It’s been three weeks since we last tallied the number of times the
federal Government or its agencies were alerted that the AWB could be
paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq – according to
unfolding evidence at the Cole inquiry and other new information. With
the number of warnings up from 18 to 25 times, it’s time for an update.
New items are marked with a red star
.

1998
– Australian intelligence agencies – via assessments made by
international spy agencies – learn that Alia, the trucking company used
by AWB to distribute its wheat in Iraq, is owned by Saddam’s
government, thus breaching UN sanctions.

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

January 2000
– Austrade commissioner Alistair Nicholas tells AWB chairman Trevor
Flugge and other AWB executives that a UN official has asked him
“quietly/informally” about payments AWB is making to Iraq.

March 2000 – Bronte Moules, from Australia’s permanent UN mission, sends the UN’s request for information on the contract clause to DFAT.

April 2000
– AWB’s government relations manager Andrew McConville writes in an
email: “Trevor (Flugge) and Andrew Lindberg in Canberra on Wednesday
and meeting with Bill Heffernan (Prime Minister’s parliamentary
secretary) and also Opposition trade spokesman (Peter Cook).” The
meeting is to discuss a number of issues related to AWB’s valuable
wheat trade with Iraq.

June 2000
According to the same email, a meeting is scheduled for Flugge and
Lindberg to raise the same issues with Trade Minister Mark Vaile.

September 2000
– An email sent by BHP oil executive and founder of Tigris Petroleum
Norman Davidson Kelly to AWB’s gun Middle East salesman, Charles Stott,
says “it was good to see you, Mark Vaile and Bob Bowker (a Foreign
Affairs Middle East specialist) in Melbourne yesterday” – at a
Melbourne conference on Middle East trade. It also says Tigris “enjoys
the support of our friends at DFAT [Department of Foreign Affairs and
Trade] who, as I told you, are interested in the outcome of the
discussions to recover the obligation”.

September 2000 – Stott makes a diary note for 13 September pointing to an 8.30am meeting with Bowker.

October 2000
– A letter, signed by Stott, is faxed to DFAT’s Middle East and Africa
branch referring to previous discussions Stott had with DFAT about
AWB’s plan to use a Jordanian trucking company to distribute wheat in
Iraq.

November 2000
– The head of DFAT’s Middle East and Africa branch, Jane
Drake-Brockman, signs a reply letter to Stott giving AWB the go-ahead
to enter into a “commercial arrangement” with an unnamed Jordanian
trucking firm.

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 is paying kickbacks breaching UN regulations during a meeting
at a Mallee farm machinery exhibition, but is told to stop “peddling
stories like that around”.

February 2003
– In a handwritten note, AWB lawyer Jessica Lyons says: “We cleared
this with Andrew Lindberg… memo prepared for him about how
sensitive/political this was and we will be informing Downer.” The
email refers $2.5 million dollars in compensation paid to the Iraqis
for wheat they said was contaminated by iron filings.

May/June 2003
– A memo from the Coalition Provisional Authority asking an AWB
employee to clarify which contracts contained kickbacks and which ones
didn’t is forwarded to DFAT by email and fax ten days after the start
of the Iraq War.

July 2003
– The UN tells the wheat exporter to cut its fee by $28 million from
two contracts worth $300 million. The AWB tells the Howard Government
about the 10% price cut, but don’t relate it to the 10% amount they
have been warned Saddam Hussein orders from his suppliers under the
oil-for-food program to include 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.

March 2004
– DFAT officer Zena Armstrong writes a ministerial submission about
AWB’s links to trucking firm Alia to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer
and Trade Minister Mark Vaile, after AWB told her it had paid a
Jordanian trucking company that might have handed money on to the Iraqi
dictator’s regime. Vaile signs his version of the submission, while
Downer writes on his: “This worries me. How were AWB prices set and who
set them? I want to know about this.”

Mid-2004
– The federal government controlled Wheat Export Authority (WEA) is
tipped off that AWB might be paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s
regime.

October 2004
– AWB denies any wrongdoing when grilled by the WEA, saying Iraq sales
are made under “unique circumstances”. The WEA clears the AWB over
kickback allegations in a secret report 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, convincing the Senator that they were “simply the smear
tactics of a rogue journalist and perhaps an insidious trick by a US
wheat marketing association”.

November 2004
– Downer agrees to provide the UN’s Iraqi oil for food investigators
“with assistance but not to the requests to interview officials,
provide material already held by the UN (such as contracts) or access
to classified transmissions (such as cables)”.

December 2004
– Volcker’s investigators try to encourage the Howard Government to
co-operate more fully, by saying other countries are providing
classified information of the type they are seeking from Australia.

February 2005
– UN oil-for-food investigator Paul Volcker complains to Australia’s
ambassador to the UN John Dauth, at a meeting, that the Howard
Government, is not providing sufficient co-operation, and that its
approach is “beyond reticent, even forbidding”.

September 2005
– Alexander Downer is briefed on allegations that AWB may have been
funnelling money to Saddam Hussein’s regime through a bogus
Jordanian-based trucking company at a meeting with UN oil-for-food
investigator Paul Volcker in New York.

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

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW