HL British release Iraqi assets as subject is freed from jail //
This is first time gulf-war ally has given back funds
Byline: :From Register news services
SO THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER (OCR)
Origin: LONDON, ENGLAND
LP Iraq on Saturday freed British businessman Ian Richter, who had served 5 1/2 years of a life sentence for bribery, and Britain released $125 million in Iraqi assets so Baghdad can buy relief supplies. Britain becomes the first of the gulf-coalition allies to release Baghdad assets seized in the Kuwait invasion crisis nearly 16 months ago.
TX "It"s wonderful to be out. It"s one of those long, dark tunnels and the light suddenly opens," the 45-year-old chemical engineer said after being freed from Baghdad"s Abu Ghraib maximum-security jail. "I ran a half-marathon this morning, 40 times round a rather bumpy and dusty football pitch (field) and I had no idea this was happening. So I had a shower and was just about to make a cup of tea when I was summoned and told: `You"ve got 5 minutes to pack your bags _ you"re going." " Richter, who has always denied he tried to bribe Iraqi officials, looked lean, fit and tanned. He said he was well-treated by Iraqi authorities and toward the end turned down an offer of a three-cell suite. * He was turned over to visiting UN envoy Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, who was in Baghdad to discuss relief efforts for the war-ravaged country. Sadruddin told a Baghdad news conference that Richter"s release was "in response to several petitions made by King Hussein of Jordan and his (Sadruddin"s) own personal requests," the Iraqi News Agency reported. It did not elaborate. The South African-born Richter, local manager of water-engineering company Paterson Candy International, was arrested as he was leaving Baghdad Airport in July 1986. Eight months later, after a trial lasting just over an hour, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for paying illegal commissions to a former mayor of Baghdad, who later was executed for corruption. Richter maintained his innocence and his wife, Shirley, said the sentence was a "terrible shock." Under the deal, Britain said it will unfreeze $125 million of the $640 million it froze under UN sanctions to punish Iraq"s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. Iraq says these are urgently required to save lives endangered by its inability to use about $4 billion in assets locked in Western vaults. "We have said for months that we would be prepared to release assets for humanitarian purposes if Mr. Richter was released," said David Gore-Booth, assistant undersecretary of state at the Foreign Office. Richter, who telephoned his wife from a satellite phone in Sadruddin"s suite, will fly to London today with Sadruddin. "I"ve spoken to my wife, I think we were both in tears," he said over a glass of champagne with UN aides and Iraqi officials. The only Iraqi diplomat in Britain told British Broadcasting Corp. television that he hoped relations would improve with Britain. "We are looking forward to better relations," Zuhair Ibrahim said. Calling the Iraqi move a "gesture of goodwill," Sadruddin expressed hope it would "give new impetus" to "meeting the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, and the possibility of unfreezing Iraqi assets frozen in other countries," INA reported. Richter"s release came five days after Terry Waite, the Church of England envoy, was freed in Lebanon after nearly five years in captivity. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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