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:
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
they were told: “Well, the Australians are doing it.”
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.
– 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”.’
– 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.
– Trade Minister Mark Vaile was reported to have met Mr Flugge and Mr Lindberg
over the kickback claims, although Vaile cannot recall the meeting.
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.
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
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
– 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.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade document that details efforts
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
Vaile and then agriculture minister Warren Truss.
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.”
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
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.”
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.
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.
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
invasion a 10% surcharge was added onto any oil-for-food contract.
– 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
2004 – After an investigation, the WEA
cleared AWB over kickback allegations in a secret report in October 2004 to
then agriculture minister Warren Truss.
2004 – Australian US Ambassador Michael Thawley convinces US Republican
Senator Norm Coleman to drop his committee’s investigation into the AWB
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.”
Alexander Downer was briefed on allegations that AWB may have been
funnelling money to Saddam Hussein’s regime through a bogus
trucking company after meeting UN oil-for-food investigator Paul
Volcker in New York but left the impression that he did not take the
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