Thailand to help U.N. investigation of Saddam Hussein illicitly profit in country

Thailand is ready to cooperate with the United Nations in the investigation of three Thai companies alleged to have helped the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein illicitly profit from the U.N. oil-for-food program, Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said Tuesday.

Three Thai companies, then-state-owned Petroleum Authority of Thailand, Chaiyaporn Rice Co. and PB Pongboon Intertrade Co., were among 2,253 firms from around the world accused of helping Saddam's regime accrue US$1.8 billion (Ђ1.5 billion) in illicit funds out of the US$64 billion (Ђ53 billion) program.

"Thailand is set to cooperate with the United Nations to clarify the facts about the alleged corruption in the oil-for-food program," Foreign Minister Kantathi Supamongkhon said at a news conference.

He said the Foreign Ministry has asked the three named companies for explanations of their alleged involvement.

"We encourage them to clarify the issues," he said.

A U.N. report issued last week said thousands of individuals, political parties and companies received kickbacks from lucrative contracts in the 1996-2003 program, which allowed Iraq to sell limited and then unlimited quantities of oil, provided most of the money went to buy humanitarian goods, the AP reports.

The program was launched to help ordinary Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions imposed after Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Saddam, who could choose the buyers of Iraqi oil and the sellers of humanitarian goods, awarded contracts to, and received kickbacks from, favored buyers, according to the U.N. report.

U.N. investigators found that companies and individuals from 66 countries paid illegal kickbacks using a variety of methods. But the report also blamed shoddy U.N. management and the world's most powerful nations for allowing the scam to go on for years.

Kantathi said Thai authorities were ready to allow local prosecutors to undertake investigations into the matters, adding that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had asked member countries to take action against the suspect companies in accordance with their respective laws.

Kantathi acknowledged, however, that there is some "legal ambivalence" in pursuing the matter, as Thai law does not have any specific article to penalize private companies that make payoffs to foreign officials.

On photo: Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon.


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