Iraq

Volcker Noose Tightens

The scale of the graft under the United Nations Oil for Food scheme detailed in the Volcker Report yesterday is considered here:

The program, which began in December 1996 and ended in 2003, was aimed at easing the impact of UN sanctions imposed in 1990 after Baghdad’s troops invaded Kuwait. It achieved considerable success in feeding Iraqis, and allowed Iraq to sell oil in order to pay for food, medicine and other goods.

But the scheme’s humanitarian aims were undermined by Saddam Hussein with the connivance of Western companies doing business in the oil rich nation he ruled until March 2003 :

More than 2,000 companies taking part in the United Nations oil-for-food programme paid illegal surcharges and kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq

This article in the Times names some of the businesses involved in the illegal payments totalling over a billion Pounds:

Weir Group The Glasgow-based engineering group paid £4.2 million from 16 contracts illicitly

DaimlerChrysler The world’s fifth-largest carmaker paid $7,134 to Iraq while fulfilling four contracts for vehicles valued at $5.2 million

Volvo Europe’s largest lorry maker paid $535,000 in kickbacks, selling 35 vehicles for $11.8 million

Siemens Europe’s largest engineering company paid $87,276 in kickbacks in selling turbine equipment

BNP The French bank transferred about $10 million to Iraqi-controlled accounts in Jordan, Lebanon and United Arab Emirates

Now that the allegedly guilty parties have been named the focus in each of the states whose companies and politicians have been implicated must shift towards determining guilt if this has not yet been proved and then deciding what should be done if it is.

The Swiss Government has been quick off the mark:

The Swiss economy ministry said: “If it turns out that firms operating in Switzerland behaved illegally, the authorities will investigate these allegations and will, if necessary, institute legal proceedings.”

But the corruption is not confined to Switzerland:

The alleged individual beneficiaries of Saddam’s regime included Jean-Bernard Merimee, France’s former UN ambassador, who is now the subject of a criminal investigation in France; Roberto Formigoni, the president of the Lombardi region in Italy; and Fr Jean-Marie Benjamin, a priest who once worked as an assistant to the Vatican secretary of state and became an activist arguing for lifting Iraqi sanctions.

Companies and individuals in Britain will not escape the spotlight:

Geoff Hoon, the leader of the Commons, reminded MPs that the Senate allegations were being investigated with a view to possible legal action.

The name of one British politician will loom ever larger in the coming months:

George Galloway was branded “Lord Haw-Haw” yesterday as a former minister called for an inquiry into the latest allegations about his dealings with Saddam Hussein.

Denis MacShane, the former Foreign Office minister, said the claims were so serious that they should be investigated by a joint committee of the Commons and the US Congress.

Meanwhile the files of evidence relating to the Respect Party MP’s previous business dealings in Iraq continue to multiply:

One Swiss-based firm named in the UN report was Taurus Petroleum, which was accused of paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein. The firm denied the allegation.

It was also said to have made large commission payments to Fawaz Zureikat, the Jordanian businessman accused of acting as a middleman for Iraqi oil secretly allocated to the Respect MP George Galloway. Both men deny any wrongdoing.

If the allegations in the Volcker report are found to be correct and British companies and politicians chose to enrich a murderous dictator at the expense of the poor and the hungry they should be punished and some form of restitution made to the Iraqi people. This is a matter of natural justice.

It seems pretty likely that the political fallout from the Volcker report is going to dominate world news for some time to come. British companies with guilty secrets can afford to stand up for themselves in investigations into their internal affairs: the tasks of progressives is different – we have to make sure our own house is in order. If we don’t make sure that it is then our criticisms of commercial graft can only be hollow slogans and our disgust at sucking up to dictators will lose its power. The credibility and standing of what remains of the progressive left in this country will be determined by how it chooses to act in the next few months.

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