Russia is involved in oil-for-food scandal

Saddam Hussein gave advisers to Russian President &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Vladimir Putin allocations for more than 90 million barrels of Iraqi oil as thanks for Russia's support in the United Nations, a U.S. Senate investigative panel said today.

The oil allotment, which could be traded at a profit, was awarded to the Russian Presidential Council through &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Alexander Voloshin and a friend, Sergey Issakov, according to a report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in Washington. Voloshin, former head of the council, was allocated oil as late as 2003, the Senate investigators said, citing &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Iraqi Oil Ministry records, reports Bloomberg.

According to CNN News, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Monday that, in the U.S. report, Russia was incriminated by the very fact of its participation" in the program, which was designed to let Iraq sell oil and use the proceeds to buy humanitarian items to ease the effects on the Iraq people of U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

"It is difficult to avoid the impression that the senators are trying to discredit the United Nations as a whole, pointing fingers at other countries while leaving the participation of American firms ... outside the brackets," the ministry said in a statement. "It would be more logical for them to attend to seeking violations in their own country," it added acidly.

The ministry said it was cooperating with a U.N.-appointed commission investigating the oil-for-food program, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

Despite two visits to Moscow, that commission has not provided "any documented facts that would point to possible abuses by Russian companies or individuals."

The U.S. report details allegations that Saddam used oil vouchers, which allowed the bearer to buy Iraqi oil at cut-rate prices, to curry favor with countries holding veto power in the U.N. Security Council. The Senate subcommittee said about 30 percent of the oil sold in the program was allocated to Russia.

Zhirinovsky said he used his close ties with Saddam's government to steer Iraqi oil to Russian companies, but claimed he was motivated by patriotism and received no compensation for helping with introductions to Iraqi officials. He pointed out that the program allowed Iraq to decide whom to sell oil to.

Zhirinovsky also denied that he provided political or diplomatic support to Iraq in exchange for oil deals, calling the idea "absurd" and saying he had always opposed the U.N. sanctions. Zhirinovsky has been a Russian parliament member for over a decade, but was never in the government.

The U.S. report said the Russian Presidential Council -- led by Alexander Voloshin, former chief of staff to President Vladimir Putin -- received oil allocations worth more than $16 million, according to Iraq's oil ministry. Voloshin could not be reached for comment.

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