U.S. May Take Action Against AWB

Australian wheat company, found to have given Saddam Hussein's government millions in kickbacks and bribes, will likely face a U.S. congressional probe and debarment from USDA export credit programs.

AWB, the Australian wheat company found to have paid nearly $300 million in bribes to Saddam Hussein's regime, will likely face U.S. action. Senators Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Norm Coleman, R-Minn., have promised to further investigate AWB, and Ag Secretary Mike Johanns says the USDA will proceed to bar AWB from participating in USDA export credit programs.

"While I understand that the Government of Australia intends to pursue criminal proceedings in this case, I have directed that USDA resume the debarment process," Johanns says.

An Australian panel, lead by former Supreme Court Justice Terence Cole, found that AWB paid Saddam Hussein's government $290 in bribes and kickbacks while both the Iraqi government and AWB used the U.N. oil-for-food program for their own profit between 1999 and 2003.

AWB agreed not to participate in the USDA credit export program in November 2005 during the Government of Australia's investigation.

The U.S. wheat lobby expects AWB to face a congressional probe into whether or not its actions violated American laws. The lobby has criticized AWB's monopoly on Australian wheat exports and, along with Cole, point to the monopoly as part of the problem.

"We view the monopoly as a source of this problem, of the culture that developed at AWB that led to these illegal actions," USWA president Alan Tracy says.

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