Armed Services Committee Holds Hearing On Iraqi WMD Programs
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Charles Duelfer, head of the U.S. Iraq Survey Group, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.
updated 10/7/2004 8:17:14 PM ET 2004-10-08T00:17:14

France urged caution Thursday in dealing with a U.S. inspector’s allegations it was involved in corruption at the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq, while others singled out in the report rejected the charges as “far-fetched.”

The report issued Wednesday by Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, said Saddam Hussein issued secret vouchers for the purchase of oil, which could then be resold at a profit, to an array of officials and political figures from various countries, mainly Russia, France and China.

The report named former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri and the Russian radical political figure Vladimir Zhirinovsky as voucher recipients and implicated foreign governments, including Namibia and Yemen.

Zhirinovsky, who frequently traveled to Saddam’s Iraq and had called for increased trade between the two countries, adamantly denied the claim in the report, which also cited top Russian oil companies Yukos and Lukoil as recipients.

Zhirinovsky denies
“I never took a drop (of oil), or a single dollar from Iraq or from any other country. I have never dealt with oil,” the Interfax news agency quoted Zhirinovsky as saying Thursday. “I do not care what someone might have received, I personally gained nothing.”

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa also rejected the accusations.

“There is no credence to these allegations,” Natalegawa said. “It’s a fact that we took part in the oil-for-food program, but this notion of vouchers is far-fetched. There were no dealings other than the oil-for-food.”

The Namibian government also was quick to proclaim it had never received vouchers from Saddam or purchased any oil from Iraq.

“We never had any connection to Saddam Hussein. My president has condemned Saddam Hussein,” Information Minister Nanjolo Mbumba said in a telephone interview from Windhoek. He added that Namibia buys all its oil from South Africa.

Pasqua’s office said the former interior minister, who recently won a Senate seat and the parliamentary immunity that it confers, was not immediately available for comment.

French call for caution
But French Foreign Ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous counseled caution, saying the allegations weren’t checked with the people or countries involved.

“It is important to assure oneself very precisely on the veracity of this information,” he said. “We understand that these accusations against companies and individuals were not verified either with the people themselves or with the authorities of the countries concerned.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry expressed its support for the investigation into the alleged bribes.

“The investigation that is being conducted should result in an objective picture of possible irregularities that could have been committed under the oil-for-food program,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said.

“Russia, like all countries, is interested in the results of this investigation being objective,” he said, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

Yukos and Lukoil officials also could not be reached for comment.

U.S. companies unnamed
The names of American companies and individuals who may have been involved in oil deals weren’t released because of U.S. privacy laws, the report said.

The report also said that the governments of Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Egypt did a brisk illicit oil trade with Iraq — more than $8 billion from 1991 until 2003. “These governments were full parties to all aspects of Iraq’s unauthorized oil exports and imports,” it said.

Jordanian government spokeswoman Asma Khader said Jordan “strongly rejects the baseless allegations against the kingdom.”

“We reiterate again that Jordan has conducted all dealings according to international law and United Nations resolutions,” she said in a telephone interview from Germany, where she was accompanying Jordan’s King Abdullah II on a state visit.

Geneva trader fined
Separately, Swiss authorities said Thursday that the owner of a Geneva-based oil trading firm has been fined $39,500 for making illegal payments for oil contracts in Saddam’s Iraq and 10 more companies could be investigated.

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs fined the head of the company for paying $60,000 to win a contract for the purchase of Iraqi crude oil under the U.N.’s oil-for-food program, said spokesman Othmar Wyss. Iraq failed to honor the contract and did not sell any oil to the company, despite the payment, the secretariat said. Wyss declined to name the person or the company involved.

The oil-for-food program was designed to allow limited oil sales to pay for humanitarian goods, but critics and U.S. congressional investigators have long alleged that administration of the program was rife with corruption and failed to prevent illicit business deals and massive kickbacks to the Iraqi government.

Calls for stepped-up probe
Vice President Dick Cheney jumped on the allegations. “The suggestion is clearly there by Mr. Duelfer that Saddam had used the program in such a way that he had bought off foreign governments and was building support among them to take the sanctions down,” Cheney said Thursday at an appearance in Miami.

World powerResponding to the report, a high-ranking Republican congressman demanded the United Nations’ independent inquiry speed up its timetable and release documents to Congressional investigators.

“The world cannot wait years for answers to the growing body of evidence implicating senior U.N. officials in outright corruption,” said Rep. Henry Hyde, who chairs the House International Relations Committee.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan in April appointed former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to lead an independent investigation. He has said his committee will not deliver a report before mid-2005. Volcker has refused to share with Congress documents for their probes, including 55 internal audits of the oil-for-food program produced by the United Nations.

List of VIPs
The Duelfer report said Benon Sevan, the former chief of the U.N. program, is among dozens of people who allegedly received secret oil vouchers, with Saddam personally approving the list of recipients. The voucher list was dominated by Russian, French and Chinese recipients, in that order, with Saddam spreading the wealth widely to prominent business leaders, politicians, foreign government ministries and political parties, the report said.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard refused comment on “any specific allegation against Mr. Sevan or anyone else.”

“This is in the hands of Paul Volcker,” he added. “We are cooperating with him fully. Benon Sevan is cooperating with him fully, and we will wait for Volcker’s judgment. Benon, meanwhile, stands by his statement that he’s done nothing wrong.”

The report also names former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri and the Russian radical political figure Vladimir Zhirinovsky as voucher recipients and other foreign governments range from Yemen to Namibia.

Zhirinovsky denied the allegations.

“I never took a drop (of oil), or a single dollar from Iraq or from any other country. I have never dealt with oil,” Russia’s Interfax news agency cited Zhirinovsky as saying Thursday. “I do not care what (bribes) someone might have received. I personally gained nothing.”

Zhirinovsky has visited Iraq frequently and called for increased trade between the two countries. The oil companies mentioned included top Russian producers Yukos and Lukoil. Company officials could not immediately be reached to comment on the allegations.

Caution on allegations
In France, Foreign Ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous counseled caution.

“It is important to assure oneself very precisely on the veracity of this information,” he said. “We understand that these accusations against companies and individuals were not verified either with the people themselves or with the authorities of the countries concerned.”

Marty Natalegawa, a spokesman for the Indonesian foreign ministry said: “There is no credence to these allegations. It’s a fact that we took part in the oil for food program, but this notion of vouchers is far fetched. There were no dealings other than the oil for food.”

The names of American companies and individuals who may have been involved in oil deals weren’t released because of U.S. privacy laws, the report said.

The program was designed to allow limited oil sales to pay for humanitarian goods.

The governments of Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Egypt also did a brisk illicit oil trade with Iraq — more than $8 billion from 1991 until 2003, the report said: “These governments were full parties to all aspects of Iraq’s unauthorized oil exports and imports.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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