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3 Thai firms named for bribing Saddam Hussein
Updated: 2005-10-29 13:50

Three Thai companies have been named by the independent panel investigating the United Nations oil-for-food program for Iraq as having been among 2,200 companies accused of illegally diverting 1.8 billion US dollars to Saddam Hussein's government.

Chaiyaporn Rice Company, PB Pongboon Intertrade and the Petroleum Authority of Thailand were among those named by Paul Volcker, former US Federal Reserve chairman, who headed the probe, Bangkok Post reported Saturday.

The UN's oil-for-food program allowed Iraq to export a limited amount of its crude oil and earmark the revenues for purchases of food, medicine and supplies.

The Petroleum Authority of Thailand was a major buyer of oil from the regime and, according to the report, was asked for a 98,385-dollar kickback. But investigators were unable to prove that it was paid.

PB Pongboon Intertrade won 10 contracts to supply "humanitarian aid" which included a gas compression plant, oil refinery simulator for training, gyroscopes, a degassing station, an industrial chemical simulator and other items. The contracts were initially let for 8,076,402 dollars but the company was paid a total of 9,247,390 dollars. The report alleges that on Nov. 13, 2000 Choochoi Pongpairoj paid a "levy" of 50,000 dollars to Saddam's regime.

The management of PB Pongboon Intertrade refused to reply to the investigators.

Chaiyaporn Rice Co was the fourth-largest supplier, in terms ofdollars, of "humanitarian aid" to Iraq under the oil-for-food program. The largest was the Australian Wheat Board.

Chaiyaporn Rice sold more than 686.8 million dollars of long grain white rice, other rice, sugar and vegetable ghee to Iraq between 1996 and 2003.

The report says that from 1999, the company was required to paykickbacks totaling about 42.8 million dollars to the Iraq regime. This was made up of about 18.3 million dollars in "levies" and nearly 24.5 million dollars in "inland transportation fees". It also paid about 1.5 million dollars in oil surcharges.

Investigators interviewed Chaiyaporn Rice Managing Director Phaiboon Kuonsongtum, Assistant Manager Sermsak Kuonsongtum and Manager Krits Aramruang. The investigators concluded that "while Chaiyaporn said it was informed by the Iraqis that the fees were needed to get its goods distributed in Iraq, based on the available evidence, Chaiyaporn knowingly paid kickbacks ... to thegovernment of Iraq".

Executives of the company declined to comment on the report Friday.

Chaiyaporn Rice is a regular purchaser of rice from the Commerce Ministry.

The company is a member of Thailand's Rice Exports Association and a long-time trading partner of Iraq. Before the Gulf War in 1991, it shipped more than 100,000 tons of white rice a year to Iraq.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Somkid Jatusripitak Friday brushed aside any suggestion that Chaiyaporn Rice should be blacklisted from state rice trade activities.

He said the way the company conducted its trade abroad was up to it and if it has done anything wrong, government agencies involved in national security issues should step in.

Somkid said he expected the practice of paying kickbacks was only carried out in order to compete with other rice traders.

Chaiyaporn Rice is the fourth-largest rice exporter in Thailand,having exported about 480,000 tons of rice from January to September this year. It has accounted for 8.8 percent of total rice exports of 5.3 million tons.

The United States has already charged four people, while France announced Friday that its judges are investigating 10 French officials and business leaders on suspicions that they received oil allocations as kickbacks.

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