There were some red faces Thursday over the disclosure that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was offering oil at bargain rates to people and organizations his regime considered friendly — during the time that Iraq was under a United Nations embargo strictly limiting how its oil could be sold.
U.S. officials confirmed Thursday that recently discovered files from Saddam’s oil ministry document nearly 300 offers of hundreds of millions of barrels of Iraqi oil. The recipients could then get brokers to sell it on the international market at a huge profit. And now, some people admit they said yes.
According to those who’ve seen the documents, they record secret offers to foreign leaders and members of parliaments, friends of Iraq, a Catholic priest and even two Americans.
The Iraqi newspaper that disclosed them called them signs of a huge corruption operation, bribes directed by Saddam in violation, it said, of U.N. restrictions on Iraqi oil sales.
A former U.S. military commander says there’s no doubt the documents are real.
“The stories that I heard were that they were very, very, very, incriminating and going to be very embarrassing to certain governments and certain individuals,” said NBC News military analyst Wayne Downing.
One man on this list is the head of a French-Iraqi friendship association, a middleman between French companies and Iraq since the mid-1980s.
Did he take the money? Yes, he tells NBC News. But he says they were the kinds of kickbacks or commission routinely paid in international commerce. He says the money went to the companies he helped and they, not Saddam, paid him.
U.S. law enforcement officials tell NBC News they found some of the material over the summer and are aware that two Americans are said to be on the oil deal list.
Authorities say one of them is Shakir al-Khafaji of Michigan, a man who helped finance a documentary produced by former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter. Ritter opposed going to war with Iraq.
Thursday night Khafaji told NBC News he has no idea why his name appears on the list — that he never received a kickback from Saddam’s oil ministry. Law enforcement officials, in the meantime, tell NBC News they’re just beginning to look into whether any U.S. laws were broken.