Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Ghost Firms Hinder Oil-For-Food Probe

The AP's Sam Cage:
The U.N.-ordered probe into oil-for-food corruption is being seriously hampered by an elaborate system of ghost firms set up around the world to cover the tracks of bribes to Saddam Hussein as he cheated the $60 billion program, a top investigator said.

"Switzerland and Liechtenstein have promised to help," [Swiss criminal lawyer Mark Pieth] said of the two countries where more than two dozen companies got oil under the program, according to an AP examination of records.

Neither nation is known for having oil reserves of its own. But according to a list Volcker released of 248 companies that "lifted," or exported, Iraqi oil under the program, companies based in Switzerland took more than those from any other country except France and Russia. The tiny principality of Liechtenstein — which has 33,000 inhabitants — came in eighth on the list.

[former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul] Volcker has said that being on the list doesn't necessarily imply guilt in paying kickbacks.

Switzerland and Liechtenstein are among countries whose lax regulations and traditions of discretion in business and banking make them attractive for trading companies.

Front companies registered in other tax havens — such as Cyprus, Jordan, Panama, Curação in the Caribbean, and Jersey in the Channel Islands off the United Kingdom — also feature in the oil-for-food investigation.

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