MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – A former managing director of an Australian wheat exporter has been fined 100,000 Australian dollars ($106,000) and banned from being a company director for two years for his role in paying $200 million in kickbacks to Iraq’s former dictatorship under the discredited UN oil-for-food program.
The kickbacks were part of broader corruption that a U.N.-sanctioned investigation said bilked the humanitarian program of $1.8 billion. An Australian government-commissioned inquiry found in 2006 that AWB officials deceived the United Nations and likely broke Australian law by paying the kickbacks to the regime in return for wheat contracts.
Andrew Lindberg, former head of the now defunct monopoly wheat exporter AWB Ltd., was sentenced Thursday for breaches of Australian corporate law. It was part of a plea deal with corporate regulator Australian Securities and Investments Commission that ends a case that began in 2007.
Victoria state Supreme Court judge Ross Robson said Lindberg had failed to act “with the degree of care and diligence a reasonable person would exercise” in his role.
Lindberg admitted that he failed to check whether an April 2003 deal was in breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The deal involved AWB agreeing to inflate the price of wheat sold to the Iraqi Grains Board, allowing the grains board to pay an $8 million debt owed to a petroleum company, Tigris.
He also admitted failing to tell the AWB board that an internal inquiry in 2004 into AWB’s wheat exports to Iraq would not cover any employees “likely to have information relevant to the allegations of impropriety.”
Lindberg said that he knew that AWB earned a $500,000 commission from Tigris by extracting $7.08 million from a U.N. escrow account on Tigris’s behalf and that he did not tell the AWB board what had happened.
He also admitted to failing to tell the AWB board in 2005 that a trucking company used by AWB was being used to channel funds to dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime.
The oil-for-food program was set up in 1995 to allow Iraq to sell oil abroad in exchange for food, medicines and other essentials needed by ordinary Iraqis while the country was under international economic sanctions following its invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Lindberg told reporters outside court that care was needed when doing business in foreign markets, because it was “easier than you think to make mistakes.”
The ASIC is continuing to investigate another four former AWB executives over the kickbacks scandal.
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