Thursday, October 23, 2008

UPDATED: Obama's Connections to Sunrise Equities, Part Two

Add a possible murder to this story…
by Tom Mannis at The Bench

Update/Addendum, 10-24-08: When this story was originally posted on 10-23-08, we said that we had photos of fugitive Salman Ibrahim, the missing CEO of Sunrise Equities. We said then that we were withholding them due to legal concerns. However, The Bench has decided to post part of one of those photos, shown here, which shows Ibrahim's face as he peers over the shoulder of Alderman Joe Moore (49th Ward) during a ribbon cutting ceremony for the free office space given to Barack Obama's 2004 US Senate race. As far as we can determine, this is the only photo of Ibrahim to be posted on a public web site ever. If you see Ibrahim, call the FBI.

RECAP: Sunrise Equities failed, leaving at least 150 investors in Chicago devastated. About $80 million of their money is missing. The Illinois Secretary of State is investigating, as is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Sunrise’s CEO, Salman Ibrahim, was reportedly seen recently on the streets of Lahore, Pakistan. Ibrahim is said to be a Taliban sympathizer. Barack Obama has long ties to Ibrahim and Sunrise Equities, which gave him free office space in his 2004 campaign for US Senate.

CHICAGO - 24 October 2008 - (The Bench) - Just hours before this was to be posted, The Bench received an urgent - and disturbing - email. It alerted us to the premature death of one of the peripheral players in this drama, the larger drama of the implosion of Sunrise Equities.

Reported dead is radio talk show host Rehan Sheikh, a friend of The Bench. (Photo of Rehan Sheikh by Tom Mannis, taken Sept. 21 while broadcasting). In his early 40s, Rehan is believed to have died suddenly from unknown causes sometime between Thursday night, October 16 and Wednesday noon, October 22. There is a lot of mystery surrounding his death; the time, even the day, of his death is unknown. Rehan Sheikh was a resident of Rogers Park.

Sources tell The Bench that Rehan suffered “two heart attacks” shortly after eating at a Pakistani restaurant on Devon Avenue in Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood, where he was a well-known and controversial figure.

The cause of death is unknown, but some in the community strongly suspect murder by means of deliberate food poisoning.

Rehan, a Pakistani immigrant to the US, drove a Yellow taxicab, but was better known as the host of radio talk show “Dil Se,” which aired every Sunday from 11:00 p.m. to midnight on WBCI 1240 AM in Chicago. Dil Se was an Urdu language talk show that covered current events of interest to Chicago’s Indian and Pakistani community.

The show’s topic on the night of Sunday, September 21, 2008 was Sunrise Equities, the missing $80 million and missing Sunrise CEO Salman Ibrahim. The Bench had the pleasure of sitting in the studio during that night’s live broadcast. Fluent in English, Rehan had no problem fielding the occasional caller who spoke English. All of the callers were very emotional about the Sunrise topic. You do not have to understand Urdu to get the emotion that poured from the callers that night.

Before and after that broadcast, Rehan spoke off-air about the Sunrise crisis. Among the things he related then, and at other times (some of which The Bench gets from reliable sources), was that Mohammed Tariq Siddiqui told him in April of this year that Salman Ibrahim was “going to vanish.” Siddiqui’s words were proved prophecy; about four months later, Ibrahim went missing along with $80 million and fellow Sunrise personnel.

Siddiqui, also known as “The Builder,” is currently a top bundler of Obama campaign donations. He is a former partner-associate of Sunrise Equities. A number of his real estate development projects in Chicago were to be built by Sunrise Development, a subsidiary of Sunrise Equities. (Siddiqui is profiled more, below).

The Bench listened in on a phone call in the middle of last week, in which Rehan reported that he had food poisoning. Rehan also said that his taxicab had recently been vandalized, its windows smashed. It should be emphasized that it is not yet known whether the damage to his cab and the sudden food poisoning are related. Rehan expressed fear for his own safety, however, regarding his role as person who was publicly discussing the Sunrise Equities story. There was, and still is, much heated emotion surrounding the issue.

