Asian neighbours “sick of lectures on the evils of corruption are
taking a delight in the proceedings of a judicial inquiry in Sydney
into claims that kickbacks to former dictator Saddam Hussein powered
Australia’s wheat sales to Iraq,” a report on the British news site
Monsters & Critics says today:

In the dock is monopoly wheat exporter AWB, the government-owned
Australian Wheat Board until it was sold to the private sector and
listed on the stock exchange in 1999.

The inquiry was set up after an independent report into the United
Nations-administered oil-for-food programme said AWB executives were
most likely well aware that illicit payments they were making to a
Jordanian front company were ending up in Saddam pockets.

‘It’s rolled up the carpet and sent lots of cockroaches scurrying
about,’ a commentator said of the first day of hearings in Sydney
before retired judge Terence Cole.

It certainly has: an email read out at the Cole Inquiry had one AWB
executive joking that ‘a very large suitcase’ might be needed to carry
in the almost 300 million Australian dollars (222 million US dollars)
the oil-for-food report claims was channelled to Saddam.

That report, which also fingered two other Australian companies, was
delivered by former United States Federal Reserve chairman Paul
Volcker. It states that the AWB was the single largest contributor of
bribes to Saddam under a UN-administered program in which oil
revenues were paid into an escrow account which Iraq could use to buy
food and medicines.

Things could not have gone worse for AWB on the inquiry’s first day.
Former chief executive Murray Rodgers repeatedly answered ‘I cannot
remember’ or ‘I cannot recall’ when asked about the payments to a
supposed Jordanian trucking company called Alia that turned out to have
no trucks. He was also at a loss to explain why in four years of AWB
board minutes there was no mention of the fees paid to Alia.

Nor are the revelations looking good for the government of Prime Minister John Howard.

Rodgers remembered, and remarked repeatedly, that his AWB underlings
‘went to Canberra to talk to DFAT’ – the Department of Foreign Affairs
and Trade.

He effectively turned the spotlight on the Howard government and the
extent of its knowledge about the illicit payments and AWB’s role in
circumventing the UN sanctions.

Absolutely. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was dragged right into
the middle of the row yesterday
when Wheat Board CEO Andrew Lindberg claimed to have discussed Iraqi
contracts with Downer several times.

But what about some of the AWB’s other deals. Back to Monsters &

Bribes facilitated Australia’s wheat sales to Pakistan, Indonesia and
Yemen before monopoly exporter AWB was caught up in the oil-for-food
scandal in Iraq…

Two former employees said millions of dollars were paid to officials in
Pakistan and that special arrangements were made so former President
Suharto could profit from wheat shipments to Indonesia…

‘Basically the officials in Pakistan, in the Ministry of Food and
Agriculture, wanted to get a kickback on this type of business and AWB
were given a third party to deal with,’ one former employee told The
Sydney Morning Herald
. ‘So funds were transferred into this third
party’s account. We would transfer 4 US dollars a tonne.’

Talking about his time with AWB, the informer said ‘the culture of the organisation was: get the job done.’

The claim was made that a rebate on wheat sales to Indonesian miller
Bogasari Flour Mills was paid to President Suharto through long-time
business crony and Bogasari proprietor Liem Sioe Liong. The rebate went
into an offshore account to circumvent government taxes and charges…