Iraqi Oil-for-Food Official Killed

An Iraqi official killed this week in a car bombing was in charge of the Iraqi investigation into allegations that the ousted regime siphoned billions from the U.N. oil-for-food program (search), an official of an Iraqi political party said Saturday.

Ehsan Karim, head of the Finance Ministry's audit board, died Thursday of injuries suffered that day when a bomb exploded as he was heading for work. His driver and bodyguard also were killed.

As head of the ministry audit board, Karim was in charge of the Iraqi probe into the oil-for-food scandal, Entifadh Qanbar, spokesman of Iraqi National Congress (search), told The Associated Press.

"It's possible that he was killed because of the investigation, which is a serious issue," Qanbar said. However, Qanbar said it was too early to say whether he was targeted because of the investigation.

The leader of the INC, Ahmad Chalabi (search), was instrumental in drawing international attention to alleged corruption in the U.N. program, under which Iraq was permitted to sell limited amounts of oil to ease the burden on the public despite U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.

The audit board has been given responsibility in March for the Iraqi investigation by the former U.S. governor, L. Paul Bremer. Karim had taken charge of more than 20,000 files from Saddam's regime related to the oil-for-food program.

Earlier this year, the Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada published a list of about 270 former government officials, activists, journalists and U.N. officials from more than 46 countries suspected of profiting from Iraqi oil sales under the program.

The U.S. General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, estimated that Saddam's government pocketed $5.7 billion by smuggling oil to its neighbors and $4.4 billion by extracting kickbacks on otherwise legitimate contracts.