Saddam paid off French leaders

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Saddam Hussein used a U.N. humanitarian program to pay $1.78 billion to French government officials, businessmen and journalists in a bid to have sanctions removed and U.S. policies opposed, according to a CIA report made public yesterday.

The cash was part of $10.9 billion secretly skimmed from the U.N. oil-for-food program, which was used by Iraq to buy military goods, according to a 1,000-page report by the CIA-led Iraqi Survey Group.

According to a section of the report on Iraqi weapons procurement, the survey group identified long-standing ties between Saddam and the French government. One 1992 Iraqi intelligence service report revealed that Iraq’s ambassador to France paid $1 million to the French Socialist Party in 1988.

The CIA report stated that the Iraqi ambassador was instructed to “utilize [the $1 million] to remind French Defense Minister Pierre Joxe indirectly about Iraq’s previous positions toward France, in general, and the French Socialist party, in particular.”

In the late 1990s, Iraq also used an oil-purchasing voucher system through the U.N. oil-for-food program, which began in 1996 and ended in 2003, to influence the French to oppose U.S. initiatives at the United Nations and to work to lift sanctions, the report stated.

The Iraqi Intelligence Service paid off French nationals by dispensing vouchers that allowed the holders to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions by selling them to oil buyers.

The payoffs help explain why the French government, along with Russia and China, opposed U.S. efforts in the United Nations in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion, U.S. officials said.

Iraqi intelligence agents also targeted French President Jacques Chirac, by giving gifts to a spokesman, two of his aides and two French businessmen, the report said.

One Iraqi intelligence report stated that a French politician assured Saddam in a letter that France would use its veto in the U.N. Security Council against any U.S. effort to attack Iraq.

Iraqi intelligence documents recovered in Iraq showed that the French citizens linked to the influence operation were “ministers and politicians, journalists and business people.”

“These influential individuals often had little prior connection to the oil industry and generally engaged European oil companies to lift the oil, but were still in a position to extract a substantial profit for themselves,” the report said.

Former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told the Survey Group that he personally awarded several Frenchmen “substantial” oil allotments.

“According to Aziz, both parties understood that resale of the oil was to be reciprocated through efforts to lift U.N. sanctions or through opposition to American initiatives within the Security Council,” the report said.

The report named former French Interior Minister Charles Pascua as getting a voucher for 11 million barrels of oil, and Patrick Maugein, who received a voucher for 13 million barrels of oil. The report said Mr. Maugein, the chief executive officer of the SOCO oil company, was a “conduit” to Mr. Chirac.

Michel Grimard, the founder of the French-Iraqi Export Club, received a voucher for 5.5 million barrels, and the Iraqi-French Friendship Society received vouchers for more than 10 million barrels.

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