Video: Oil slick

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updated 5/19/2006 8:20:43 PM ET 2006-05-20T00:20:43

Former New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli, forced to abandon a Senate race four years ago because of ethical lapses, is back under investigation. The allegations, first reported by the Financial Times in London and Italy's Il Sole 24 Ore, involve the United Nations' scandal-ridden oil-for-food program.

Iraqi documents, obtained by NBC News, indicate that in 1996, then-U.S. Rep. Torricelli repeatedly lobbied Iraqi officials to give lucrative contracts to a company owned by Korean-American businessman David Chang, who later went to prison for making illegal campaign contributions to Torricelli.

Senate investigators probing corruption in the oil-for-food program confirm they are now pursuing these allegations against Torricelli. 

"We take it seriously, and we're going to actively investigate it," says Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

Sources familiar with the documents say, while pressing the deal for Chang, Torricelli reportedly offered to help improve U.S.-Iraq relations.

"Senator Torricelli was willing to, on behalf of a contributor, take official actions, go to a foreign government and say, 'Help this guy out,' and that's something that an elected official should not be doing," Coleman says.

One former U.S. ambassador says he remembers being uncomfortable when Torricelli asked for a meeting on the oil-for-food program and showed up with a Korean businessman, whose name he doesn’t remember.

"I wasn't sure who I was speaking in front of, so, yes, it was awkward and I thought a bit strange," the ambassador says.

On Friday, Torricelli told NBC News he was only trying to help companies in his state get a piece of the oil-for-food business — a program sanctioned by the U.S. and the U.N. He says he did nothing wrong.

"Nothing was suggested that there was anything inappropriate about this," Torricelli says. " It was entirely appropriate; it was the right thing to do. What is regrettable is that they refused to buy American products."

The deal eventually fell through when tensions between the U.S. and Iraq flared up.

But investigators want to know whether there was an effort to conceal the arrangement and whether Torricelli was to receive anything in return.

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