WASHINGTON (AP) -- Saddam Hussein's regime made more than $21.3 billion in illegal revenue by subverting the U.N. oil-for-food program -- more than double previous estimates, according to congressional investigators.
"This is like an onion -- we just keep uncovering more layers and more layers," said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minnesota, whose Senate Committee on Government Affairs received the new information at hearing Monday.
The new figures on Iraq's alleged surcharges, kickbacks and oil-smuggling are based on troves of new documents obtained by the committee's investigative panel, Coleman told reporters before the hearing.
The documents illustrate how Iraqi officials, foreign companies and sometimes politicians allegedly contrived to allow the Iraqi government vast illicit gains.
The findings also reflect a growing understanding by investigators of the intricate schemes Saddam used to buy support abroad for a move to lift U.N. sanctions.
Coleman said the probe is just beginning and that officials aim to discover "how this massive fraud was able to thrive for so long." He said he is Angry that the United Nations has not provided documents and access to officials that investigators need to move ahead.
"Saddam Hussein attempted to manipulate the typical oil allocation process in order to gain influence throughout the world," Mark L. Greenblatt, a counsel for the Senate panel's permanent subcommittee on investigations, said in prepared testimony obtained by The Associated Press.
"Rather than giving allocations to traditional oil purchasers, Hussein gave oil allocations to foreign officials, journalists, and even terrorist entities, who then sold their allocations to the traditional oil companies in return for a sizable commission."
The reference to terrorist groups referred to evidence that the regime had allocated oil to such organizations as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Mujahadeen Khalq, a group seeking to overturn the government of Iran, Greenblatt said.
Previous estimates -- one from the General Accountability Office and the other by the top U.S. arms inspector Charles Duelfer -- concluded that Saddam's government brought in $10 billion illicitly from 1990 to 2003, when sanctions were in place.
But congressional investigators found that vastly more oil -- totaling $13.7 billion -- was smuggled out of Iraq than previously thought. Investigators also raised the GAO's estimate of $4.4 billion in oil-for-food kickbacks by $200 million, and said the regime made $2.1 billion more through a scheme where foreign companies imported flawed goods at inflated prices.
According to the documents, the Iraqi government signed deals to import rotting food and other damaged goods with the full understanding of the exporting companies, who accepted payments for top quality products while kicking back much of the price difference to the Iraqi regime.
The panel estimated that such substandard goods accounted for 5 percent of all goods imported under the oil-for-food program, which was put in place in 1996 amid concerns that the Iraqi population was suffering from lack of food and medicines under the sanctions.
The rough estimate "is drawn from anecdotal information provide by officials of the former Iraq regime, the United Nations, and U.S. government officials," the panel said.
The total estimate of illegal revenue also includes $400 million from interest earned from hiding illicit funds in secret bank accounts. Another $400 million in illicit revenue grew out of pricing irregularities and kickbacks in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.
The Senate panel is conducting one of several congressional probes into alleged illegal profiteering in the oil-for-food program after allegations of corruption came to light earlier this year when Saddam was driven from power during the U.S.-led invasion.
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker heads a panel that's conducting an independent investigation.
The new documents offer examples of how Saddam's regime -- sometimes the former Iraqi president himself -- awarded lucrative oil allocations to garner political favors.
In one document, Russian ultra-nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky -- who campaigned for the lifting of sanctions on Iraq -- invites an oil company to negotiate a price for an oil allocation the Iraqi government awarded him.
Zhirinovsky and other foreign officials and political figures implicated in the scandal so far -- mostly from Russia, France and China -- deny any wrongdoing.
In Zhirinovsky's case, the Russian allegedly used his political party's letterhead to invite an international oil company to Moscow to negotiate a deal to buy oil allocated to him.
The Iraqi government allocated 80 million barrels of oil to Zhirinovsky and his party, according to the panel, at a time when the Russian politician was backing Baghdad publicly.
[quote][b]The documents illustrate how Iraqi officials, foreign companies and sometimes politicians allegedly contrived to allow the Iraqi government vast illicit gains.
The findings also reflect a growing understanding by investigators of the intricate schemes Saddam used to buy support abroad for a move to lift U.N. sanctions.[/b][/quote]
Anyone think this is part-n-parcel to jock chirac's recent outburst?? Deflect attention away as he was a major benefactor?? Oh, but let's forget about this...there's more important news to cover ad nauseum; like an American soldier we must lynch because shot a scuzlim.
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[b]Chirac Misses Saddam, Still Hates America[/b]
Even as new details emerge of France's illegal and immoral dealings with genocidal maniac Saddam Hussein, chief French quisling Jacques Chirac - or, as President Bush calls him, "Jackass" Chirac - is causing trouble by mourning the ouster of his business partner and taking more potshots at America.
"There's no doubt that there has been an increase in terrorism, and one of the origins of that has been the situation in Iraq," Chirac told BBC in an interview to be broadcast later today.
[b]"[SIZE=3]To a certain extent Saddam Hussein's departure was a positive thing.[/SIZE] But it also provoked reactions, such as the mobilization in a number of countries, of men and women of Islam, which has made the world more dangerous," he said, according to excerpts released by BBC. [/b]
Here's what Chirac said Tuesday to the London Times in a slap at Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair: "Well, Britain gave its support but I did not see much in return. I am not sure that it is in the nature of our American friends at the moment to return favors systematically."
