TOKYO (AP) _ A member of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle who defected in 1977 claimed Friday that the Iraqi leader siphoned off more than $30 billion from the country’s oil revenues over a 17-year period.
Jawad Hashim, who was Saddam’s planning minister, told The Associated Press he has sent a memo to President Bush and to the United Nations urging them to force Saddam to use these secret funds to buy food and medicine for Iraq.
The U.N. Security Council is considering relaxing economic sanctions to allow Iraq to sell some oil for that purpose, because Iraq claims to have no foreign currency with which to buy the goods.
Saddam ″is sitting on at least $30 billion he has stashed away, the equivalent of the national income of Iraq″ before the Persian Gulf crisis, Hashim said in a telephone interview from London, where he lives in exile.
Much of it occurred in deals with Japanese trading and oil companies because ″the Japanese were easier to deal with″ in terms of giving kickbacks, Hashim said.
According to Kroll Associates, a New York-based investigator hired by Kuwait and the U.S. Treasury Department to track Saddam’s wealth, Hashim is the only surviving member of an inner circle of policy-makers present when Saddam signed a secret law that placed 5 percent of oil revenues into Swiss banks.
″What Hashim says is accurate as far as it goes,″ said a Kroll official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He pointed out, however, that Hashim left Iraq in 1977 and had little access to information after that.
Hashim himself admitted that his estimates were based on assumptions that the 5-percent rule, along with the other kickbacks, continued after his defection. He said he had no information on oil revenues after 1989.
He told the AP the five-page memo sent earlier this week to White House Chief of Staff John Sununu and U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar said the siphoning began shortly after Saddam nationalized Iraq’s oil industries in 1972 and lasted at least until 1989.
Japanese companies, which along with U.S. firms were Iraq’s biggest customers, were asked to provide another 2.5 percent of each transaction in kickbacks on top of the 5 percent, Hashim said.
Sources and analysts in Tokyo said Japanese trading companies and corporate groups have long been willing to pay kickbacks to foreign governments in return for steady business.
Japanese companies were particularly willing to go along with Iraq because Japan imports almost all its oil, Hashim said.
Japanese trading houses and corporate groups could hide kickbacks easily by dispersing fake invoices among their myriad affiliates or subcontractors, said Richard Staubitz, director of Political Risk & Economic Risk Consultancy. Also the sheer flow of business could help cover up kickbacks, he and others said.
Hashim could not name the companies. But one firm with long ties to Iraq is Mitsubishi, Japan’s largest industrial group, which was implicated in a kickback scheme involving the late Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos.
Tetsuo Kawate, a Mitsubishi spokesman, said Friday ″we don’t know about any (kickback) deals at all″ with Iraq.