There are some Muslims in the “Devon Corridor” community, the heavily Indian-Pakistani part of West Ridge, who view the sharia-compliant Sunrise Equities story as an embarrassment for Islam and would prefer that the story be kept “in the family” and not splashed all over the media. Rehan Sheikh was a media person who was splashing the story, so to speak, on a radio show that was popular among the very community that Sunrise Equities harmed so deeply.

A theory floating around today says that Rehan Sheikh was the victim of foul play that the food poisoning he suffered from may have been caused by food that may have been deliberately tampered with. The Bench must point out, however, that this is still only a theory. Furthermore, we will probably never know the true cause of death.

There is no body to examine, and no autopsy was performed.

Muslim tradition requires that a dead body be buried no more than one day after death, but allows for special circumstances. In the case of Rehan Sheikh, a friend who was very close to him for many years told a trusted source that his body was flown back to Pakistan for burial. No autopsy was - or will be - performed. The friend, fearing foul play and for personal safety, left Chicago for an extended and unspecified period.

Mystery surrounds even the transport of Rehan’s body. It is still not clear who arranged, so suddenly and with such short notice, to have Rehan’s body flown overseas.


Barack Obama has long had strong ties to Muslims and to Pakistanis. He also has long and strong ties to Sunrise Equities and Salman Ibrahim. In 2004, Sunrise Investments gave Barack Obama free office space to use during his run for US Senate. Obama the free space primarily as a fundraising hub, but at least five of Obama’s campaign workers are said to have used the office for distribution of campaign lawn signs.

The Bench has photographs of the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of the Obama-Sunrise offices. Clearly seen in the photos is Barack Obama and Salman Ibrahim. Because The Bench has seen photographs of that ribbon cutting, we have no doubt whatsoever that Obama had the office space referred to above. Our source tells us the photographer was hired by Sunrise Equities’ associate, Tariq Siddiqui, a major Obama fundraising bundler. (More about Siddiqui below.)

Copyright issues prevent The Bench from publishing those photos at this time, but we do have scanned copies hidden in multiple locations on multiple servers. If Barack Obama's legal piranhas want to sue The Bench as part of its nationwide media harassment campaign, The Bench would welcome the challenge and the free worldwide publicity that would be given to us by such action. The photographs are discussed more below.

The exact date of the ribbon cutting is not known, but is estimated by best accounts to have been in late July or early August in 2004. Obama's operatives have done a thorough job of scrubbing this (and much more) information from the Internet. After days of scouring the Internet, The Bench found no reference to that office. The Bench could not find the free office space listed anywhere as an in-kind donation to Obama after thoroughly searching the Internet, including the Illinois State Board of Elections.

The Obama-Sunrise fundraising office was a satellite campaign operation in the “Devon Corridor,” a largely Indian-Pakistani section of Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood on the north side. Salman Ibrahim was happy to help. Free space was given to Obama’s campaign within Sunrise’s general offices at 6355 N. Claremont in West Ridge, Chicago. Obama has long wooed Muslim voters, and did not have a physical presence in this part of Chicago, so the Sunrise location made logistical sense. It also made sense for Ibrahim and Sunrise Equities as part an ongoing effort to curry favor with rising star Barack Obama.

Ibrahim immigrated to the US from Pakistan about 22 years ago. His is a rags-to-riches tale, lifting himself from driving a taxi to becoming a trusted CEO of a financial institution. In 1997, he earned a bachelor degree in accounting from Northeastern Illinois University and became a CPA. Sunrise Equities, founded in 2001 by Amjed Mahmood and Dr. Mohammed Akbar Zahid, recruited Ibrahim to set up sharia-compliant investment services because of his knowledge of finance. The Chicago Journal reported that Ibrahim "quickly became the company's CEO and president, advising neighborhood banks on mortgage and other programs in accordance with Islamic laws that prohibit interest-bearing loans, and getting those programs sanctioned by Islamic scholars." (Source)

Ibrahim associated himself and Sunrise Equities with the Shariah Board of America. He was one of their directors and its treasurer. Through this alliance, and alliances with local Muslim religious leaders, Ibrahim gained the trust of hundreds of investors. He always dressed in traditional Pakistani garb, with a bushy beard and doppa, a round skullcap. There was a functioning mosque in the basement of the Sunrise Equities offices, in a neighborhood that would not look out of place in any large Pakistani city. Fellow Muslims bought his act of piety. So did non-Muslim investors, most especially developers who allied themselves with affiliate Sunrise Development. The religious leaders and the Shariah Board were also caught off guard by the scandal. They disowned Ibrahim in early September.

