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Panel pushes probe of Oil-For-Food Program
Updated: 2005-12-17 10:16

PARIS - An anti-bribery panel urged governments Friday to do more to investigate evidence of kickbacks and corruption in the U.N.-commissioned report on Iraq's oil-for-food program.

OECD's anti-bribery panel chairman Mark Pieth, of Switzerland, presents his report to urge governments to do more to investigate evidence of kickbacks and corruption in the U.N. commissioned report on the Iraq oil-for-food program, at the OECD headquarters in Paris, Friday Dec. 16, 2005. [AP]

Only 11 of some 40 countries whose citizens or companies were implicated by the inquiry have requested the evidence unearthed with a view to possible prosecutions, said Mark Pieth, panel chairman at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

"The working group encourages its members to follow up by obtaining this information," said Pieth, who also was a member of the independent inquiry headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

The United States and France have begun their own criminal probes into possible sanctions busting and bribery. Pieth declined to identify the nine other countries whose authorities have requested access to the Volcker inquiry evidence.

An official close to the investigation said the nine other governments that sought additional information were Australia, Britain, Switzerland, India, Italy, Germany, Thailand, Jordan, and Sweden. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the names of the countries have not been released.

Many of the states most implicated by the report's findings, such as Russia, China, Vietnam and Thailand, are neither OECD members nor signatories to a broader 1997 anti-bribery convention.

Pieth spoke at the end of a three-day meeting of the organization's bribery and corruption working group. The panel is responsible for monitoring enforcement of the 36-country convention, which requires corruption by foreign public officials to be treated as a criminal offense.

In its Oct. 27 final report, Volcker's 18-month inquiry into the U.N.'s Iraq oil-for-food program identified kickbacks and other illicit payments totaling $1.8 billion, as well as evidence of involvement of about half the 4,500 participating companies.

Besides payments made to Saddam Hussein's regime in breach of international sanctions, some 270 individuals including a long list of well-known politicians in several countries appear to have received lucrative oil "vouchers" from the Iraqi Oil Ministry.

Although prosecutors can consult the catalog of evidence gathered by Volcker's Independent Inquiry Committee, they have to reapply for its disclosure by the authorities in the country of origin before it can be used in court. Bank account details, for example, "are protected by client confidentiality in most cases," Pieth said.

Meanwhile, Louise Frechette, the U.N.'s first deputy secretary-general who was strongly criticized for tolerating corruption in the oil-for-food program, will join the Center for International Governance Innovation, a leading Canadian international relations and policy research center, in April, the center announced Friday. A U.N. official confirmed that Frechette would be leaving the world body at that time.

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