Australian inquiry urges oil-for-food charges

/ Source: The Associated Press

An inquiry into multimillion-dollar kickbacks to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein paid by Australia’s monopoly wheat exporter on Monday recommended criminal charges against 11 company officials but found no illegal activity by the government.

The final report of the royal commission into payments by the Australian Wheat Board, now known as AWB Ltd., under the U.N.’s corruption-riddled Iraq oil-for-food program was made public Monday when it was formally tabled in Parliament.

In his report, former judge Terence Cole said, “I found no material that is any way suggestive of illegal activity by the Commonwealth or any of its officers.” The Commonwealth of Australia is a formal title used for the government.

Prime Minister John Howard ordered the inquiry last year after an investigation by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker exposed the AWB as the largest source of suspect payments under the oil-for-food program. From 1999-2003, AWB executives authorized $222 million in bogus transport fees to a Jordanian trucking company part-owned by Saddam’s government, Volcker found.

Payments to Saddam were illegal under U.N. sanctions imposed on Baghdad after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Howard, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and former Trade Minister Mark Vaile were called to testify before the government inquiry in April.

All denied having any knowledge that AWB was breaking the U.N. sanctions.