Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Kickbacks to Saddam no secret at Aussie Wheat Board

Well this story in the Australian might get legs in Canada eventually, given that our Wheat Board was selling to the same regime at the same time...

February 22, 2006
AWB's illegal payment of kickbacks to Iraq was no secret among the wheat exporter's staff, an inquiry has been told.

Phil Hughes, a former marketing officer on AWB's Middle East desk, is the third whistleblower to give evidence to the Cole inquiry probing AWB's $300 million in illicit payments to dictator Saddam Hussein's regime under the UN oil-for-food program.

He now works for Victorian grain trader Brooks Grain and is the president of the Grain Exporters Association – a group which is pushing for AWB's wheat export monopoly to be dismantled.

In a written statement to the Cole Commission, Mr Hughes said he knew by the end of 1999 that AWB was paying "trucking fees" demanded by Iraq's state-owned Grain Board, fees that were in violation of UN economic sanctions in force since the 1991 Gulf War.

He said the fees were paid to Iraq via a third party, Jordanian transport firm Alia, "to avoid AWB being seen to make the payments directly and hence in contravention of the sanctions".

"This matter was not a secret among desk staff," Mr Hughes said.

The kickbacks in the form of the trucking fees began at $US12 a tonne in 1999 and eventually rose 400 per cent to more than $US50 a tonne before the oil-for-food program ended with the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the inquiry has been told.

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