AWB embroiled in Iraq claims again

26 May, 2004 10:00 PM
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AWB Ltd has again become embroiled in the United Nations Oil For Food scandal after documents emerged in Baghdad last week alleging the corporation had changed prices for a contract to provide up to 525,000 tonnes of wheat.

According to a Reuters news report, an amendment was allegedly signed by AWB and the UN World Food Program last September, changing the price of a December 14, 2002 wheat contract from an original amount of 147m Euros to 133m Euros, or $25m to $22.9m in current Australian dollars.

Copies of the contracts showed the original contact price was 10pc higher than the amended price.

"The UN is implementing a price correction at the request of the Coalition Provisional Authority," the report said last week.

Under the Oil For Food program, Iraq would add the 10pc to an agreed price of goods and the contract was then approved by a UN committee.

"If approved, the UN would authorise payment of the money from a UN-controlled account holding the Iraqi oil revenues," the report said.

An AWB spokesman said the allegations were not new and had been aired several weeks ago.

He said AWB had not been approached to provide any information for the UN investigation.

Investigation head and former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker said he expected to compile his first interim report within three months.

But a full investigation was likely to take at least a year.

The AWB spokesman again denied all allegations regarding kickbacks or alleged bribes to Saddam Hussein's regime.

Another AWB spokesman, Peter McBride, had previously told Farm Weekly all contracts for the sale of wheat were approved by the UN 986 committee.

A spokesman for Trade Minister Mark Vaile said the allegations that AWB paid kickbacks to interests of Saddam Hussein to secure sales were absurd and insulting.

Meanwhile, the arrest of Iraqi National Congress head Ahmad Chalabi by US forces last week has led to speculation that he had accumulated documents with the potential to expose politicians, corporations and the UN as having connived in a system of kickbacks and false pricing worth billions of dollars.

A report in the UK's Telegraph newspaper said so explosive were the contents of the files that their publication would cause serious problems for US allies and friendly states around the globe.

"Mr Chalabi had amassed enough information concerning corruption in the Oil For Food scandal to realise that he was sitting on explosive material," the report said.

US intelligence officials have claimed Mr Chalabi was aligning himself with the hardline Shi'ite regime in Iran to secure himself a place in any future Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad.

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