France implicated in oil-for-food

Jan. 12, 2006 at 11:38 AM
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PARIS, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- French authorities reportedly knew of fraud being committed by government officials involved in the oil-for-food program.

The allegation was made by Didier Houssin, a high-level French official connected to the program, during questioning before an investigative magistrate, Le Figaro newspaper reported Thursday.

Now, according to the newspaper, Judge Philippe Courroye is trying to find out if the French administration covered up the fraud.

A series of investigations in France and in the United States have implicated French politicians and businessmen in a web of kickbacks connected to the oil-for-food program.

Established in 1996 by the United Nations, the program allowed Iraq to sell its oil on the world market in exchange for food, medicine and other humanitarian aid. At the time, there was an international embargo against the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

A number of international figures are accused of profiting from the kickbacks, including former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua.

The French justice system is also investigating the alleged involvement in the scandal of two former foreign ministry officials, Jean-Bernard Merimee and Serge Boidevaix.

According to Le Figaro, both Houssin and another French official, Dominique Maillard, told judge Courroye they were aware as of 2001 of overcharges made by French companies involved in the oil-for-food program. Both men said they did not raise the alarm, however, because it wasn't their business to question the U.N. program.

Both men occupied senior government positions dealing with energy resources at the time.

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