Source AP ©

Vitol SA pleads guilty to larceny charge

Swiss oil trading firm Vitol SA pleaded guilty to connection with a scheme to pay secret kickbacks to the Iraqi government in exchange for oil under the United Nations' scandal-ridden oil-for-food program.

District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau said the company pleaded guilty to a single count of grand larceny in the first degree in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

Vitol will pay restitution of $13 million (8.8 million EUR) to the Development Fund for Iraq and will make a payment of $4.5 million (3 million EUR) to the city and state of New York.

"The Oil for Food Programme was established by the United Nations with the noble goal of providing for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people," Morgenthau said in a statement. "One outcome of this investigation, and last week's joint investigation involving Chevron, is to insure that illegal funds that were paid to Saddam Hussein's government are redirected to benefit the Iraqi people."

Prosecutors alleged that Vitol, through an associated entity or third parties, paid $13 million in kickbacks to Iraqi officials in connection with oil purchases under the program from June 2001 through September 2002, but allowed false representations to be made to the U.N. that no kickbacks were paid.

Vitol's case is one of several that are the result of a wide-ranging criminal probe into the oil-for-food program.

Last week, Chevron Corp. agreed to pay $30 million (20.2 million EUR) to settle civil and criminal charges related to secret surcharges paid by third-party merchants in exchange for oil under the program.

Nine people, including former Coastal Corp. Chairman Oscar S. Wyatt, have either pleaded guilty or been convicted of criminal charges in the case. Criminal charges are pending against six other individuals, including the program's former executive director, Benon V. Sevan.

In February, El Paso Corp. agreed to pay $7.7 million (5.2 million EUR) to settle civil and criminal charges that it indirectly paid $5.5 million (3.7 million EUR) in illegal surcharges to Iraq through purchases of crude oil from outside parties under the oil-for-food program.

The oil-for-food program was designed to allow the government of Iraq, which was facing international sanctions, to sell oil in exchange for food, medical supplies and other humanitarian needs.

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