An Entrepreneur Surfaces, as Do QuestionsBy JACK HEALY
Published: March 21, 2012
BAGHDAD — It was as if Rand Hultz had vanished into Iraq. No one had heard from him in months, if not years: not his brother, his ex-wife or the angry investors who once believed he could make them piles of easy money from this war-ravaged land.
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MASAR TV, via Associated Press
Rand Hultz, center, said Saturday that Iraqi militants had held him for nine months before releasing him as a good-will gesture to the United States.
Militants Free American No One Knew Was Missing (March 18, 2012)
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.Then over the weekend Mr. Hultz appeared on Iraqi television with a tale as bizarre and baffling as any that have unspooled over nine tangled years of war and occupation. Dressed in camouflage fatigues, Mr. Hultz announced that he had been kidnapped nine months earlier by a Shiite militia commanded by the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr. He said he was being freed as a gesture of his captors’ good will toward the United States.
“It was explained to me that this is a gift,” he said. Two Iraqi politicians at his side — acolytes of Mr. Sadr — confirmed his account.
But his path from Army sergeant to surprise captive has confounded Mr. Hultz’s family and business associates.
Mr. Hultz, 45, declined to elaborate further and turned down multiple interview requests, but interviews with family members, Iraqi bankers and his American investors sketched a portrait of a man with a troubled history of bankruptcy and debt who, like many Westerners who find their way here, saw Iraq’s Wild West capitalism and rivers of wartime cash as a gateway to wealth, and perhaps an answer to many problems. In the end, Iraq gave him neither.
Mr. Hultz has been staying at the American Embassy as he “considers his plans,” said an embassy spokesman, Michael McClellan.
Although embassy officials initially said they had not heard of Mr. Hultz, Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, said on Monday that an Iraqi acquaintance had called the embassy in June to say he had not heard from Mr. Hultz in a few days. American officials checked with his hotel and Iraqi officials, but could find no trace of him, Ms. Nuland said.
“So at that point we assumed, I think, that he had left the country,” she said at a briefing in Washington. “Unusual story.”
His brother, David Allan Hultz, said that he had not seen Mr. Hultz in a decade. But they spoke briefly some months before he disappeared, and the brother said Mr. Hultz seemed deeply focused on his business ventures in Iraq. David Hultz said he was taken aback by the news of the kidnapping.
“That was just the biggest shock to me,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’m wondering how did this happen, how did he appear out of the blue like this? It’s just really bizarre.”
David Hultz said that the family had lived in New Orleans and that Mr. Hultz had floated around the South, trying his hand at different startup businesses, including a stint in home renovations during the late 1990s.
A retired officer in the National Guard, he signed up for active duty in the Army after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to an April 2004 Army public-affairs article. He deployed to southern Iraq, which was bubbling with Shiite resistance to an unpopular occupation.
In the military article, he is Sergeant Hultz, sitting on an Army cot and joking about the close quarters of war and the numbing grief that concussed the base after a soldier was killed by an improvised roadside bomb. He talks about the fraternity of the military and says the insurgents had “got the best of us.”
It is unclear when he left the military, but in 2005 he had returned to Iraq as a security official in the Green Zone for the contracting giant KBR, according to people who knew him and a 2007 lawsuit against KBR that mentions his name in passing.
In the United States, he was dogged by financial struggles. Court records show that he declared bankruptcy in 1994 in Louisiana. In 2009, he lost his home in North Carolina in a judgment after being sued by a disgruntled investor who claimed that Mr. Hultz’s business plans and talk of double-digit returns were little more than fabrications, court papers show.
In July of that year, the federal government filed a tax lien against Mr. Hultz.
But in Iraq, people who knew him said he had spoken with confidence about the millions of dollars to be made and 15 percent annual returns for anyone brave enough to risk their money there.
Investors said he had met them over hamburgers at dining halls, at one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces, in the maintenance office of an aircraft hangar. He passed around handouts and extolled the profits to be made in Iraq’s reopened stock exchange, its devalued currency and its commodities. Investors said he persuaded them that Iraq, sitting on an ocean of oil and awash with reconstruction money, was poised to boom.
“He had everyone going for a long while,” said Katherine Vila, who said she invested $1,200 in August 2005. “He was very convincing, and not only that, he had maybe at least 400 investors.”
Eleven investors reached by e-mail and telephone told similar stories. Typically, they were service members or American contractors in Iraq who decided to wager anywhere from $500 to $10,000 on Mr. Hultz and his venture. His plans would take shape as the Iraq Fund, which he described as a $25 million hedge fund that dealt in stocks, commodities and real estate.
The fund was even mentioned by the American government as one of several “sources of equity financing” in a 2008 Commerce Department report promoting business ties between the United States and Iraq. It is unclear how much money the fund raised, or from how many sources. A business associate close to Mr. Hultz, who asked to remain anonymous because he had met with F.B.I. agents, estimated that Mr. Hultz’s fund had collected $2 million to $3 million. An official at the Credit Bank of Iraq, which did business with him, said the amount was less than $1 million.
He set up shop as an independent businessman in Baghdad, with a translator and an Iraqi business called Sanna al Kassir in Baghdad’s upscale Karrada neighborhood. Bank officials said the firm bought millions of shares of Iraqi stocks.
What happened to those investments, and the rest of the money he raised, is a mystery.
Officials at the Credit Bank of Iraq said Mr. Hultz appeared to run into cash problems, and they told him to switch banks three years ago after he asked to liquidate some stocks without getting the necessary signatures from his Iraqi proxy.
Investors said their contacts dwindled with Mr. Hultz and his second wife, who had helped run the business. Its Web site was taken down. The address listed for his Baghdad firm does not appear to exist.
Several investors said they had not spoken with Mr. Hultz in at least two years, though one associate, Grant Davis, said he spoke to him as late as June 2011, not long before Mr. Hultz says he was kidnapped. Mr. Davis said he had the impression that “things were pretty shaky” with the investments. Few hope to see their money again.
“It was a gamble, and I lost,” said one investor, Jeffery Fusco. “I have made my peace with it.”
Jack Begg contributed reporting.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/22/world/middleeast/rand-hultz-reappears-in-iraq-but-mystery-remains.html?pagewanted=all
I find this article interesting.. It is less earth shattering cause if I'm a business owner wish to do busines in Iraq Mr. Hultz might be the the number 1 consultant. However I remember tell me IN IRQ HE DID TRUST AL WARKA... LOOKS LIKE HE HAD A TOUGH TIME DILUTING SOME SHARE FROM COMMERICAL BANK...PERSONALY IT WAS NOT WAS NOT HIS FAULT BUT TOUGH FOR INVESTORS TO UNDERSTAND..
Rand I LOOK FOR FOWARD TO YOUR INTERVIEW ON CNBC....WE WOULD LIKE TO HEAR THE COMPLEXITY OF INVESTING IN REAL ESTATE DEALS AND THE IRAQ STOCK MAKET...