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The Australian Wheat Board scandal & the Iraq war

The Australian Wheat Board scandal and the Iraq war

By Mike Head – World Socialist Web Site

After seven weeks of damning evidence from the Howard government’s Cole inquiry, the real issue in the scandal over the Australian Wheat Board’s payment of $300 million worth of bribes to Saddam Hussein’s regime is not whether Prime Minister John Howard and his ministers knew about the kickbacks. That has certainly proved to be the case.

Testimony and documents presented to the inquiry have revealed nearly 20 occasions on which Australian Wheat Board (AWB) executives and various officials told senior government ministers or their advisors of the payments. Last week came the most incriminating document so far—a now-declassified secret cable sent from a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) officer attached to the UN in New York warning that AWB had been asked by Iraq to pay “port fees” of 50 US cents a tonne and that such fees would breach UN sanctions.

Sent in April 2001, the cable was addressed to Prime Minister John Howard, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, Trade Minister Mark Vaile and a raft of senior public servants from the Defence Intelligence Organisation and several government departments, including Defence and DFAT. The briefing, which the government deliberately hid from the public for five years, made clear that the illegal “port fees” was “linked to wider concerns about circumvention of the sanctions regime”.

Yet Howard, after initially saying last week he did not recall seeing the cable, then declared there was nothing in it that should have raised alarm bells in his office. He also insisted that the cable did not actually prove that the government knew illicit payments were being made. The truth is that Howard and his ministers had no intention of doing anything that would jeopardise lucrative Australian wheat sales to Iraq.

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