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Ney trips to London drawing renewed scrutiny

Thomson Dialog News Edge, February 10, 2006:
Rep. Bob Ney once described himself as a hardliner on Iran, enthusiastically supporting sanctions that isolated the country and its radical Islamic rulers.

Over the years, though, his stance changed; he came to favor more engagement with the country where he had once lived and taught English. In the winter of 2003, Ney flew to London and met with two men who, according to people familiar with the visit, were interested in selling aircraft parts to Iran's crash-prone national airline, something prohibited under U.S. sanctions without a special exemption.

One of the men, Nigel Winfield, was a U.S. citizen with a long criminal record, alleged mob ties and a $2.9 million federal tax lien pending against him. The other was Fouad al-Zayat, described by the British press as a "go-between" for Middle East defense contracts and one of the biggest casino gamblers in the country, whose nationality has been variously reported as Syrian or Portugese.

Some time after that meeting, Ney's staff says he returned to London, visited an exclusive casino frequented by al-Zayat and parlayed a $100 initial bet into $34,000 in winnings on just two hands of a card game, which gambling experts say would be extremely good luck.

While the win raised eyebrows when Ney reported it on his 2003 financial disclosure statement, his dealings with Winfield and al-Zayat have received even more intense scrutiny since the Heath Republican became embroiled in the bribery investigation surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his partner Michael Scanlon.


Ney's office has never disclosed the name of the game the congressman played at Les Ambassadeurs, though Walsh, his spokesman, described it in 2004 as similar to draw poker. I. Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School and a noted authority on casino gambling, said Ney may have been playing three-card poker.

Based on the London casino's payout formula, Ney could have been dealt a straight on the first hand and a straight flush on the second hand to amass the winnings he reported, Rose wrote in an email.

"For a casino to pay 6 to one on the first bet and 56 to one on the second as he reported, the odds have to be less than 340 to 1," Rose wrote.