaced on Monday after Profil, an Austrian newsmagazine, reported that the American authorities were investigating transfers into seven accounts held by Mr. Khalilzad’s wife, Cheryl Benard, totaling 1.15 million euros, or nearly $1.5 million. Profil said that documents from the Vienna legal authorities, including a Justice Department order from May 2013 concerning an investigation into Mr. Khalilzad’s financial dealings, had been found in a garbage dump by a blogger between March and August. The newsmagazine said the inquiry concerned possible tax evasion and money laundering. -- Although the American authorities had sought only information about Ms. Benard’s accounts in Vienna, Mr. Bielesz has said, Austrian prosecutors obtained a court order in February freezing them. Ms. Benard, a social scientist and author, holds American and Austrian citizenship. Mr. Khalilzad is a former ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations. -- Mr. Bielesz refused to confirm details in the Profil report, but the statement said: “The appellate decision by the regional high court is a complete vindication of the position of Ms. Benard and Ambassador Khalilzad. The seizure of the accounts is lifted, and the funds in the accounts are no longer frozen.” --- Quoting the couple, the statement said the Vienna court “further ruled that there was no authority for Viennese prosecutors to seek the bank information regarding our accounts in the first place, much less be given the ability to unlawfully restrain us from accessing our accounts.” -- It made no mention of any continuing investigation into Mr. Khalilzad’s financial dealings. -- On Monday, a law enforcement official in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the Justice Department had asked the Austrian government for help in the case but did not elaborate on its nature and scope. --- Asked about the investigation, Mr. Khalilzad said in an email, “I am not aware of what the D.O.J. is doing and so cannot comment on that.” -- Mr. Bielesz called it “a scurrilous twist of fate” that the appellate court had already ruled in favor of Mr. Khalilzad and Ms. Benard when the matter became public on Monday. -- In a statement issued by his lawyers on Monday, Mr. Khalilzad, 63, emphasized that neither he nor his wife faced any formal accusation or charges. -- The former ambassador, who was born in Afghanistan, is now a business consultant in Washington. He first served in the State Department in the mid-1980s, and worked for the Reagan administration and both Bush presidents. He was a special adviser to President George W. Bush on Afghanistan at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In 2003, he was appointed ambassador to Kabul, the Afghan capital. He became ambassador to Iraq in 2005, and to the United Nations in 2007. -- Ms. Benard earned her doctorate at the University of Vienna. The two met at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1972. -- More, ALISON SMALE, NYTimes,


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