A prominent French politician fingered as a recipient of bribes in Iraq’s Oil-for-Food scandal insists that he’s not guilty of anything–but that other leading French figures might be.
”I have never received any gifts from the Iraqi government,” said former French interior minister Charles Pasqua, after the CIA’s Duelfer report identified him as receiving eleven million barrels of oil in exchange for promoting policies favorable to Iraq.
Pasqua then switched to speaking about himself in the third person, Bob Dole-style, and said that others may not be so innocent: “Charles Pasqua is not involved, but maybe other former ministers are involved.”
Maybe other foreign ministers are involved. Whatever the truth about Pasqua’s own involvement in the Oil-for-Food scam, his comments indicate that the revelations about French corruption in the Duelfer report may represent only the tip of a very big iceberg.
Indeed, French political leaders have longstanding ties to Iraq–and chief among them is President Jacques Chirac (whose intricate relationship with Saddam Hussein is described in brief here and in more depth here).
Pasqua himself is by no means in the clear: The Duelfer report clearly identifies him as a partner in Hussein’s plot “to induce France to aid in getting sanctions lifted.” What’s more, Pasqua is already at the center of a French corruption probe for a set of charges that have nothing to do with Iraq. The former interior minister appears to be taking these other allegations quite seriously. Last month, he won election to the French Senate–and his critics say he ran for office simply because the post grants him immunity from prosecution.
Even without Pasqua, the CIA survey appears to have uncovered a vast conspiracy aimed at persuading the French government to oppose U.S. policies on Iraq. “As of June 2000,” it says, “Iraq had awarded short-term contracts under the [Oil-for-Food] program to France totaling $1.78 billion, equaling approximately 15 percent of the oil contracts allocated.”
The French foreign ministry has tried to dismiss the report’s findings: “These accusations against companies and individuals have not been verified either with the persons concerned or the authorities of the countries concerned,” said a spokesman last Thursday. The French ambassador to the United Nations, Jean Marc de la Salbiere, was more forthright: “These allegations are unacceptable,” he said (according to the New York Sun).
Yet the report describes Iraq’s French connection in some detail:
Saddam ordered the MFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] and other ministries to improve relations with France, according to recovered documents. The documents revealed that the IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service] developed a strategy to improve Iraqi-Franco relations that encompassed inviting French delegations to Baghdad; giving economic favors to key French diplomats or individuals that have access to key French leaders; increasing Iraqi embassy staff in Paris; and assessing the possibilities for financially supporting one of the candidates in an upcoming French presidential election.
Moreover, the IIS paper targeted a number of French individuals that the Iraqi’s thought had close relations to French President Chirac, including, according to the Iraqi assessment, the official spokesperson of President Chirac’s re-election campaign, two reported ‘counselors’ of President Chirac, and two well-known French businessmen. In May 2002, IIS correspondence addressed to Saddam stated that a MFA (quite possibly an IIS officer under diplomatic cover) met with [a] French parliamentarian to discuss Iraq-Franco relations. The French politician assured the Iraqi that France would use its veto in the UNSC against any American decision to attack Iraq, according to the IIS memo.
To be sure, Hussein-era documents should not necessarily be taken at face value. Yet the Duelfer report goes on to include specific information on Iraq’s French connection:
‐Iraq gave 14 million barrels of oil to French businessman Patrick Maugein, whom it considered “a conduit to French President Chirac.” (The Duelfer report does add that this claim about Maugein’s link to Chirac, obtained from “a former Iraqi official,” is “not confirmed.”)
‐”In 1988, Iraq paid $1 million to the French Socialist party, according to a captured IIS report dated 9 September 1992. Abd-al Razzaq Al Hashimi, former Iraqi ambassador to France, handed the money to French defense minister Pierre Joxe, according to the report. The IIS instructed Hashimi to ‘utilize it to remind French Defense Minister, Pierre Joxe, indirectly about Iraq’s previous positions toward France, in general, and the French Socialist party, in particular.’” (Joxe has denied this happened.)
‐Former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz “says he personally awarded several French individuals substantial oil allotments. According to Aziz, both parties understood that resale of the oil was to be reciprocated through efforts to lift UN sanctions, or through opposition to American initiatives within the Security Council.”
Participants in the Oil-for-Food scam also included the French oil companies Total and SOCAP, businessman Michel Grimard, and the Iraqi-French Friendship Society, according to the Duelfer report.
Perhaps one day the French will regret not having joined President Bush’s Coalition of the willing–because it meant they weren’t on the ground to destroy these papers of mass corruption before Charles Duelfer and his team found them.