- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A billionaire Texas oilman pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court in New York as part of a plea agreement to charges of bribing Iraqi government officials in exchange for the right to buy oil in violation of the United Nations oil-for-food program.

Oscar S. Wyatt Jr., 83, told the court through his attorney after three weeks of testimony in his current trial that he “didn’t want to waste any more time,” adding during the surprise announcement, “The quicker I get it over with, the better.”

The plea agreement, which still must be approved by the court, would send Mr. Wyatt to prison for from 18 months to 24 months. He also agreed to forfeit $11 million and begin serving his sentence by Jan. 2.

Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 27. He had faced life in prison under a five-count indictment, instead pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia in New York said Mr. Wyatt pleaded guilty to “participating in a scheme to pay illegal surcharges to the former government of Iraq in connection with the purchase of crude oil” from the U.N. program between mid-2000 and 2003.

“By participating in this scheme, Wyatt and others diverted millions of dollars that otherwise would have been available for humanitarian purchases,” Mr. Garcia said.

A co-defendant, David Chalmers, also agreed to plead guilty in August and faces sentencing Nov. 19, where he is expected to get from 2 years to 4 years.

Mr. Wyatt was the founder of Coastal Corp., a Houston-based energy holding company with extensive natural-gas operations, oil exploration and production outlets, petroleum-refining facilities and operations in chemicals, power production and coal. The company is now owned by El Paso Energy Corp.

He was accused by federal prosecutors of paying millions of dollars to Iraq outside of the 1996 U.N. program, which was designed to allow Iraqi government officials to use oil revenue to buy food and medicine. The initiative, which ran until 2003, sought to ease the effects of sanctions imposed after then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The Iraqis were permitted to select companies that would receive oil.

A 2005 investigation by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker said that more than 2,200 companies paid nearly $1.8 billion in bribes to win the Iraqi contracts. Nine persons have since pleaded guilty or were convicted of charges stemming from a Justice Department probe.

Evidence in the trial against Mr. Wyatt included the testimony of two Iraqi former oil officials in Saddam’s regime, as well as recorded telephone calls.

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