"It is more profitable for your congressman to support the tobacco industry than your life."
~ Jackie Mason.
~ Jackie Mason.
Does anybody remember way back to the UN's Oil-For-Food scam? Does anybody remember way back when everyone, including the US Senate, was hot to investigate Oil-For-Food? Does anybody remember when, exactly, the whole thing dropped completely off the radar?
The reason it dropped off the radar was because everybody was involved in getting something out of Oil-For-Food . . . except Kurds and Iraqi Arabs. All those who didn't have a personal financial interest in the scam were at least polite enough to look the other way and keep their big mouths shut.
Well, it looks like there's been a blip on the radar from Down Under and Oil-For-Food may rise again, if briefly. I'm talking about the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) kickbacks to Saddam, from Australia's The Courier-Mail:
The spark of the scandal started as far back as 1996 when BHP [Note: BHP Billiton--an Australian mining company] donated a $US5 million wheat shipment to the impoverished post-war Iraq. A year earlier, BHP had hired the well-connected Davidson Kelly to open doors for the company, which desperately wanted to get a slice of the Halfayah oil field. At the time, Iraq was battling UN sanctions that allowed it to sell oil only if the proceeds were used to buy food or medicine.
The sanctions were meant to stop Saddam Hussein buying weapons, but they crippled the country. When BHP decided its plan was not going to work, it tried to retrieve payment for its "gift". When that failed, it transferred that debt to a company, called Tigris Petroleum, which had been set up by Kelly. Tigris then teamed up with AWB, which already was paying kickbacks to the Iraqi regime.
The AWB kickbacks allowed cash into Iraq and also meant the company could keep its contracts. The AWB money was channelled eventually into a Jordanian trucking company, Alia, by way of inflated transport fees. Alia was part-owned by the Iraqi government.
It appears that Australia's Wheat Export Authority knew of kickbacks as far back as 2001, but the Government has maintained it had no knowledge of the issue. However, as early as 2000, the Government was being pushed by the UN to investigate the claims.
An investigation by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade found nothing, despite the fact that Iraq's former trade minister Mohammed Medhi Saleh was singing like a bird. Saleh had ordered AWB to add a 10 per cent fee on all wheat deals. He later told UN investigators that all suppliers under the oil-for-food program were paying kickbacks.
The article also mentions that since the AWB scandal broke, AWB has lost more than $500 million, Iraq has refused to deal with AWB, which probably allowed US wheat growers to gain a monopoly of the Iraq wheat market--at some 70% of it. You can read more on the findings from the Washington Post.
Naturally, American wheat growers are deliriously happy with Australia's misfortune:
THE Cole report should spell a quick end to AWB's export monopoly, the US wheat lobby said today.
The powerful body, which represents US growers, said AWB would almost certainly face a congressional probe into whether it violated American laws through its payment of bribes to Iraq.
US Wheat Associates (USWA), a long-time critic of AWB's monopoly, welcomed the findings of the Cole commission's investigation of the single desk exporter's payment of $290 million in bribes to the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.
[ . . . ]
USWA, which went public in mid-2003 with claims that AWB was propping up Saddam's regime, said the report was further vindication of the lobby's campaign against the company.
While the group said it was not "holding its breath" waiting for changes to AWB's monopoly status, it welcomed the Howard Government's move to consider options for overhauling the wheat marketing system.
"We view the monopoly as a source of this problem, of the culture that developed at AWB that led to these illegal actions," USWA president Alan Tracy said.
The USWA would do the very same thing as the AWB and, in fact, has done it; now the USWA has the monopoly on wheat going to Iraq. It was the same dirtbag, special interest wheat growers, along with the dirtbag special interest rice growers, who opposed the Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988 in the House after it had passed the Senate. The act would have linked sanctions to the genocidal behavior of the Saddam regime (the PGA of 1988, written by Peter Galbraith, was specifically designed to do this as a response to Saddam's genocidal Anfal campaign against the Kurdish people), but at the time, 23% of the US rice export went to Iraq, along with some 1 million tons of wheat annually. Check Samantha Power's A Problem from Hell for more on that.
In Washington, Senators are also crowing with schadenfreude, from the AP as carried on the International Herald Tribune:
Two U.S. senators pledged on Monday to investigate Australia's monopoly wheat exporter after a report found that it paid millions of dollars in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's government under the U.N.'s Iraqi oil-for-food program.
Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, probable chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee after the next Congress convenes in January, said the Australian report on the exporter AWB Ltd. would be helpful for his panel's inquiry.
"Now that Democrats are in the majority, we should have a better opportunity next year to get the facts out on the table and examine the extent of corruption in AWB's dealings under the United Nations oil-for-food program," Harkin said in a statement.
Now why would the Senate be interested in investigating an Australian company when it really needs to investigate the Australian company's American connections? You don't have to look far to start that investigation, either. Just go right down 19th Street, NW, in DC, and knock on the door of The Cohen Group, from February of this year from Australia's The Age:
AWB enlisted the help of an influential Washington lobby firm to deal with a United Nations investigation into the payment of kickbacks to Saddam Hussein, the Cole inquiry has heard.
