Saturday, August 18, 2007

Texan convicted of bribing Saddam to get oil for food contracts

Since I've been writing about and tracking the subject of corporate bribery recently, I should mention that a Texas oilman pled guilty in Manhattan last week to giving kickbacks to secure contracts with Saddam Hussein's government as part of the pre-war oil for food program in Iraq. Reported Reuters (Aug. 17):

[David] Chalmers, 53, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, just weeks before he was due to go on trial with Texas oil tycoon Oscar Wyatt.

Earlier on Friday, Ludmil Dionissiev, a Bulgarian oil trader based in Houston, pleaded guilty to smuggling. Prosecutors said Dionissiev, 61, worked with Chalmers to buy Iraqi oil for Chalmers' companies -- Bayoil USA Inc and Bayoil Supply and Trading Ltd.

The $67 billion oil-for-food program began in 1996 and ended in 2003 to ease the impact of sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein's government after it invaded Kuwait in 1990.

The charges against Chalmers and his co-defendants stemmed from Iraq's requirement from 2000 to 2003 that recipients of oil should pay a secret surcharge, in violation of U.N. sanctions and U.S. law, to front companies and bank accounts controlled by the Iraqi government.

The secret payments were not made to the United Nations' monitored bank account from which humanitarian goods could be purchased for the Iraqi people, but in a secret deal with Baghdad outside of the program.

Chalmers, who was the sole shareholder of Bayoil, decided to pay illegal kickbacks, prosecutors said, while Dionissiev helped facilitate the export of Iraqi oil.

Both men face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, but under a plea deal Chalmers is likely to receive between three and four years when he is sentenced on November 19. Dionissiev is likely to receive up to six month under his plea agreement, his lawyer said.

Most of the recent bribery cases in the news have involved companies (both US and foreign firms) bribing soldiers to secure favorable procurement contracts. But this case shows that's how some US firms have been doing business in the Middle East since well before the 2003 invasion.

At least in this instance the company is being held accountable for bribery and not just the people they bribed. Maybe the difference was that Saddam Hussein's unpopular government was the beneficiary of Chalmers' largesse instead of soldiers in the US military.

No comments: