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Australian Min Heartened By Iraqi Wheat Comment
Dow Jones
Iraq will judge Australian wheat on its merits and won't use the findings of a U.N. report to disadvantage growers, according to a statement issued Sunday by Australian Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran.

He was commenting after meeting Iraqi Minister for Agriculture Ali al-Bahadli on the sidelines of a meeting of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

McGauran sought an assurance from Iraq that Australian wheat exports to Iraq though monopoly exporter AWB Ltd. (AWB.AU) will continue unimpeded, he said.

A report issued Oct. 27 on the U.N. oil-for-food program by Paul A. Volcker, a former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, found AWB paid US$221.7 million to Jordanian-based Alia Transportation for transporting wheat through Iraq, but the funds were channeled to the regime of Saddam Hussein.

McGauran said he was also reassured by al-Bahadli that Iraq won't be swayed by the efforts of international competitors to use the Volcker report for their own benefit.

Some in Australia believe groups such as U.S. Wheat Associates are using the Volcker report to try and break down AWB's wheat export monopoly.

McGauran's statement quoted al-Bahadli as saying: "I have great respect for your country and we have a great respect for Australian wheat growers. You can convey that to them...I think everything is over now."

AWB was one of about 2,200 companies and individuals from 66 countries that paid a total of US$1.8 billion in illegal kickbacks to Iraq, the report found.

AWB has denied knowingly being involved in paying money to Saddam's regime through Alia Transportation and said it could have been an unwitting participant in an elaborate scheme of deception devised by the regime.

The Australian government has established a judicial inquiry to investigate possible breaches of domestic law by AWB or anyone associated with it arising from the findings of the Volcker report.

McGauran said the Australian people won't tolerate any person or organization that knowingly supported "the corrupt, brutal and murderous regime of Saddam Hussein."

The U.N. report didn't claim outright that AWB knew it was paying kickbacks to the regime, but it maintains AWB should have known what was happening.

Both the Australian government and AWB say the U.N. had full administrative control of its oil-for-food program and approved AWB dealings.

AWB continues to export wheat to Iraq, but this year the U.S. has taken over as dominant supplier.
MGR Archive 22.11.2005
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