A U.S. congressional committee has heard new testimony and released documents showing former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein used the U.N.-run oil-for-food humanitarian program to influence foreign officials. A hearing Monday marked a new round of efforts by lawmakers to shed more light on Saddam Hussein's attempts to undermine U.N. sanctions.
Republican Congressman Ed Whitfield opened the hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee saying the documents show a calculated strategy by Saddam Hussein to use foreign officials to his benefit:
"Documents presented here today appear to confirm that some of these individuals were indeed using the Oil for Food Program for their own purposes. I can think of no legitimate reason for any politician or government official of any nation to receive oil from Saddam Hussein. Ironically, every dollar that these people took out of the program was money that should have gone to help the Iraqi people," he said.
Robert Smego, an Arabic language specialist, translated some 23,000 documents, including those from Iraq's state oil marketing organization and the Iraqi intelligence service.
In testimony, he provided these details to Congressman Whitfield from one of among thousands of Iraqi documents transferred to digital form and stored on some 21 DVDs.
Smego: [A document in 1998, states that] Iraq was planning to take a portion of its oil during the phase and distribute it to friendly companies and distinguished personalities, approximately 80 million barrels to the friendly nations, companies and political establishments at the rate specified.
Whitfield: [And] exhibit two, does it also mention Russia, France and China?
Smego: Yes, at the rates of Russia receiving 40 percent, France 15 percent, and China 11 percent of the approximately 80 million barrels.
John Fawcett, who has worked intensively to uncover financial wrongdoing in the U.N. program, had this testimony about where money from Oil for Food Program kickbacks went: "Kickbacks were sent back to bank accounts in Jordan largely. On the humanitarian side, the accounts were registered to the relevant ministry. And my understanding of the mechanism is that the signatories from that ministry, as soon as the money was received, sent it on to another bank account of which they didn't know much about, implying it was going either to Saddam's family or Iraqi intelligence,"
Among documents in the hands of congressional investigators are those showing Iraqi oil allocations going to what was once known as Russia's Unity Party, along with officials in the Russian Foreign Ministry, Communist Party Liberal Democratic Party founded by ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
In an interview Monday with Echo Moskvy radio, Mr. Zhirinovsky had this response to the allegation: "Mr. Zhirinovsky say he has never signed a single contract, and never received a single cent from Iraq. He says there is no proof he has taken a single dollar from Iraq," he said.
Joy Gordon an expert on U.N. sanctions against Iraq, said the United States and key nations on the U.N. Security Council must shoulder much of the blame for failing to use what she maintains were existing elaborate methods of oversight to prevent abuse of the program through smuggling and kickbacks:
"Many of the accusations that have been [made] against the United Nations regarding the Oil for Food Program in fact go to decisions on the part of the Security Council itself, or actions or failures to act on the part of the member states of the Security Council," he said.
U.S. officials contend the United States, with help from Britain, did everything it could within the U.N. 661 Committee overseeing Oil for Food in response to emerging evidence of oil surcharges, and helped place holds on certain contracts.
Gerald Anderson, Director of the State Department's Office of Peacekeeping, Sanctions and Counter-Terrorism, says these efforts were frustrated by politics and national economic interests in the Security Council. "U.S. efforts to keep the comprehensive sanctions regime in place repeatedly were challenged by Council members whose national firms would derive economic benefit from the lifting of sanctions," he said.
However, many lawmakers remain dissatisfied with U.S. explanations to date.
Congressman Bart Stupak is a Democratic lawmaker who asserts more investigation is needed to determine what the United States, and others, knew about corruption. "No one seems to want to know about the relationship of U.S. oil companies to the shady middlemen and oil traders who actually lifted oil from Iraq. This is not a simple criminal or ethical matter as it is often portrayed. It was a system, built by geopolitical realities that everyone was aware of, and either condoned or chose to ignore at the time," he said.
The House hearing took place a day before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations holds a similar hearing focusing on Saddam Hussein's manipulation of oil contracts to influence foreign government officials.