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French Connection to Oil for Food Probed

Sunday , December 05, 2004

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PARIS — 

As investigators dig into the scandal-plagued U.N. Oil-for-Food program, one question keeps surfacing — how deep does the link between French officials and Saddam Hussein go?

The CIA’s Iraq Survey Group (search) released a report in September that, in part, suggested that French businessmen and politicians with close ties to French President Jacques Chirac (search) may have received bribes from Saddam. It also said that French companies may have sold weapons to Iraq on the eve of the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 2003.

But French officials maintain that accusations of wrongdoing and illegal profiting against France have been made without proof. French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte (search) complained in a letter to a congressional investigator about the insinuation of French wrongdoing.

“The Oil-for-Food program did not produce smuggling. While the transactions agreed under the program served as 'support' for embezzlement and criminal offenses ... such actions existed before the program was established and continued to exist outside it,” he wrote.

• To read a copy of the Levitte letter, click here (pdf).

FOX News’ Jonathan Hunt traveled to Paris to look deeper into the French connection in the Oil-for-Food scandal. Following are excerpts from his reports, which aired this week on the FOX News Channel.

French Senator Denies Taking Saddam's Money

Over three decades Charles Pasqua's name has been linked to a series of French corruption scandals, but the former French interior minister has maintained his innocence and has never been convicted of any wrongdoing.

Now, Pasqua is being eyed as a player in the Oil-for-Food scandal. The CIA’s report listed Pasqua as having received oil vouchers from Saddam, vouchers that would have given him a profit of at least $400,000.

“I have never received anything from Saddam Hussein,” he said through an interpreter.

FOX News asked Pasqua why his name ended up in the CIA report?

“It's a good question,” he said. “It's not only my name that's there. The names of other French officials are included."

Pasqua said he’s willing to testify before Congress if asked. “I am ready to answer all the questions they want to ask,” he said.

Asked if he would be willing to open his bank accounts to investigators, Pasqua said: “Absolutely, no problem.”

Late last week investigators from the House International Relations Committee invited Pasqua to meet with them but it has yet to get a reply.

A French Investigator Watches

Eva Joly spent the better part of a decade as a French investigating magistrate looking into allegations of bribery involving French oil companies and senior politicians and political parties. Among her targets: Chirac's RPR party and Pasqua.

Her investigations brought convictions against more than 30 oil company executives, but thanks in part to France's immunity laws the top targets escaped.

“There are several investigations going on concerning Mr. Chirac but he cannot even be heard as a witness because of this rule saying he has immunity, but as soon as he is out of office he will have to answer questions from the judiciary,” Joly told FOX News.

Joly warned that anyone who pursues senior politicians in France faces real danger. Although no one has ever been charged with threatening her, Joly said her house was broken into, her telephones were bugged and her secretary was robbed. She said she feared for her life.

Now living in Norway, Joly will be watching closely as U.S. congressional investigators pursue the French connection to Oil-for-Food, hoping that an American investigation can succeed where the French probe failed.

Lawmaker: Reform Must Start at Top

French lawmaker Arnaud Montebourg said he believes that France’s perceived culture of corruption can be changed but that the changes must start at the top with Chirac.

Montebourg, a Socialist member of the French Parliament, said Chirac should be impeached because he is personally implicated in corruption.

“It's unacceptable for the world and for our reputation that our president is involved in such a way, so heavily, in very big cases of corruption, so I'm sorry to think that France is damaged by all this bad reputation,” Montebourg told FOX News.

Chirac has not faced prosecution in any scandals because French law gives him immunity from even being questioned until he leaves office despite any evidence against him.

Montebourg's party does not now have the votes in the French parliament to force impeachment and the French people don't seem to be clamoring to change the immunity laws.