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US wheat group calls for inquiry
A MAJOR American wheat organisation has called on the US Senate to open an investigation into whether AWB operations under the UN oil-for-food program broke US laws.

Alan Tracy, the president of US Wheat Associates, told a board meeting of the body, which represents state wheat boards, that American wheat farmers had been harmed by AWB and that a Senate inquiry was "the least we should ask for".

Mr Tracy said he was "stunned" by the revelation in The Age that Michael Thawley, the then Australian ambassador in Washington, had asked the chairman of a powerful Senate committee to drop an investigation into allegations that AWB had paid kickbacks to the Saddam Hussein regime in return for wheat contracts.

Mr Tracy said Norm Coleman, the chairman of the Senate subcommittee on investigations, had been convinced by Mr Thawley at the October 7 meeting to drop the committee's AWB investigation.

Senator Coleman last week wrote to Mr Thawley and present Australian ambassador Dennis Richardson asking that Mr Thawley agree to being interviewed by committee investigators and for Mr Richardson to meet him to explain why Mr Thawley had been so "unequivocal" in his denial of any AWB wrongdoing.

Mr Richardson has written to Senator Coleman saying he is prepared to meet him, but rejecting suggestions that Foreign Affairs officials had been complicit in the AWB kickbacks. It is believed that Mr Thawley has not yet responded to the senator.

Mr Tracy told his board Mr Thawley had convinced Senator Coleman the allegations against AWB were "simply the smear tactics of a rogue journalist and perhaps an insidious trick by a US wheat marketing association".

"But you know, it is a big mistake to mislead a US senator as the Australians have just discovered," he said.

Mr Tracy's organisation and other American wheat groups are pushing not just for an investigation into AWB, but the immediate suspension of AWB by the US Agriculture Department from export credit programs and other US trade programs. So far the Agriculture Department has taken no action.

Senator Coleman has refused to comment on a call by Prime Minister John Howard last Friday that he apologise for suggesting that Foreign Affairs officials were complicit in AWB kickback schemes.

But sources have told The Age that Senator Coleman is unlikely to offer any apology and that some staffers were angry at accusations of bias in favour of US wheat interests made against the committee by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer last week.

Sources point out that the Coleman committee has pursued a number of US companies and individuals as part of the committee's oil-for-food investigations and that charges have been laid as a result.

■A second whistle-blower is due to give evidence detailing who knew Australia's wheat exporter was secretly paying $300 million in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's government when the oil-for-food inquiry resumes today. The former head of the AWB's Middle East desk, Dominic Hogan, is expected to begin his evidence outlining what happened from 2000 to 2003 when the bulk of the kickbacks to the former Iraqi regime were paid via Jordanian trucking company Alia.
MGR Archive 6.2.2006
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