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Downer Denies Knowledge of Warnings About Bribery by Wheat Exporter in Iraq


Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says he was unaware of diplomatic warnings that an Australian wheat exporter was allegedly paying bribes to Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq.

Downer appeared Tuesday before a commission of inquiry into the scandal involving the Australian Wheat Board, now called AWB.

He told the inquiry he does not specifically recall having read or received any letters sent by diplomats to his Foreign Ministry that warned of wrongdoing by AWB.

Downer said his office had assessed 21 diplomatic cables containing the warnings, but did not bring them to his attention. He defended his department's actions, saying AWB had assured officials the company was not involved in corruption.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile also denied knowledge of warnings about alleged bribery involving A.W.B. when he testified at the inquiry Monday.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard sent a sworn statement to the panel Tuesday, and has said he would be willing to testify.

Reports say Mr. Howard is likely to be called before the commission later this week, making him the first prime minister to testify at such an inquiry since 1983.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.
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