Suitcases full of cash, secret bank accounts, covert operatives, corrupt politicians on the take. A report detailing alleged illicit U.N. oil-for-food deals with the former Iraq government paints a portrait of Saddam Hussein as an international gangster - not a nuclear terrorist.
The financial schemes propped up Saddam's regime for more than a decade and involved cloak-and-dagger efforts to hide the alleged graft by dealing in front companies, untraceable accounts, cash sales and smuggling, the report by the top U.S. arms inspector said.
The report, delivered Wednesday by Charles Duelfer, who was charged to investigate the extent of Iraq's weapons programs, relies on internal Iraqi documents and extensive interviews with members of the former regime now imprisoned in Iraq.
Although Saddam opposed the program at first, he quickly realized it could be exploited and did so with mendacious verve until the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, former Iraqi officials report.
Saddam was able to "subvert" the $60 billion U.N. oil-for-food program to generate an estimated $1.7 billion in revenue outside U.N. control from 1997-2003, Duelfer's report says.
In addition to oil-for-food schemes, Iraq brought in over $8 billion in illicit oil deals with Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Egypt through smuggling or illegal pumping through pipelines during the full period that sanctions were in place from 1991-2003, the report says.
While the United Nations focused on delivering humanitarian goods to an Iraqi population suffering from international sanctions and the totalitarian regime, Saddam's government devised elaborate ways to skim money from deals sending oil out and goods in. The report spells out how kickbacks were solicited and how money got to Baghdad.
Iraq tried to manipulate foreign governments, including members of the U.N. Security Council by awarding contracts - and bribes - to foreign companies and political figures in countries who showed support for ending sanctions, in particular Russia, France and China, the report says.
The former head of the oil-for-food program, Benon Sevan, also is accused of receiving bribes in the form of vouchers allowing him or companies tied to him to purchase 7.3 million barrels of oil, which would have netted $700,000 to $2 million, depending on oil prices.
Sevan is among hundreds of companies, groups and individuals on 13 secret lists kept by the Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan and the Oil Minister, Amir Rashid Muhammad al-Ubaydi.
"Saddam himself would recommend a specific recipient," the report says, "and the recommended amount of the allocation."
Russian and French companies were singled out by the regime for special treatment, according to the report, with politicians close to the French President Jacques Chirac appearing on the list, among them former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua and businessman Patrick Maugein, "whom the Iraqis considered a conduit to Chirac," according to the report.
The report says this allegation is unproven and the governments and officials deny it.
Some of the bribes allegedly paid by Iraq involved cash to covert operatives. Saddam's former secretary and ambassador to Moscow, interviewed by Duelfer's group, claims former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz paid a cash bribe of $15-to-20 million to a female colonel in the Russian Intelligence Service.
"She wanted Aziz to accommodate the companies nominated by the Russian Intelligence," according to the official, said Abd Hamid Mahmud Al Khatab al Nasiri.
The most lucrative exploitation of the program involved kickbacks from companies executing legal sales of oil. Under the terms of the U.N resolution establishing the program, Iraq maintained the right to determine who got contracts for oil being exported and the humanitarian goods being imported and to determine market prices.