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Tamraz arrested in Republic of Georgia

June 13, 1997 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Oil man and controversial Democratic donor Roger Tamraz was arrested in the Republic of Georgia on an Interpol arrest warrant stemming from embezzlement charges in Lebanon, a U.S. official said Friday.

The State Department confirmed that Tamraz, whose attempts to win Clinton administration support for an oil pipeline venture are being investigated by Congress and a grand jury, was arrested in the Georgian capital city of Tbilisi.

``I understand he is being detained,″ said State Department Phyllis Young. She said she had no further details about the circumstances of the recent arrest.

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But another U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tamraz was arrested on an Interpol warrant stemming from the 1989 charges filed in Lebanon.

A substantial Democratic Party donor and frequent White House visitor in 1995 and 1996, Tamraz has been sought by a Lebanese court on 1989 charges of embezzling $200 million from a collapsed Beirut bank he once headed. He denies the charges.

Tamraz’s White House visits, which included a dinner and movie with President Clinton, took place despite objections from the National Security Council staff.

The CIA’s inspector general is also investigating an alleged attempt by former Democratic Party chairman Donald Fowler tried to pressure the agency to remove unfavorable information on Tamraz from reports it sent about him to the NSC.

Fowler has denied allegations that he pressured the CIA and Nancy Soderberg, a senior NSC aide, to help get Tamraz access to the White House.

Tamraz, a U.S. citizen who lives in New York City, contends the Lebanese criminal charges are politically motivated because of his dealings with Israeli businessmen.

``I don’t think anyone takes this seriously in civilized countries,″ Tamraz told the Associated Press in January.

Despite a warrant issued by Interpol, the international police agency, Tamraz says he has been allowed to travel freely throughout the world. The U.S. government has not honored a Lebanese request to extradite Tamraz.

Tamraz gave $72,000 to the Democratic National Committee and another $100,000 to the Virginia Democratic Party.

A federal grand jury is investigating whether Clinton administration officials sought to help Tamraz promote his plans to construct pipelines to carry oil from the Caspian Sea region to Turkey. Georgia is located near the region where oil companies have been considering investing billions of dollars to develop its production capacity.

Sheila Heslin, a former NSC aide who first objected to Tamraz’s White House visits, has told investigators an Energy Department aide pressured her to help Tamraz, say individuals familiar with her account, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Heslin’s notes of her conversation with that former Energy official, Jack Carter, say Carter told her Tamraz was prepared to give the DNC as much as $600,000, those individuals said.

Heslin wrote down ``Pres wants″ during her spring 1996 conversation with Carter, now a lawyer in Houston.

Tamraz briefly told Clinton about his pipeline plans at a March 26, 1996, dinner for donors. ``I was introduced to the president,″ he said in the recent interview. ``He asked me what I did in life and I explained my project.″

Heslin has told investigators that Carter also invoked the name of White House aide Thomas McLarty in his discussions.

The White House has said McLarty met Tamraz and at Clinton’s behest asked the Energy Department to review Tamraz’s pipeline proposal. But White House officials say McLarty never mentioned Tamraz’s status as a donor when he spoke to C. Kyle Simpson, a senior Energy Department official who confirms that account.

Simpson tasked Carter to review the project and the Energy Department did nothing to help Tamraz.