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US wheat farmers to sue AWB
US wheat farmers are preparing to sue AWB for more than $1 billion under laws which are most commonly used against Mafia figures in America. The lawsuit comes as a powerful US Congressional inquiry into the Australian wheat exporter's dodgy dealings comes closer to a reality, as Washington Correspondent Kim Landers reports. KIM LANDERS: Sitting in his Washington law office, Palmer Floret is wading through the more than 2,000 pages of the Cole inquiry report. From what he's read so far, he's confident it'll bolster the case of US wheat farmers who want to sue AWB for locking them out of the lucrative Iraqi wheat market. PALMER FLORET: The AWB was involved in a criminal enterprise, i.e. paying money to the Hussein Government in order to have the exclusive, or almost exclusive right to sell wheat to them through the UN program. And that's a violation of the United States RICO law, the Racketeering, Influence and Corrupt Organisations Act. KIM LANDERS: The Cole inquiry found AWB paid almost $300 million in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime under the UN Oil for Food program, effectively taking a monopoly on wheat exports to Iraq.

It's why wheat farmers from Kansas and Virginia are behind the lawsuit and they're contemplating trying to turn it into a class action.

PALMER FLORET: To compensate US wheat farmers for their loss of business, so their loss of monetary income, because they were not able to participate in this very lucrative market in Iraq.

And secondly, there is also an issue in our case, certainly, of punitive damages also, which is to punish the AWB for this criminal activity.

KIM LANDERS: It's not the only hurdle AWB could face in the US.

The Department of Agriculture is considering whether to stop doing business with AWB or any subsidiaries.

Mark Kesselman is the General Counsel at the Department.

MARK KESSELMAN: If we do ultimately decide to bar AWB or any other entity, they would become ineligible to participate in direct US Government procurements, as well as other covered transactions: receiving grants, contracts of assistance, loan guarantees, subsidies.

KIM LANDERS: Meanwhile the US Congress is inching closer to setting up its own inquiry.

Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who'll soon head the Senate Agriculture Committee, says AWB's dealings will certainly be on its agenda to investigate.

Republican Senator Norm Coleman called off an inquiry two years ago after Australia's then Ambassador, Michael Thawley assured him no kickbacks were paid.

The Senator has now told The New York Times he'll examine whether "Australian officials were less than honest in their dealings" with his subcommittee.
MGR Archive 29.11.2006
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