A Michigan gem merchant who claims he tipped the FBI on the location of Osama bin Laden’s secret compound in Pakistan eight years before his killing has hired a high-powered Chicago law firm to help him go after the $25 million reward offered for the terrorist’s capture.
Tom Lee, 63, of Grand Rapids, “accurately reported” to an FBI special agent in 2003 that bin Laden was hiding in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to a letter sent in August to FBI Director James Comey by an attorney for the Loevy & Loevy firm.
Lee, a U.S. citizen of Egyptian descent, said he learned of the complex’s location from a Pakistani intelligence agent who told him he had personally escorted bin Laden and his family from Peshawar to Abbottabad. The agent was a member of an anti-Al Qaeda family who had done business with Lee for decades, according to the letter.
Lee claimed he relayed the information to a U.S. customs agent who had previously worked with Lee on investigations into corruption in the international gem trade. Lee and the customs agent later met with an FBI agent who wrote a report of the interview, the letter stated.
Bin Laden was killed in May 2011 during a raid by U.S. special forces on a heavily fortified compound in Abbottabad.
The letter requested the full $25 million reward offered by the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program for the “capture or conviction” of bin Laden.
“Once Mr. Lee learned that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden in the precise location he had identified…in 2003, (he) made numerous attempts to contact the Grand Rapids FBI field office in order to claim his reward,” the letter stated. “Unfortunately, all of Mr. Lee’s communications to that office have gone unanswered to date, as has his electronic submission to the FBI via its web site.”
An FBI representative in Washington was not immediately available to comment.
After the 2011 raid, several U.S. officials were quoted in news articles that the reward would not be paid because the compound was located through electronic intelligence pieced together by field operatives, not an informant. Lee’s account also differs from numerous published reports that the bin Laden compound may not have even been constructed until 2005. Some news reports quoted U.S. officials as saying it was believed bin Laden didn’t move to the complex until early 2006.
According to the letter, Lee has been an international gem merchant for more than 40 years and founded the Gem River Corporation, which has counted among its board members William Ruckelshaus, the former acting director of the FBI and U.S. deputy attorney general.
Lee did not respond to calls seeking comment this afternoon.