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|#1 Posted on 23.4.04 0728.21 |
Reposted on: 23.4.11 0728.38
| It's starting to look like everybody was on the take in the Iraqi oil scandal....|
Tough questions for 270 named in Iraqi documents
By David Rennie in Washington
To the outsider, it is hard to see what could link the former French interior minister, Charles Pasqua, with President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia, the Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovksy and Benon Sevan, the United Nations official in charge of the oil-for-food programme.
According to testimony presented to the House of Representatives committee on government reform this week, here is one link for starters: they appear on a list of 270 individuals and entities named in Iraqi oil ministry files as receiving vouchers allowing them to buy millions of barrels of oil.
According to Iraqi officials, two groups of people were allocated Iraqi oil for export - legitimate end users, usually defined as an oil firm with its own oil refinery, and "non end-users".
That last term can be defined in two ways: someone not known to own a refinery, and someone with a lot of explaining to do.
The list of "non end-users" was drawn up late last year by officials at the Iraqi oil ministry, drawing on files held by various pre-war ministries and the state oil marketing organisation. It was leaked to the Iraqi newspaper Al Mada on Jan 25, triggering a mixture of heated denials and stony silence.
Many have claimed that if they received vouchers, it was in payment for legitimate business deals under the programme.
The list is an extraordinary collection of names, stretching from Paris to Moscow, from the Vatican to the Far East.
In France, those named include friends of President Jacques Chirac, among them M Pasqua, and Patrick Maugein, the head of the French oil firm Soco International. M Pasqua has denied illicit oil trading.
M Maugein has confirmed that he traded with Iraq under the programme, but said "none of it was illegal".
A former French ambassador to the UN, Jean-Bernard Merimee, is listed as receiving vouchers totalling 11 million barrels. Also on the list is a vocal friend of Iraq, Gilles Munier, of the Franco-Iraqi Friendship Association.
At the Vatican, Fr Jean Marie Benjamin - a French priest who reportedly arranged a meeting between the Pope and Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister of Iraq - is listed as receiving the rights to sell 4.5 million barrels.
But the list is dominated by a huge number of Russian citizens and organisations. In addition to Mr Zhirinovsky, the list names the former Soviet prime minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, the Russian Orthodox Church, the "office of the Russian president", President Vladimir Putin's Peace and Unity Party, and companies linked to the Communist Party.
In Indonesia, the list is headed by Mrs Megawati, whose spokesman has said she is "aware of the allegations".
The files allegedly show vouchers being handed to socialist, communist and nationalist political parties in Ukraine, Belarus, the former Yugoslavia, Romania, and Slovakia. There are vouchers for the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
A prominent British MP is listed, along with his Jordanian business partner.
In Syria, there are vouchers listed for Firas Mustafa Tlass, the son of a veteran Syrian defence minister and Ba'ath party elder. General Tlass has said he bought oil only under the programme.
Most worrying for the UN is the entry for Panama, a Mr Sevan. The US Congress was told this week that that refers to Benon Sevan, the UN official in charge of the programme. Mr Sevan has denied the allegations, and said: "It was incumbent on those who published these allegations to provide the necessary documents."
Mr Sevan returned to New York on Wednesday, after a long holiday prior to retiring next month. He has now been asked to postpone his retirement until the conclusion of a UN investigation that began work yesterday.
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