House panel questions role of French bank in Iraq oil-for-food program
Oil-For-Food-Probe, 1st Writethru: "WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. legislators are questioning whether a French bank failed to comply with money-laundering laws, possibly helping deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein manipulate the $60-billion UN oil-for-food program.
The bank denies any wrongdoing. In the latest in a series of congressional investigations of alleged corruption in the oil-for-food program, the House of Representatives international relations committee was homing in on the role of the U.S. branch of BNP-Paribas, which handled most of the oil-for-food money.
The humanitarian program, begun in 1996, allowed Iraq to trade oil for goods to help Iraqis obtain food, medicine and other necessities that became scarce under strict UN economic sanctions imposed after the Persian Gulf War. It was credited with preventing widespread starvation.
Committee chairman Henry Hyde said the panel found evidence that BNP in some cases improperly approved payments of oil-for-food funds to companies that weren't supposed to receive them. The bank may also have allowed payments to companies that were shipping to Iraq goods prohibited by international sanctions. "