Wednesday 13th of November 2019

Under Oath- Prime Minister

The Prime Minister of Australia has been requested to give a written statement to a Royal Commission.  He will be answering questions regarding possible negligence and corruption within his own Department.

Mr Howard's announcement follows the advance printing of an incriminating broadcast scheduled to be televised on the ABC tonight.  The UN Oil-For-Food program's Customs Officer says national governments are responsible for any bribes sent to Saddam.

Mr Howard has said in a media conference this morning that he will appear personally before the Cole Inquiry if requested to do so.

His trade and foreign ministers are due to appear today and tomorrow, to discuss the timeframes of transmission of information from their offices to that of the PM's. 

Until now, Ministers Downer and Vaille have stated that they became aware of the trucking company Alia,"within the context of the Volcker Inquiry" which, on  behalf of the United Nations, named AWB last year as a briber of the Saddam Regime.  It has now been revealed that the Departments of Downer and Vaille had been receiving information to this effect for several years, although the ministers have claimed that they did not read the cables and  memos.

The former head of the UN's customs division, Felicity Johnstone says that "Every nation has a responsibility, absolutely, under Resolution 661, to
ensure that its nationals comply with the terms of that resolution.
Specifically in paragraph three of that resolution it states that all
countries should ensure that its nationals do not provide transfers of
funds to Iraq. "

 

"Now I didn't make that up, that's what it says in resolution 661 in black and white, " Ms Johnstone continued, adding that "Mr Vaile may try to wash his hands of it but they do have a
responsibility to ensure that their nationals abide by the rules and
the regulations."

Ms Johnstone was alerted to possible bribery by Canadian interests in 1999, when the AWB (then the Australian Wheat Board) was a branch of the Australian Government   "That what I perceived to be an agency of that Government would be
deceptive and would be deliberately flouting the sanctions and then
avoiding telling the truth about the matter was really
incomprehensible," she said.

In 2002 Ms Johnstone informated senior New York DFAT official Bronte Moules of her concerns. Ms Moulse told the Cole Inquiry on March 14 that "We at the UN mission knew that AWB contracts involved the export of
wheat, a humanitarian item permissible under the oil for food program.
The UN mission had neither a role nor any expertise to consider whether
the pricing of the contracts or any other conditions in the contracts
were appropriate. Moules, on being informed by AWB that the claims had no substantiation, sent cables to this effect to the departments of the Prime Minister, the Foregn Minister and the Trade Minister.  All three have claimed that they did not read these diplomatic cables.

 Here's what Howard, Downer and Vaille "didn't read" in 2000, in the words of Bronte Moules:

The issue was that the OIP (Office of Iraq Program) had been contacted by a third country, UN mission in New York, advising that it's national wheat board were negotiating a contract with the Iraqi Grain Board had been asked to agree to a payment system, whereby $US 14 per metric tonne of wheat be paid outside the oil for food program.

The third country was to have been provided with the details of a bank  ccount outside Iraq, namely in Jordan, into which the additional money was to be paid. The third country had said when it declined to
participate in such a payment system, that the Iraqi Grains Board had told the third country that other companies – the AWB and one other country had been mentioned – had agreed to contracts similar to the one which had been requested of the third country.

 

In 2003 the Australian Wheat Board was privatised and, as AWB, floated on the Australian Stock Exchange.  One company that made a quick profit on the float, by buying AWB shares and selling them ten days later, was invested in by Alexander Downer.  Mr Downer has today announced a revamping of Australia's aid system, telling News Limited that new fund will be focussed on good governance and elimination of corruption.  Ironically much of this funding may be administered by Halliburton/KBR

The ABC Four Corners broadcast tonight follows Producer Jonathan Holmes' regular attendance of the AWB Inquiry hearings.  Two weeks ago Mr Holmes explained why Ministers could claim no knowledge of AWB involvements in kickbacks, explaining that " Of course the intelligence community is not allowed to spy on
Australian agencies abroad and therefore, if they were making reports
about AWB, they would've had to say "an Australian embassy". They
wouldn't have been legally allowed to put AWB into their reports, which
is an interesting twist."

Here's what Holmes told ABC's PM on March 16:

[extract]

JONATHAN HOLMES: Mark, the DFAT witnesses have been taken through 17 secret documents in the last couple of days, which they've not been allowed to release the contents of.

A distillation of those documents for public consumption has just been issued, and I have to
say, at first reading, they're dynamite.

Let me read you, very briefly the first three paragraphs:

DOCUMENT EXCERPT: In 1998, the Australian intelligence community held
intelligence indicating that Alia corporation based in Jordan was part owned by the Iraqi Government and that it was involved in circumventing United Nations sanctions.

MARK COLVIN: You say Alia, that's the trucking company which has been at the centre of all of this.

JONATHAN HOLMES: That's the trucking company that AWB paid $220 million US to, in the course of four years.

MARK COLVIN: And according to what we've been told so far, the Government didn't know…has said that it didn’t know until much later that Alia was a front.

JONATHAN HOLMES: No one that's come before the inquiry
from the Government side has ever heard of Alia until the Volcker
Report, virtually, or certainly until 2005.

We now know that the Australian intelligence community knew that it was a front company for the Iraqis from 1998. And they knew by the first course of 2000, this resume says, that "Alia received fees in Jordan for the discharge of
inland transport within Iraq, of goods purchased by Iraq under the oil-for-food program.

The fees, less a small commission, were paid into account accessible by Iraq in violation of sanctions, the
amounts involved were very substantial."

And so on.

There's another 10 paragraphs, but basically what they're saying is, that the intelligence community was aware of these developments full-stop. And
the only thing it does not say, is that the intelligence community was aware that the Australian Wheat Board was paying Alia.

MARK COLVIN: Now it says that the intelligence community was aware of them.

What was the circulation of these cables?

JONATHAN HOLMES: These are not cables. This is a distillation by the Commission itself of a whole series of intelligence reports that were submitted to it. It is not referring to any particular cable, it's referring to the
knowledge of the intelligence community at any particular point in time.

 Mr Howard says he will submit his statement by 4 pm this afternoon.  The Cole Inquiry is expected to conclude in June.