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Iraqis sue BNP, AWB over UN oil-for-food

24 December, 2006

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NEW YORK: French bank BNP Paribas and Australian wheat exporter AWB face a lawsuit in the UN oil-for-food scandal, a lawyer for Iraqis claiming they were denied benefits of the program said.

Joshua Glatter, of Osen and Associate, said his company and three other law firms had "filed a civil lawsuit seeking class-action status on behalf of citizens of the three northern governates of Iraq who were entitled to receive benefits under the UN oil-for-food program."

The case was filed Friday in US federal court, in Manhattan, Southern District of New York, against BNP Paribas and AWB Ltd, formerly known as the Australian Wheat Board, Glatter said.

The court has not indicated whether it will admit the suit, he said. The attorney said the lawsuit was brought under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, US anti-money laundering statutes and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, which allows lawsuits against criminal organizations.

The two companies, he said, "are liable for depriving class members from the benefits they were entitled to under the program."

Under the UN program Iraq`s oil was sold on the world market, the proceeds of which were to be used to purchase food, medicines and other items not embargoed after the 1991 Gulf war.

BNP`s top executive in the United States, Michele Sicard, declined comment saying she had not seen the text of the lawsuit.

Last month, an official inquiry in Australia recommended that 11 former executives of AWB face criminal prosecutions over corruption linked to the UN oil-for-food program during Hussein`s rule.

AWB, formerly the government-owned Australian Wheat Board, has been found guilty of paying some 220 million US dollars in bribes to secure wheat contracts from the regime before Saddam Hussein was ousted in the US-led invasion of March 2003.

In October 2005, an independent inquiry led by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker found that more than 2,200 companies including AWB pumped 1.8 billion dollars into the coffers of Saddam`s regime in a rush to profit from the UN oil-for-food program.

Among those companies named in the report were industrial giants such as Volvo, Siemens and DaimlerChrysler, although the Volcker report stopped short of attributing direct culpability.


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