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Report: Saddam Sought to Buy South African Support


The United Nations Volcker committee on the Iraq oil-for-food scandal said several South African companies illegally benefited from surcharges and kickbacks from the sale of oil and the purchase of humanitarian goods. In one instance, through these illicit exchanges, Iraq hoped to influence the country's foreign policy in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

In its final report, the Volcker Committee says that the government of Saddam Hussein engaged in illegal business exchanges with Sandi Majali, an executive of Montego Trading and Imvume Management, in an attempt to win the support of the South African government.

The committee also said that Mr. Majali, who styled himself as an advisor to President Thabo Mbeki, used his relationship with senior South African officials to win contracts under the United Nation Iraq Oil-for-Food Program.

The report has prompted outrage from the opposition Democratic Alliance party leader Tony Leon, who had demanded an official commission of inquiry.

"Because you can't cover up forever for Mr. Majali, or his company, nor can you protect other South Africans, individuals or companies, who might have violated international law," he said.

The South African government has not yet officially responded to the report. However Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad, who led several South African delegations to Iraq prior to the March 2003 invasion, rejected suggestions that then-foreign policy toward Iraq was influenced by oil contracts or contractors.

International relations expert John Stremlau told VOA that pre-Iraq war foreign policy was consistent with South Africa's overall policy principles and practices.

"I would be surprised, indeed shocked, if there was a causal connection between whatever corruption may have taken place and the South African foreign policy in the run-up to the Iraq war, because the foreign policy they were pursuing was so fundamentally consistent with the bedrock commitments that South Africa has to support multi-lateral processes," he said.

Mr. Stremlau, Professor of International Affairs at Johannesburg's Witwatersrand University, says there are historical reasons for this approach.

"South Africa, you must remember, takes a view of the United Nations rooted in its own political history where the United Nations broke the tradition of not interfering in the internal affairs of a member state to condemn and take action against the apartheid regime," he added.

Even so, observers here say that President Mbeki will have to act decisively to implement the recommendations of the Volcker committee to ensure those implicated in the report are investigated and, if necessary, charged. Otherwise they say, the gains he made in fighting corruption when he dismissed former deputy president Jacob Zuma in June, will be reversed.

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