BHP’s efforts in ruling off its involvement
in arguably the most egregious aspect of the AWB Iraq scandal – the Tigris deal – have suddenly
come undone. The BHP case to the Cole Inquiry basically
came down to pointing the finger at a rogue executive who wouldn’t take “no
Iraq” for an answer, plus a mysterious grey spot where the word “gift” became
“loan”.

That case has been compromised by the Cole Inquiry releasing documents showing BHP was hot to trot on Iraq with
all lobbyists blazing when the invasion still looked like a victory. Marian Wilkinson covers it in The Smage:

A highly confidential record of
the meeting between Mr Downer and BHP Billiton executives written by the
Department of Foreign Affairs details their discussion of the project in London in May 2003, only weeks after the Saddam
Hussein government fell.

The executives meeting Mr Downer
included the company’s Middle East
experts, David Walker and David Regan, its vice-president, Tom Harley, and a
top lobbyist, the former British foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

The document reveals an
extraordinary effort by BHP Billiton to get its share of the Halfayah oilfield,
one of the richest in the country, by lobbying the key players in postwar Iraq.

The executives told Mr Downer the
company had already lobbied Arthur Sinodinos, the chief adviser to the Prime
Minister, John Howard, and were about to approach Downing Street and the US
Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Of particular concern to BHP will be
the document’s disclosure that Tigris was still happily up and running as part of the plans. Says Wilkinson:

The document also clearly sets
out of the first time that real relationship between BHP Billiton and the
controversial company Tigris, its joint venture partner in Iraq.

Tigris has been accused in
evidence to the Cole Inquiry of being involved in a major fraud in the UN’s Oil
For Food program to assist Australia’s wheat trader, AWB.

According to the document, Mr
Harley told Mr Downer: “Tigris was responsible for maintaining
relationships with [Saddam Hussein’s] Iraq by working Oil for Food projects until a normal
political situation could be established in Iraq.

“This arrangement was judged
by all parties to give Australia the maximum chance of securing the
Halfayah field investment.”

Whoops. BHP is back in the poo. Other
documents indicate further knowledge by AWB of just what it was up to – but AWB
has never been out of it.

Peter Fray

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