France denies Iraq oil-for-food scandal claims

Oct 26, 2004 02:00 AM

The report by Charles Duelfer, which alleged that French companies and individuals participated in a secret oil voucher program that helped Saddam Hussein circumvent UN sanctions, lacks proof to back up the charges, the Foreign Ministry said.
The Foreign Ministry's response was an attempt to cast doubt on Duelfer's report, published earlier, listing foreign entities that received vouchers for oil contracts under the UN oil-for-food program.

The report said the names of American companies and individuals who may have been involved in oil deals weren't released because of US privacy laws. It alleged that Saddam's government had used the oil vouchers both to solicit kickbacks and to reward countries and individuals willing to cooperate with Iraq's political goals. Companies and individuals from Russia, France and China dominated the list.
But only 8 % of France's oil imports came from Iraq in 2001, a separate Foreign Ministry statement said. It added that of 1,129 companies from 86 countries on a list of registered buyers under the oil-for-food program, only 20 were French.
"It is completely inaccurate to say that France had major commercial interests in Iraq before the war," the statement insisted.

The oil-for-food program had an account at French bank BNP Paribas, but France said the bank was located in the United States, subject to US regulations, and was one of two charged with managing the program.
"The account was also inspected twice yearly by the Board of Auditors of the United Nations," the ministry statement said. In addition, many companies that participated in the oil-for-food program that were identified as French were not, the ministry said. Some companies were American but used French branches, agents or intermediaries, it said.

The oil-for-food program, which began in December 1996 and ended in November 2003, was launched to help Iraqis cope with UN sanctions imposed after Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Under the program, the former Iraqi regime could sell unlimited quantities of oil provided the money went primarily to buy humanitarian goods and pay reparations to victims of the 1991 Gulf War.
Corruption allegations surfaced in January in the Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada, which published a list of about 270 former government officials, activists, journalists and UN officials from more than 46 countries suspected of profiting from Iraqi oil sales as part of the UN program.

Source: PIN
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