Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin is calling for an independent U.S. investigation into the Australian Wheat Board's violations of the United Nations Oil for Food Program.
The UN's Volcker Report found AWB to be the largest violator of the Oil for Food Program, having paid $220 million dollars in kickbacks to the Saddam Hussein government and later to unknown parties following the fall of the Hussein government. Harkin requested that Inspectors General for the Department of Agriculture, State Department and Iraqi Reconstruction look into who benefited from payments after the fall of Hussein and whether these illicit payments may be recovered under U.S. or international law and returned to the Iraqi people.
"AWB's kickbacks lined the pockets of Saddam Hussein and continued after the fall of his government. That money should have gone to feed hungry Iraqis through the U.N. Oil for Food Program," Harkin says. "We need to find out who benefited from these kickbacks and whether there's a way to recover the funds and return them to the Iraqi people."
The UN's Oil for Food Program was designed to allow food to be shipped to Iraq while the country was under a UN trade embargo. Iraq was allowed to sell some of its oil in order to purchase food for hungry Iraqis and other humanitarian goods while sanctions were in place. Evidence shows that through arrangements under Oil for Food, AWB received higher than market price for wheat and then paid kickbacks to the Hussein government and other parties.
Currently, AWB's transactions through Oil for Food are under investigation by the Australian Government-commissioned Cole Inquiry. This inquiry has uncovered that payments for bogus services turned out to be kickbacks through the Oil for Food Program and continued after the U.S. led invasion. In addition to kickbacks occurring while Hussein was in power, Harkin requests examination of the period between April and November 2003, when the Oil for Food Program was being overseen by the Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority led by the United States.
Following the U.S. led invasion, U.S. Wheat Associates raised red flags about the possibility of kickbacks by AWB under Oil for Food. Harkin states "these concerns were ignored and Australian diplomatic cables declassified for the Cole inquiry have shown that top level Bush Administration officials sought to help the Australian government 'rein in' U.S. wheat industry officials who were publicly questioning AWB's transactions."