Down Under, Oil for Food Scandal Spins the Other Way
In Australia, the politics of the United Nations Oil for Food scandal have been reversed.
In the United States and Europe, conservative commentators have played up the scandal, noting that that French, Russian and British officials who opposed the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 had privately benefited from dealings with Saddam Hussein's regime. The editors of the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and others say the findings of a U.N investigation discredit war critics and deserve further investigation.
But in Australia, the oil for food story is spinning the other way. Revelations that the Australian Wheat Board (AWB), a government-sanctioned cartel, paid $300 million in kickbacks to the government of Saddam Hussein has pro-war officials on the defensive and critics calling for a wider investigation.
An official investigation has revealed that between 1996 and 2002, the Australian government approved 292 AWB shipments of wheat to Iraq worth more than $2 billion. "And almost every cargo breached [U.N.] sanctions," says the Sydney Morning Herald.
Four Corners, an investigative television show along the lines of "60 Minutes," notes that the AWB paid five times more in kickbacks to Hussein's regime than any other person or company implicated in the oil for food scandal.
Prime Minister John Howard, a strong supporter of the invasion that overthrew Hussein, testified last week that he did not read diplomatic cables sent to his office warning that the AWB might be paying bribes in the form of inflated "transport fees" to a company linked to Hussein's government.
Howard's defense didn't appease editors of The Australian, a pro-war newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch. Usually supportive of Howard, the paper rejected his government's explanations and said it was "time for answers."
SMH columnist Peter Hartcher pointed out that Howard rallied support for the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 by saying that Hussein had "cruelly and cynically manipulated" the oil for food program. Despite the apparent contradiction in Howard's position, Hartcher predicted he would escape rebuke -- the official inquiry is investigating wrongdoing by the AWB, not the government.
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