AWB admits paying kickbacks to Saddam

Sydney, May 18 | Updated: May 19 2006, 05:44am hrs
AWB Ltd, Australias monopoly wheat exporter, admitted paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein and breaching United Nations sanctions, in a draft apology released by a government inquiry on Thursday.

The inquiry released the apology after AWB lost a Federal Court bid to stop it being made public. The January 1 apology, which AWB had decided not to release, was mistakenly handed to the inquiry in late March, the Australian Financial Review said on Thursday.

AWB accepts that in paying money for inland transportation and after sales service it paid money to the Iraq government in contravention of the UN sanctions, the draft apology said. The apology carried the name of Andrew Lindberg, who resigned as managing director in February.

Retired judge Terence Cole is investigating claims AWB paid $222 million in kickbacks to Husseins regime by inflating transport fees under the UNs Oil-for-Food (OFF) programme. The companys shares have slumped 36% since the inquiry began on concern AWB may lose its monopoly over Australias wheat exports.

In the draft apology, prepared by US-based corporate crisis expert Peter Sandman, AWB said it didnt challenge the payments, even though there were warning signs to some employees.

For this we are truly sorry and deeply regret any damage this may have caused to Australias trading reputation, the Australian government or the United Nations. The statement said AWB took a commercial and technical approach to complying with UN sanctions.

While AWB can ex-post rationalise its participation in the OFF and claim it did not have the benefit of hindsight or the complete picture, this does not excuse what occurred and is not offered as an excuse, the statement said.