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Iraq oil-for-food papers available until year end

Written by: Staff

United Nations, Mar 25: The UN-established panel that investigated the Iraq oil-for-food program will stay open until the end of the year to allow prosecutors access to its documents, the United Nations said.

Investigators and prosecutors from 28 countries have already requested documents from the Independent Inquiry Committee since it released its final report on October 27, said Michael Holtzman, spokesman for the IIC, whose Manhattan office has been reduced to a skeletal staff.

The IIC had been scheduled to close at the end of this month.

The panel, headed by former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, was commissioned by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to examine charges of corruption in the defunct billion program, the largest ever handled by the world body.

''The office's exclusive function is to work with national law enforcement authorities of member states seeking to follow up on the findings of the final IIC report,'' UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said yesterday.

''Obviously for national law enforcement authorities it is much easier at this point for them to continue dealing with the IIC as they are the ones who collected all the documents and they are the ones who have the historical knowledge of the investigation,'' Dujarric said.

Officials, companies or politicians from some 40 countries were implicated in the scandal.

The oil-for-food operation began in December 1996 and ended in 2003. It was designed to ease the impact on ordinary Iraqis of UN sanctions, imposed in mid-1990s after Baghdad's troops invaded Kuwait.

The UN program, supervised by the UN Security Council, allowed Saddam Hussein to sell oil in exchange for a large variety of goods. But Volcker's inquiry showed he bilked the program by 1.8 billion dollar and then earned another estimated 8 billion dollar by selling oil outside the program.

Saddam either demanded kickbacks from companies doing business in Iraq or paid politicians, groups and government officials to lobby against the pervasive sanctions.

Some 15 people have been charged in the United States.

France, Switzerland, Australia, India and others have also started investigations but there has been little news from Russia, where many of the firms and officials named are based.

Dujarric said the United Nations was ''very much encouraged'' by the Iraqi authorities to extend the mandate of the IIC.''


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