Three weeks ago (13 Feb), we put together a timeline detailing what and when the
Howard Government knew about AWB’s dodgy dealings in Iraq. Since then,
there have been more revelations.
So here’s the updated
version of events – new items are marked with a red star:

December 1999
– Canada’s
wheat farmers wanted to sell wheat to Iraq
but, when they approached Saddam’s regime, they were told they would have to
put $700,000 into a Jordanian bank account to cover “transport
costs”. When they baulked, saying this would undermine UN sanctions
against Iraq,
they were told: “Well, the Australians are doing it.”

January
2000
– UN customs expert warned Australia’s UN mission in New York that the
Iraqi government was demanding around $US700,000 ($A930,230) from the Canadian
Wheat Board to cover suspect trucking fees in Iraq, and that AWB was already
paying such fees.

January 2000
– Austrade commissioner Alistair Nicholas alerted his superiors in Canberra to problems with AWB’s wheat deals in a
series of four diplomatic cables that were forwarded to the Department of
Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra and seen by Alexander Downer.

    March 2000 – Tipped off “quietly (and) informally” about
    payments AWB was making to Iraq,
    Austrade commissioner Alistair Nicholas called then chairman Trevor
    Flugge and other AWB executives to a “briefing” in Washington
    DC and asked whether there was any truth to
    the rumours. Later, Bronte Moules at Australia’s
    mission to the UN in New York confirmed
    that the “UN were asking for information” about the contracts and
    “she put the request through to DFAT in Canberra”.’

    May 2000
    – AWB’s government relations manager, Andrew McConville, who was liaising with Canada
    over corruption claim says AWB’s Mr Flugge and Mr Lindberg planned to meet
    Government Senator Bill Heffernan over the kickback claims. Heffernan denies
    the meeting took place.

    June 2000
    – Trade Minister Mark Vaile was reported to have met Mr Flugge and Mr Lindberg
    over the kickback claims, although Vaile cannot recall the meeting.

    September
    2000
    – Mark Vaile attends a conference in Melbourne
    on Middle East trade where he meets AWB’s Middle
    East salesman, Charles Stott, and BHP
    vice-president and Arab expert, Tom Harley, who have since been implicated in
    the AWB and BHP Tigris deal. Vaile admits
    meeting them, but denies they spoke about Tigris.

    September
    2000
    – An email sent by a former BHP
    executive, Norman Davidson Kelly, to Charles Stott, a senior manager for the
    wheat exporter in September 2000, titled “Iraq; BHP
    Petroleum”, says: “It was good to see you, Mark Vaile and Bob Bowker
    in Melbourne yesterday.” It said Tigris (Petroleum,
    a company set up by BHP to which the
    controversial Iraq
    debt was transferred) “enjoys the support of our friends at DFAT who, as I
    told you, are interested in the outcome of the discussions to recover the
    obligation”.

    November 2000
    – AWB Iraqi executive Andrew Long passed on information to DFAT that AWB were
    paying a legitimate Jordanian trucking company money for trucking Australian
    wheat in Iraq.

    April 2001 – AWB’s Iraq scam was outlined in a diplomatic cable
    from Bronte Moules, an official at Australia’s permanent mission to the UN in New York, that was widely distributed through the
    top echelons of government, including the Prime Minister, Foreign Affairs
    Minister Alexander Downer, Trade Minister Mark Vaile and then-minister for
    agriculture Warren Truss.

    August 2001 – Shipping
    group P & O Nedlloyd advised the US and British governments of 10% kickbacks
    demanded by Iraq.

      November 2001
      – A
      Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade document that details efforts
      by
      Saddam’s regime to corrupt the UN oil-for-food program by collecting
      kickbacks was distributed widely within the government, including the
      offices of Prime
      Minister John Howard, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, Trade Minister
      Mark
      Vaile and then agriculture minister Warren Truss.

        July
        2002
        – With Iraq
        threatening to cut off Australian wheat imports, John Howard wrote to AWB head
        Andrew Lindberg, telling him to keep him closely informed on the relations
        between AWB and the Iraqi government. Howard wrote: “In view of the
        importance of the matter, I suggest the government and AWB remain in close
        contact in order that we can jointly attempt to achieve a satisfactory outcome
        in the longer term.”

        August
        2002
        – Leading Victorian grain merchant Ray Brooks alerts then agriculture
        minister Warren Truss to allegations by major international traders that AWB
        was paying kickbacks breaching UN regulations during a meeting at a Mallee farm
        machinery exhibition, but was told to stop “peddling stories like that
        around”.

        February 2003 – In a
        handwritten note, AWB lawyer Jessica Lyons said: “We cleared this with
        Andrew Lindberg… memo prepared for him about how sensitive/political this
        was and we will be informing Downer.”

          May/June
          2003
          – An AWB employee forwards a memo from the Coalition Provisional
          Authority to DFAT which asked him to clarify which contracts contained
          kickbacks and which ones didn’t.

          July
          2003
          – The UN told AWB to cut $28 million from two contracts worth $300
          million because it correctly assumed the extra 10% was a kickback for the benefit
          of Saddam Hussein’s regime. AWB told the Howard Government, via DFAT’s Iraq
          taskforce, that it had agreed to the price reduction. The taskforce – which met
          daily, and reported directly to John Howard and Alexander Downer – had, by
          then, been warned that Saddam had ordered his suppliers under the oil-for-food
          program to include a 10% kickback for his benefit.

          October
          2003
          – Australian Treasury officials working on the Iraqi budget forward
          concerns about the details of the oil-for-food kickbacks under the old regime
          to DFAT and Australia’s
          aid agency AusAID, stating that before the US
          led Iraq
          invasion a 10% surcharge was added onto any oil-for-food contract.

          Mid-2004
          – Wheat Export Authority Chairman Tim Besley admits the government authority
          knew about possible kickbacks to Iraq
          through trucking company Alia. Besley said: “AWB(I) staff pointed to the unique
          circumstances of Iraq
          sales (eg: that sales were to include delivery of wheat over land and payment
          is not made until the wheat is delivered) to explain why it was necessary to
          pay a Jordanian trucking company and why prices may appear above global
          benchmarks.”

          October
          2004
          – After an investigation, the WEA
          cleared AWB over kickback allegations in a secret report in October 2004 to
          then agriculture minister Warren Truss.

          October
          2004
          – Australian US Ambassador Michael Thawley convinces US Republican
          Senator Norm Coleman to drop his committee’s investigation into the AWB
          allegations.

          November 2004 – AWB
          denied any wrongdoing when grilled by the government run Wheat Export Agency.
          Instead, telling the agency of the “unique circumstances of Iraq sales.”

              September 2005

              Alexander Downer was briefed on allegations that AWB may have been
              funnelling money to Saddam Hussein’s regime through a bogus
              Jordanian-based
              trucking company after meeting UN oil-for-food investigator Paul
              Volcker in New York but left the impression that he did not take the
              allegations seriously.

                  Feb
                  2006
                  – Former ASIS intelligence officer
                  and Middle East veteran Warren Reid tells ABC radio
                  “it’s absolutely impossible that they didn’t know… In fact, if you look at
                  the core part of the governmental system in Canberra, Foreign Affairs, Defence,
                  even eavesdropping, the whole intelligence apparatus, that’s geared to knowing
                  these things.”

                  Peter Fray

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