More than 2,000 companies paid about $1.8 billion in illicit kickbacks and surcharges to Saddam Hussein's government through extensive manipulation of the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq, according to a U.N.-backed investigation obtained by The Associated Press.
The report to be released in full Thursday by the committee probing claims of wrongdoing in the $64 billion program indicates that about half the 4,500 companies doing business with Iraq paid illegal surcharges on oil purchases or kickbacks on contracts to supply humanitarian goods.
The investigators reported that companies and individuals from 66 countries paid illegal kickbacks through a variety of devices while those paying illegal oil surcharges came from, or were registered in, 40 countries. The names will be included in Thursday's report but were not in the key findings obtained Wednesday by the AP.
Thursday's final report of the investigation led by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker strongly criticizes the U.N. Secretariat and Security Council for failing to monitor the program and allowing the emergence of front companies and international trading concerns prepared to make illegal payments.
According to the findings, the Banque Nationale de Paris S.A., known as BNP, which held the U.N. oil-for-food escrow account, had a dual role and did not disclose fully to the United Nations the firsthand knowledge it acquired about the financial relationships that fostered the payment of illegal surcharges.
The oil-for-food program was one of the world's largest humanitarian aid operations, running from 1996-2003, reports the AP.