The disaster of Sunrise Equities is not connected with the current economic crisis gripping most of the world. It has nothing to do with the meltdown of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Rather, it is the result of a group of men going bad, conning investors with kindness and religious piety, and leaving town in the middle of the night for parts unknown. The mystery of where Salman Ibrahim and his partners ran off to remains unsolved. The investigation, by both Illinois and Federal authorities, is still in its early stages.

The Bench wants to emphasize, again, that time is short and this story needs to get out quickly. This is a tiny operation, a blog, and we do not have the kind of resources that a large news organization could put in place on a story such as this. Therefore, in the following paragraphs, we will plow into the facts without concern for prose. Below details about certain key players associated with the Sunrise Equities scandal that support The Bench's contention that Barack Obama is tied to the perpetrators of this disaster.


BARACK OBAMA is in four of the photographs of the ribbon-cutting ceremony for his free office space at Sunrise Equities. He wore a charcoal gray, two-piece suit with a white shirt and a tie with gray and white stripes. Attendees at the ceremony include Salman Ibrahim, Salman Aftab, Tariq Siddiqui and his brother, Alderman Joe Moore (49th) and Alderman Berny Stone (50th) and an Obama campaign aide.

SALMAN IBRAHIM, CEO of Sunrise Equities, is in one of the photos, peeking into a room from a hallway. Only his head can be seen, over the shoulder of another attendee, Alderman Joe Moore. Ibrahim, as usual, was wearing a tan, round skullcap.

Crain’s Chicago Business reported that they requested an interview this past summer for a profile of Sunrise Equities. However, Ibrahim declined, telling Crain’s that his religious prohibited him from being photographed. Yet, he is smiling for, and seems fully aware of, the photographer taking pictures of the group.

Ibrahim donated money to both Barack Obama and to Joe Biden for several years. In 2004, he donated $2,000 to Obama’s US Senate general election campaign (Obama for Illinois, Inc.).

In 2006, he donated twice to Biden: $2,000 to Biden for President, Inc. (primary election) and $2,000 to DE Citizen for Biden (US Senate primary election).

Ibrahim is alleged to have overstayed his student visa in the 1980's, so for a time he may have been an illegal alien. He is said to have married an American citizen circa 2003-2004, allegedly so he could stay in the US legally. A brother, Imran, was deported near the time of that marriage for overstaying his visa. Prior to marrying the American woman, however, Ibrahim was reportedly already married in Pakistan. His first wife, a Pakistani, followed him to the US sometime in the late 1980s, and always wore a full burka in public. That first wife is reported to have left the US in late July or early August of 2008, just weeks before Ibrahim and fellow Sunrise Equities officers went missing. Still another source says that Ibrahim never legally divorce the first wife, leaving open the possibility that among Ibrahim’s alleged crimes is bigamy. That, however, is a side story for somebody else to investigate.

Ibrahim is thought by many to have returned to Pakistan. Some say he might be in Oman or Dubai. On Wednesday, October 15, radio talk show host Rehan Sheikh said that a friend of his saw Ibrahim in Lahore, Pakistan “within the past ten days,” meaning between October 5 and October 16 inclusive. Imran Ibrahim, brother of Salman Ibrahim, is listed as an officer of NEXTEC Engineering in Lahore.

AMJED MAHMOOD was not in any of the ribbon-cutting photos. Mahmood went missing for a while, too, but Rehan Sheikh said that he has resurfaced, his beard shaved off, and is now driving a taxicab. Mahmood was Senior Vice President of Sunrise Equities. Their web site said that he was “one of the founding members of Sunrise Equities and has a background in corporate sales and General Management. Mr. Mahmood, who possesses over twenty years of business experience and leadership, currently oversees the Sunrise Construction Group. His background in asset management, development and real estate investments provides a solid foundation of knowledge, experience and expertise in the real estate field.”

