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AWB in breach of US's Iran sanctions
WHEAT exporter AWB tried to send more than $1million to an Iranian transport company last year in breach of US sanctions, according to documents leaked to The Australian.

The transaction was detected and stopped by the Bank of New York, and the $US950,000 ($1.14million) returned to AWB.

The matter was subsequently referred to AWB's anti-money laundering project, which was established in the wake of the Iraq kickbacks scandal.

AWB yesterday confirmed the transaction, saying it was ''inadvertently caught up in a US sanction regime''.

''A payment was blocked by a US bank and the money was returned,'' AWB said.

The sanctions prevent trade with Iran by US citizens and by businesses using US currency. Australia does not have trade sanctions on Iran, but AWB has a US subsidiary, AWB (USA), which trades in US dollars.

AWB spokesman Peter McBride said: ''This was a legitimate trade contract. AWB has taken action to ensure employees are aware of the US sanctions regime.''

He said AWB was considering whether to apply for a licence from the US Office of Foreign Assets Control so it could sell wheat to Iran and other sanctioned countries.

''In the interim, if required, AWB will seek to continue legitimate trade with countries affected by US sanctions in non-US currency,'' Mr McBride said.

Opposition primary industries spokesman Kerry O'Brien said the revelations were ''unbelievable, given AWB's sanctions-busting record in the Middle East''.

''It is remarkable that AWB hadn't taken action to clean up its act before late last year,'' Senator O'Brien said.

''Alexander Downer needs to come clean about what he knew about this, and when he found out. And bear in mind that around this time, the Agriculture Minister, Peter McGauran, called AWB in for a briefing. Did AWB brief McGauran on this?''

AWB does not normally sell wheat to Iran but was seeking new markets after its relationship with Iraq collapsed in the wake of the kickbacks scandal.

AWB last year sold 40,000 tonnes of wheat to Iran, which is normally self-sufficient in wheat.

The US sanctions on Iran were signed into law by former president Bill Clinton in 1996. They are designed to hinder the illegal arms trade and to prevent Tehran from funnelling money to Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist groups.

Federal cabinet is grappling with the future of wheat marketing, with some Liberals saying AWB must lose the right to manage the nation's wheat pool. The Nationals want to keep the single desk, saying the majority of grain growers support it.

AWB is believed to have asked the Howard Government and Labor for the right to export the next two harvests.

The Australian revealed last week that AWB had suffered a huge loss -- thought to be around $100million -- by making speculative trades on the Chicago Board of Trade last October. So big was the hit, AWB considered missing a payment of $350million owed to farmers.

''The speculative trading was high-risk gambling using farmers' money,'' said Doug Clarke, spokesman for the newly formed Grain Producers Marketing Group. ''They were taking high risks in order to achieve their bonus benchmarks. If they won the gamble, AWB would have collected a bonus, but they lost -- and farmers are now expected to pay this gambling debt without even being told about it, if it had not been leaked.''
MGR Archive 29.4.2007
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