Bought by Saddam

The UN Committee on the oil-for-food scandal in Iraq, popularly called the Volcker Committee, has revealed that Iraq collected kickbacks on $ 64.2 billion of oil and $ 34.5 billion of “humanitarian imports”. The Indian media have focused on the listing of foreign minister Natwar Singh and the Congress Party as non-contractual beneficiaries. Also listed are 130 Indian companies, who paid kickbacks of $ 2.2 million to get contracts worth $ 424. The companies include big names like Reliance, Tata International, Ranbaxy, Thermax, Dr Reddy’s Labs, Godrej and Boyce, Kirloskar Brothers, Wockhardt, Cipla and many others.

In terms of money, this is a huge scam, yet I find remarkably muted indignation in the political class. The Congress says that the Volcker Committee has not given conclusive proof. True, but the report simply lists evidence from Iraqi government files. It is now up to the police of each country to fully investigate and prosecute the individuals and companies that may be guilty.

The BJP is, naturally, up in arms at “Congress corruption”. What intrigues me, however, is the virtual silence of the Left front. Normally it makes a lot of noise about corruption, and positively screams about corruption through big business. Why then is there no uproar on this issue from the Left Front?

One reason may be the recent expose of the Mitrokhin Papers, which showed that large sums were paid by the Soviet Union to communists in India. Communists who live in glass houses do not throw stones.

But more important may be the report’s revelations on oil allocations to the Russian Communist Party and other Russian politicians. The report suggests that they were for sale, and Saddam bought them. These are not convenient facts for the Left Front.

Saddam Hussein used the oil-for-food program to buy allies who could lobby for the lifting of sanctions against Iraq. Initially, he gave allocations to US oil companies to soften US attitudes. When that failed, allocations were switched to others who could help. The largest allocations went to Russia, roughly 30% of oil sales. Allocations were also generous to Chinese, French and Italian players.

The report contains xeroxes of documents showing that Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Russian Communist Party, received oil allocations totaling 121.5 million barrels. One letter from Zyuganov shows he was monitoring allocations to an outfit called the Foundation of Friendship with Peoples of Arab States, and asked why a decrease in its allocation had not been “discussed during meetings with you and during my numerous contacts with the Ambassador of Iraq to Russia.”

The Russian government says many documents in Iraqi files are forgeries. Zyuganov denies any involvement, and claims that the entire report is a plot by the CIA to discredit Russia. Possibly the Left front thinks the same. Yet it is simply not credible that the CIA would hatch a plot to defame Natwar Singh and the Congress Party at a time when George Bush is trying to boost Indo-US relations. Besides, this is a UN Committee, not an American one, and its members are financial experts with impeccable global credentials. They have gone through Iraqi files and named thousands of companies and persons of countries across the globe, including American, British and French multinationals.

Allocations also went to Vladmir Zhirnovsky, head of the Liberal Democratic Party and currently Deputy Chairman of the Russian Parliament. Zhirinovsky neglected to pay kickbacks of $ 5.1 million in full, and had allocations cut off. So he offered to pay by giving Iraq a building in the centre of Moscow!

Lukoil, a big Russian company, got 93.4 million barrels, and paid over a million dollars in kickbacks.

Iraqi files show that Alexander Voloshin, Chief of Staff in the Administration of the President Putin, was allotted 4.3 m barrels. Voloshin denies this, and says his signature forged. The Committee agrees that his signature does not match the one in Iraqi files. This impartial finding gives credibility to its other findings. But it also shows that forgeries did occur, so everybody named should not be assumed guilty.

George Galloway, a British MP who campaigned to rescind sanctions against Iraq, got allocations of 18 million barrels. Jean Bernard Merimee, a former French Representative in the UN, and Charles Pasqua, former French Minister of the Interior, got oil allocations. So did Roberto Formiogoni, President of the Lombardy Region in Italy.

There is no space to list more names. But the key point is that Saddam was attempting to buy influence with oil. And many countries favoured with oil allocations did indeed oppose the US invasion. Some will say this is mere co-incidence. Others will say that money talks.

In any event we have a new insight into international relations. What the left calls “independent foreign policy” might also be translated as “bought by Saddam.”

What do you think?