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Ptech workers tell the story behind the search

By Dan Verton
January 17, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - It started with an e-mail tip from a former employee. It ended with Ptech Inc.'s reputation in tatters.
The former employee, who had once managed government sales operations for the company, had seen a CNN story about possible links between Saudi businessmen and terrorist financing. Aware that a Saudi businessman, Yassin al-Qadi, had once invested in Ptech, the employee tipped off the FBI.
Thus, on the night of Dec. 5, 2002, FBI agents showed up at Ptech in Quincy, Mass., and asked CEO Oussama Ziade for permission to look into his company's financial dealings with al-Qadi.
Al-Qadi, a wealthy Saudi businessman who, like many others in his country, had investments in various high-tech companies in the U.S., had been one of Ptech's start-up "angel" investors in 1994. At no time, however, was he a Ptech investor of record.
Ziade told Computerworld in an interview that he was happy to assist the FBI. In return, the Bureau and the U.S. Customs Service pledged to be careful not to let word of their visit leak to the media. They parked their cars away from Ptech's building so as not to raise suspicions, and Ziade escorted them in one by one through a back door.
"The night of the search, we met with the federal authorities for a few hours in our lawyer's office, where we were told that neither Ptech nor its employees or officers are the target of the investigation," said Ziade.
Ziade explained his relationship with al-Qadi. "I don't know him well," Ziade said. "I met him a few times and talked to him a few times on the telephone. He never talked to me about violence. Instead, he talked very highly of his relationship with [former President] Jimmy Carter and [Vice President] Dick Cheney."
Ziade said he then told investigators that al-Qadi had been a member of the board of directors of another company that had invested in Ptech when it was first starting in 1994. Ptech's first investment had come from venture capitalists in New Jersey, he said.
Ziade, who came to the U.S. in 1985 from Lebanon and had contacts throughout the Middle East, made his first trip to Saudi Arabia in 1995 seeking additional funding for his young company. He had been told there was venture capital to be had there, so that's where he went.
It was then that he met with al-Qadi and one of the largest investment bankers in Saudi Arabia. To his surprise, half a dozen other U.S. software and technology companies were there also looking for money.
"When I was there,

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