Lawmaker Wants French to Answer Bribe Charges

A lawmaker heading one of Congress’ investigations into the U.N. Oil-for-Food program sent a letter to French President Jacques Chirac (search) asking for his full cooperation and insisting French government officials meet with his committee.

Rep. Joe Barton (search), R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent the letter Friday to highlight some of the findings of a recent report by the CIA’s Iraq Survey Group.

The report, also known as the Duelfer report (search) after chief author Charles Duelfer, suggested that French businessmen and politicians with close ties to Chirac may have received bribes from Saddam Hussein (search). It also said that that French companies may have sold weapons to Iraq on the eve of the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 2003.

• Click here to read the report's key findings (pdf).

“These allegations of bribery and illegal weapons sales are extremely serious, and, if true, cast doubt upon the effectiveness and independence of the United Nations. I very much hope that you will assist this committee in its efforts to shed light on possible abuses of the Oil for Food program,” Barton wrote. To read the full text of the letter, scroll to the bottom of this story.

Chirac has thus far remained silent on the role Oil-for-Food (search) case may have played in influencing France’s policy toward Iraq.

The French have not answered the allegations against them in any detail but the French ambassador to the United States told FOX News last week the French government is not for sale.

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said he would be shocked if any Security Council nation had effectively sold its vote to Saddam. Also Thursday, the U.N.-authorized independent investigation of Oil-for-Food released the most complete list yet of who did business under Oil-for-Food.

The accounting by the Independent Inquiry Committee showed that the 248 companies — which span the globe — paid Iraq the equivalent of $64.2 billion for oil, and that the 3,545 companies that exported goods to south and central Iraq received payments totaling the equivalent of $32.9 billion.

List of Program Companies (pdf)

The program was created in late 1996 as a way to get such supplies to the Iraqi people by selling Iraqi oil and ease some of the hardships created by the strict sanctions placed against Saddam following the first Gulf War.

— FOX News' Jonathan Hunt contributed to this report.

Letter From Barton to Chirac

October 22, 2004

His Excellency Jacques Chirac
Republic of France
Palais de l'Elysée
55 rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré
75008 Paris

Dear Mr. President:

The United States House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce is conducting an investigation into the United Nations' Oil-for-Food Program ("the Program"). As you are aware, this Program was designed to increase the flow of humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq. Unfortunately, it appears that the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein exploited the Program and siphoned off billions of dollars for various illicit purchases, including weapons and luxury items. These abuses were largely facilitated by a lack of transparency which prevented the Program from benefiting the oppressed without enriching the oppressor. Given the magnitude of the alleged abuses under the Program, and the resulting harm to the Iraqi people, I am certain that your government is also actively investigating these issues. It is my profound hope that you will consider sharing with this Committee any relevant information that you have obtained to date.

On September 30, 2004, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency issued a Comprehensive Report prepared by Charles A. Duelfer, a Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence ("the Report"). One of the Report's most troubling findings is that Saddam's regime engaged in a concerted effort to undermine sanctions by awarding lucrative oil and goods contracts to companies and politicians of several Security Council members, including France. Indeed, the Report notes that "Saddam recognized the important role that France played on the international stage, and in particular in the UNSC [United Nations Security Council]."

The Report cites compelling documentary and testimonial evidence suggesting that France's policies toward the Program, and Iraq in general, may have been motivated by economic self-interest. According to documents obtained by Mr. Duelfer's team from Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization, several French politicians received allocations of Iraqi oil, including Charles Pasqua, France's former Interior Minister, and Jean-Bernard Mérimée, the former French ambassador to the United Nations. Moreover, Iraq's former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz claimed to have personally awarded several French individuals substantial oil allotments, adding that these individuals "understood that resale of the oil was to be reciprocated through efforts to lift UN sanctions, or through opposition to American initiatives within the Security Council." Finally, recovered Iraqi Intelligence Service ("IIS") documents reveal that Saddam's regime "targeted a number of French individuals that the Iraqi's [sic] thought had close relations to French President Chirac, including, according to the Iraqi assessment, the official spokesperson of President Chirac's re-election campaign, two reported 'counselors' of President Chirac, and two well-known French businessmen." These IIS documents also describe a May 2002 meeting between a representative of Iraq's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a French parliamentarian, during which, "The French politician assured the Iraqi that France would use its veto in the UNSC against any American decision to attack Iraq, according to the IIS memo."

This Committee also has concerns that French companies may have been selling weapons to Iraq during the sanctions period, in direct violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 661. According to the Report, Mr. Duelfer and his team found evidence that as early as 1998 French companies received "offers and contracts from Iraq for conventional weapons systems and [engaged in] negotiations for possible WMD-related mobile laboratories." For instance, recovered documents show that the French company Lura supplied a tank carrier to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense in late 1998 or 1999 and that a French expert "arrived in Iraq in September 1999 to provide training and offer technical expertise on the carrier." Moreover, by 1999, "French firms displayed a willingness to supply parts for Iraqi conventional military items, mainly related to aircraft." IIS documents reveal that the Deputy General Manager of SOFEMA, a French company, planned to visit Iraq in January 2000 on behalf of a number of French military companies to "seek possible trading between the two countries" concerning Iraqi air defense capabilities. These efforts continued right up until Operation Iraqi Freedom ("OIF"). The Report notes that in late December 2002 Iraq "initiated efforts to acquire replacement parts for the Roland II Surface to air missile system, valves for Iraq's air defense system, and various other high technology items with military and battlefield applications" from the French Thompson Company and that Mr. Duelfer's team "found evidence of coordination on this procurement up until 23 days before OIF."

These allegations of bribery and illegal weapons sales are extremely serious, and, if true, cast doubt upon the effectiveness and independence of the United Nations. I have no doubt that you are equally concerned about these allegations, and I very much hope that you will assist this Committee in its efforts to shed light on possible abuses of the Program. In this regard, I ask that you make available a representative of your government to discuss these issues at a convenient time and location.

Thank you for your prompt attention to these matters. I will have a senior member of my oversight and investigations staff contact the French Embassy in Washington during the next several days to arrange the meeting.


Joe Barton

cc: The Honorable Colin Powell, Secretary
United States Department of State
His Excellency Jean-David Levitte,
Ambassador of France
The Honorable John D. Dingell, Ranking Member
The Honorable Peter Deutsch, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
The Honorable Paul A. Volcker, Chairman
Independent Inquiry Committee into the
United Nations Oil-For-Food Program