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WASHINGTON — Transcripts of secret U.N. Security Council sessions show that U.S. and British diplomats were constantly thwarted by their French, Russian and Chinese counterparts while investigating Saddam Hussein's dirty deals under the oil-for-food program.
Minutes of meetings of the so-called 661 Committee — the U.N. Security Council panel that oversaw Iraq sanctions and the oil-for-food program — have been recently turned over to U.S. congressional committees investigating the $10 billion bribery kickback scandal, officials said.
According to a top congressional investigator who has read the highly sensitive documents, the minutes confirm that there was widespread knowledge inside the United Nations years before the war that Saddam's regime was ripping off the $100 billion program by demanding kickbacks from oil traders and suppliers of humanitarian aid to Iraq.
The investigator said the transcripts reveal that U.S. and British diplomats repeatedly raised questions about suspicious contracts, but efforts to investigate corruption were blocked by Russia, France, China and, at times, Syria.
"The Russians and Chinese made clear their position was that they were against sanctions on Iraq and didn't like this program, so they were not going to help in any way," the investigator said.
"The French were two-faced about it. They would respond to American and British requests to halt contracts by saying there was not enough evidence, or more information was needed. In the end, the Americans and British were often forced to back down on these inquiries."
France and Russia were two of the biggest opponents of the U.S. war effort to oust Saddam, and Russian and French politicians and businessmen were the most numerous names published in the Baghdad newspaper al-Mada earlier this year of recipients of sweetheart oil deals from Saddam's regime.
Ihsan Karim, the Iraqi official heading the probe into alleged corruption, was killed last Thursday.
New documents have also surfaced indicating that even when top U.N. officials complained about corruption, little was done.
In October 2002, the Russian oil company Lakia Import Export complained in letters to the Iraqi Oil Ministry and to Benon Sevan, the U.N administrator of the program, that Iraq did not honor its agreement to deliver an oil deal, despite the fact that it had already sent a "necessary advanced payment," of $60,000 to Baghdad.
Sevan responded with a letter to Mohammed Al-Douri, then Iraq's ambassador to the U.N., asking for an explanation and saying, "I am duty-bound to bring the matter to the U.N. Security Council."
Al-Douri replied to Sevan that the information contained in Lakia's letter was "incorrect."
Sevan later reported the issue to the 661 Committee. No action appears to have been taken, investigators said.