The wheat exporter hired the Cohen Group in 2005 as part of its strategy, code-named Project Rose, to deal with the UN inquiry headed by Paul Volcker and corruption allegations made against it by US wheat farmers and hostile US politicians.
[ . . . ]
Just weeks before Mr Volcker handed down his report, AWB executives and Othman al-Absi, the general manager of Jordanian trucking firm Alia, were working with US international law specialists DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary to co-ordinate a response to the UN inquiry.
Alia, a front company for the Iraqi dictator's regime, was the conduit for the massive kickbacks paid by AWB and other companies involved in rorting the UN oil-for-food program.
DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary is the Cohen Group's "strategic partner". In October 2005, Mr al-Absi briefed DLA partner Stanley McDermott on what he told Mr Volcker's committee about AWB.
[ . . . ]
Mr Whitwell explained that AWB had made contact with the Cohen Group in Washington. He recalled Mr Hargreaves saying the Cohen Group had been talking to the Australian embassy in Washington.
The Cohen Group was established in 2001. It is chaired by William Cohen, who was US defence secretary under president Bill Clinton between 1997 and 2001. The firm's website says it helped US companies secure reconstruction contracts in Iraq by working with US officials and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.
Notes from Mr Whitwell's diary reveal that the Cohen Group was helping AWB prepare a communications strategy to deal with the UN investigation into the corruption of the oil-for-food program.
A "communications strategy" means that The Cohen Group was figuring out what kind of lie AWB could tell the UN investigators.
From April, 2006:
MARK COLVIN: What about this question of Mr Downer actually saying that it was his responsibility to defend them?
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Well this was something that was raised in reference to an internal investigation known as Project Rose, and a document presented to the inquiry this afternoon as part of that investigation shows that Mr Downer had apparently told AWB senior executives that he saw it as his responsibility to defend AWB, and that these executives said there was strong support from Minister Downer.
MARK COLVIN: And who are these high-priced lobbyists in Washington?
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Well some of the highest priced in that town. They were the Cohen Group, which is the public relations company established by the former US defence secretary, William Cohen, the defence secretary during the Clinton administration …
MARK COLVIN: who visited this country at least on one occasion.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Indeed, and they noted that in hiring this company that the Australian embassy in Washington was very supportive of this, partly because Mr Cohen was a friend of Mr Downer's, and they also noted, in hiring this company, that the Australian Government strongly supported AWB in defending these claims.
But the influential team at the Cohen group, of course the company was headed by William Cohen, but they said that the team handling the day-to-day work for AWB would include Frank Miller, who apparently was the special assistant to President Bush during September 11. He was the man who ran the so-called White House situation room for the first 24 hours of September 11.
From July, 2006:
EIGHTEEN months after the invasion of Iraq, high-ranking Australian diplomats in Washington colluded with an AWB "damage control" team to shield the wheat exporter's actions from a potentially damaging US Senate investigation.
Documents reveal for the first time the extent of the extraordinary co-operation between the Howard Government and AWB during 2004 as they worked to defuse the US Senate's probe into corruption of the United Nation's oil-for-food program.
While 850 Australian military personnel were fighting the Iraq insurgency, Australia's ambassador to the US, Michael Thawley, his deputy, Peter Baxter, a team of AWB lawyers and influential Washington lobbyists including former Clinton defence secretary William Cohen worked on a strategy to conceal the full extent of its activities from the US Senate committee.
AWB's in-house name for it was Project Rose.
The AWB strategy was, in effect, to play the Iraq card — using the presence of Australian troops as a leverage point to protect Australia's wheat market.
[ . . . ]
As part of the Project Rose strategy, AWB's US law firm, DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, advised the Government to use Australia's continuing support for the US in Iraq as leverage to stop the investigation into AWB.
"Singling out AWB and Australia for heightened scrutiny would also cast aside important facts about the role Australia and AWB have played alongside the United States in Iraq and other critical areas," an AWB memorandum given to the Washington embassy states.
"Australia has earned its recognition as one of the foremost allies of the United States in the UN, in Afghanistan, in the Iraq war and in Iraq's reconstruction."
I'm really disappointed. I mean, if the rats at DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary were worth the ink it took to print their law degrees, they would have also managed to link this cover-up to the War on Terror®. More on the AWB/The Cohen Group/DLA-PRGC connections here.
The Cohen Group involved with AWB is the same one that also provided Lockheed Martin with its current "PKK coordinator" to Turkey, Joseph Ralston. Does anyone honestly believe, that with the conflict of interest surrounding Ralston's appointment, and the US government's full knowledge of Ralston's connections, and adding in William Cohen's buddies at the Australian Embassy in DC, that the Australian government really didn't have a single clue as to what was going on?
Does anyone honestly believe that Democrats in the Senate are going to expose former high-ranking officials of the Clinton administration in all their glorious venality? Whoever honestly believes that needs to go on a clue hunt with the Australian government.
Dirty is as dirty does. Sounds to me like it's time to give Public Strategies, Inc. a call.