He also said this: "I am not sure with America as it is these days that it would be easy for someone, even the British, to be an honest broker."
Oh, to be a fly on the wall the first time Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has a one-on-one confrontation with Chirac and pummels some sense and decency into him.
'Infuriating' French 'Contempt and Greed'
Our favorite quote of the day comes from a Democrat, Rep. Tom Lantos of California, who is seething as Congress probes the French-U.N.-Saddam oil-for-food scandal:
"We all knew that Saddam was doing everything in his power to evade sanctions. But it is truly infuriating to discover the depth of the contempt and greed displayed by the governments of nations such as France, Russia and Syria who evidently jumped at the chance to participate in Saddam's crimes against the international community."
The Associated Press reported today: "Despite Chirac's criticism of the war, officials in Paris say he wants stronger relations with Washington."
[quote][i]Originally posted by Come Back to NY[/i]@Nov 17 2004, 11:03 PM
[b] To a certain extent Saddam Hussein's departure was a positive thing. But it also provoked reactions, such as the mobilization in a number of countries, of men and women of Islam, which has made the world more dangerous," he said, according to excerpts released by BBC. [/b][/quote]
It's interesting how he uses the word, "mobilization." So Chirac believes, as we do, that these extremists already existed and that the war only mobilized them? That's very different from saying that the Iraq invasion actually created NEW terrorists. The difference here is that Bush believed we should do something about these terrorists NOW and Chirac believed that we should let them stew in their hatred until one day we're again surprised by their actions.
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[b]BNP Paribas 'ignored abuses' in Iraq oil-for-food scheme: US report[/b]
WASHINGTON, Nov 17 (AFP) - France's BNP Paribas received hundreds of millions of dollars from the scandal-plagued UN Oil-for-Food programme in Iraq, apparently while ignoring rampant abuses in the programme, a top US lawmaker charged Wednesday.
"There are indications that the bank may have been noncompliant in administering the Oil-for-Food programme," said Henry Hyde, chairman of the House of Representatives' International Relations Committee.
"No one seemed to be in charge of watching Saddam Hussein while he and his government were conducting perhaps the largest financial swindle in history," said Hyde, citing findings of a probe by his committee into abuses within the UN programme.
"Evidence seems to indicate that in some cases, payments in the Oil-for-Food programme were made by BNP at times with a lack of full proof of delivery for goods, and other necessary documents contracted for in the Oil-for-Food programme," Hyde said in a written text of remarks to be delivered at the hearing later Wednesday.
A BNP Paribas official said at the hearing that the bank's conduct in the matter was completely above-board.
"The bank believes it properly fulfilled all of its responsibilities ... in accordance with all applicable legal and regulatory requirements," said Everett Schenk, CEO of the bank's North American operations, who added that BNP Paribas' oversight over the funds was limited.
"The bank has had no discretion over how the money has been spent or invested under the Oil-for-Food programme," Schenk testified, noting that other banks also had a role in safeguarding funds for the programme.
The UN aid programme, which ran from December 1996 until November 2003, allowed Saddam Hussein's regime to ease the burden of international sanctions by selling oil to buy humanitarian supplies.
But critics say the Iraqi dictator abused the programme by offering vouchers for oil as bribes to hundreds of officials from different countries, partly in a bid to get the sanctions overturned.
[b]Hyde alleged that funds from the programme were used to buy influence and weapons abroad, among numerous abuses. [/b]
"At other times, payments may have been authorised by BNP to third parties, separate from the originally intended recipient of the Letter of Credit," he said.
The Republican chairman added: "If true, these possible banking lapses may have facilitated Saddam Hussein's manipulation and corruption of the program.
Hyde said the scam, which netted Saddam billions of dollars, required the complicity of "scores of accomplices around the world."
"As we understand, BNP received more than USD 700 million in fees over the life of the Oil-for-Food programme," said Hyde.
"This is a lot of money, and it is reasonable to ask if BNP adequately supervised its compliance programmes overseeing the administration of the Oil-for-Food programme, especially in light of the widespread reports in the press of corruption within the programme."
Meanwhile, another House Republican said that a fraud panel appointed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has agreed to release documents concerning the Iraqi oil sales program.
Representative Henry Bonilla said at a press conference that panel chief Paul Volcker has agreed to make findings from his inquiry into the now-defunct Oil-for-Food programme available to US lawmakers in January.
"We got a letter from Paul Volcker, and he spoke to me before he sent the letter," the Texas Republican told reporters, saying that the UN has initiated 55 separate audits into the programme.
"He indicated to me ... the 55 audits will be available in January. They just want to get out their initial report. So they'll get it out in January," Bonilla said.
He said US lawmakers remain stymied however in access to UN personnel whom they hope to interview.
"At this point, they're not prepared to do that, so we're still at loggerheads on that issue," Bonilla said.
Meanwhile, a Republican member of the International Relations panel, Jeff Flake, called on the George W. Bush administration to step up pressure on the United Nations.
"The evidence of a scandal is there," said Flake. "However, without action from the US, the UN will continue to drag its feet investigating the matter."
Flake is the author of a proposed bill that would withhold a portion of US funding to the international body until officials in Washington are satisfied with UN cooperation in investigating Oil-for-Food programme abuses.
A companion bill has been introduced in the US Senate by John Ensign, Republican of Nevada.