IRAQ: Corrupt Iraqi Boss Promoted to Top Post in Australian Wheat Deal Lure

Autralian attempts to secure postwar contracts were part of Operation Hunta, and involved Autralian Wheat Board managers and AWB officials seconded to the occupation government in Iraq.
Publisher Name: 
The Sydney Morning Herald

A FEDERAL Government appointee to the occupation government in Iraq promoted a corrupt Baath party official to a senior position to help secure AWB's wheat contracts in Iraq.

An AWB document released yesterday by the Cole inquiry into the UN oil-for-food scandal reveals that an AWB manager, Michael Long, boasted he had secured a position for the former head of the Iraqi Grain Board, Yusef Abdul Rahman, "to top post in the Ministry of Trade and ensured his survival through the de-Baathification of upper levels of Iraqi civil service".

In May 2003 Mr Long was working under an AusAid contract in the Coalition Provisional Authority to reconstruct the Iraqi Ministry of Trade after the war.

The Cole inquiry heard evidence that Mr Rahman had been the head of the Iraqi Grain Board during Saddam Hussein's regime when he negotiated with AWB officials to inflate wheat contracts containing kickbacks.

AWB's attempts to secure its postwar contracts was called Operation Hunta, and involved AWB managers and AWB officials seconded to the occupation government in Iraq - including Mr Long.

A series of new documents also indicates that numerous Australian officials in the coalition authority, including Australia's senior ambassador in Iraq, Neil Mules, were almost certainly informed that AWB was accused of inflating its contracts with Saddam's regime by a 10 per cent illicit payment in September 2003.

The World Food Program, which was taking over the UN oil-for-food program, sent a letter to AWB that month saying the authority had ordered AWB to cut 10 per cent from its contracts after evidence of the 10 per cent mark-up was discovered.

One fax bluntly said: "WFP have been requested by the CPA to deduct the after-sales service fees of 10 per cent on this contract". Mr Long told his colleagues at AWB: "The CPA have made a decision and you have got no room to manoeuvre."

Mr Mules sat in a top management position on all key decisions made by the authority.

The decision to cut the AWB contract was also known to AusAid officials, Foreign Affairs officers and an Australian defence lawyer in the authority.

In August 2004, the World Food Program's letters were sent to the Australian Government regulator, the Wheat Export Authority, for its investigation into allegations that AWB had paid kickbacks in Iraq.

But AWB told the authority the letters were "unrelated" to claims about kickbacks and an attempt by the authority to "gain credibility" with the Iraqis.

The head of AWB's Iraq desk, Chris Whitwell, told the Cole inquiry that, shortly after the coalition authority was set up, he received an email from another AWB manager headed "kickback rumour". It read: "It is purposed that AWB deposited funds into a Jordanian account - ultimately benefiting Saddam Hussein - in order to secure wheat sales under the UN's oil-for-food program."

An email followed outlining a defence to the charge, which AWB would maintain until the Cole inquiry.

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