DR. MOHAMMED AKBAR ZAHID, Senior VP Community Relations at Sunrise Equities. He was not in any of the ribbon-cutting photos. Status and whereabouts unknown; not answering phone, not returning calls. From the Sunrise Equities web site: “Mohammad Akabar Zahid is also one of the founding members of Sunrise Equities. With extensive international experience both as a Physician and an Entrepreneur, Dr. Zahid brings both his experience and reputation to the Sunrise organization. In addition to shaping the companies overall vision, he is primarily responsible for guiding and enhancing the Sunrise image in the community.”

SALMAN AFTAB is in three of the Obama ribbon-cutting photos. He wore a dark gray or navy suit (bad camera flash) with an adhesive nametag on his right lapel, and black tie. Aftab ran unsuccessfully for the Chicago City Council in Chicago's 50th Ward against incumbent Berny Stone in 2007. In his IVI-IPO Chicago Aldermanic Questionnaire, Aftab listed "Finance Committee Senator Barack Obama for United States Senator" as one of his past "activities for other candidates." (He was a $2,000 donor to Obama for Illinois in 2004.) Aftab also listed "Arab /Asian / Muslim Liaison for Forrest Claypool for Cook County Board President" and "Field Organizer for 50th ward for Tony Peraica for County Board President." (Source: Aftab also claims to have raised over $125,000 for Obama's 2004 U.S. Senate campaign.

MOHAMMED TARIQ SIDDIQUI, also known as "the builder," is clearly seen in three of the photos. He and his brother (name unknown) flank Obama as Obama cuts a green ceremonial double ribbon. (Green, by the way, is the official color of Islam.) Siddiqui wore a dark gray or blue (that bad lighting again) suit and an open-collared blue shirt, no tie.

Siddiqui was once an associate-partner of Sunrise Equities but had something of a falling out with Ibrahim a few years ago. The personal friendship thinned. Siddiqui is still a major Obama bundler of campaign donations, raising more than $50,000 to date. Siddiqui has long been active in Democrat politics in Chicago and a supporter of both Obama and Biden. Siddiqui’s office was located in the same building as Sunrise Equities. He was a partner with Sunrise Equities and Sunrise Development in several construction projects. According to an earlier Chicago Journal report, "Sunrise is involved in 11 real estate development projects that are listed on the company's Web site. Seven of those 11 projects are deeded to Rogers Park developer Mohammed [Tariq] Siddiqui, according to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds. Many of them remain unfinished."

Since mid-September of this year, a black Mercedes and silver Ford Explorer have been parked in the rear of Siddiqui's home on W. Farwell Avenue in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood. Both vehicles, a silver Ford Explorer and a black Mercedes Benz, have Indiana "dealer used" plates. The significance of this is uncertain, but they only appeared shortly after the Sunrise Equities scandal broke.

ALDERMAN BERNY STONE, city council member from the 50th Ward in West Ridge, is also in one of the photos. He his shaking Obama's hand as Obama appears to lurch toward him, through a group of 11 other men. Stone wore a light tan suit.

ALDERMAN JOE MOORE, city council member from the 49th Ward in Rogers Park (which borders West Ridge), is in three of the photos. Moore was wearing what appears to be a gray two-piece suit, with white shirt and a cheap red, black and white striped tie. Moore, a Democrat with deep ties to Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), has spent more time over the past six months outside of Chicago campaigning on behalf of Obama than he has spent on his city council duties. Moore's ex-wife was a delegate to this year's Democrat National Convention; they are very close to Schakowsky and her convicted felon husband Robert Creamer. Moore has become discredited within his own party as a viable politician since he spent more than one million dollars to barely win reelection in an April 2007 run-off, but hopes that an Obama win will get him a job in Washington next year.

As stated in Part One, this is still a developing story, with no end in site as of October 23.