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Australian Wheat Exporter Accused of Iraq Kickbacks

January 16, 2006|From Associated Press

SYDNEY, Australia — Australia's wheat exporter knowingly provided hundreds of millions of dollars in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's Iraqi government and deceived the U.N. about the payments under its oil-for-food program, a lawyer told a government inquiry today.

The government's lead attorney told a panel hearing a case against Australia's monopoly wheat exporter, AWB Ltd., that he would present evidence to show that AWB's most senior executives knew they had paid more than $200 million for nonexistent trucking services. The sum was funneled directly to Hussein's government, he said.

The company, formerly known as Australian Wheat Board, "was prepared to deceive the U.N. as to the true nature of its contractual arrangement with the IGB," or Iraq Grain Board, Australian lead attorney John Agius said.

AWB has consistently denied that it knew the hefty trucking fees paid to a Jordanian company, Alia, were ending up in Hussein's pocket, but Agius rejected that claim.

The inquiry was requested by the United Nations, which released a report in October showing the "side payments" by AWB for transportation of the wheat.

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