NEW YORK – The French connection to the U.N. Oil-for-Food program and to Saddam Hussein himself is becoming clearer and the French don't like what they're hearing.
French officials maintain in an angry letter to a House lawmaker that accusations of wrongdoing and illegal profiting against France have been made without proof. The French were hit with claims during a congressional hearing last week that their government officials and maybe even President Jacque Chirac (search) may have been targets of attempted bribery by Saddam Hussein.
French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte (search) complained in the letter to Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., the chairman of a House panel investigating Oil-for-Food, about the insinuation of French wrongdoing. Plus, Levitte defended the program, which was created in late 1996 as a way for Iraq to sell oil ostensibly for humanitarian goods.
“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,” the French ambassador to the United States said.
But it’s not just Congress that has been critical of the French. Last week’s release of the Iraq Survey Group report — also known as the Duelfer report after its author, Charles Duelfer (search) — said Saddam misused the Oil-for-Food program.
The report said Saddam's strategy was to divide the U.N. Security Council, in his favor, by pouring billions into contracts of companies in France, Russia, China and Syria — the first three countries are permanent members of the council, the last one was a member at the time the matter came up for a vote.
The report appears to confirm some of the allegations made about Oil-for-Food and lays out in detail how the bribery scheme may have worked: Saddam handed out oil vouchers to selected companies and individuals, which could be sold at a handsome profit.
And the Duelfer report named names. Among the French figures were Patrick Maugeuin, a close associate of Chirac and a man the Iraqis considered a “direct conduit to the French leader” who could have yielded a profit of close to $3 million; and Charles Pasqua, who received oil vouchers that could have given him a profit of around $2.2 million.
It also quoted an Iraqi intelligence report from May 2002 on a meeting between an Iraqi agent and a French politician. "The French politician assured the Iraqi that France would use its veto in the U.N. Security Council against any American decision to attack Iraq,” the report said.
Those claims have also brought a strong response from the French ambassador.
"I have been outraged to read or hear in some media that France had opposed the war in Iraq because our vote might have been bought by Saddam Hussein. Frankly, this is outrageous. France was against this war because this war was not necessary,” Levitte said.