$83 million for two shiploads of Australian wheat on their way to Iraq
when war broke out in 2003, apparently unaware the contract price had
been inflated to cover kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s regime.
AWB, Australia’s monopoly wheat exporter, convinced the federal
Government to pay, through its AusAID agency, an inflated price for the
wheat stranded in the Persian Gulf at the beginning of the war.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who was unavailable for comment
last night, said at the time AusAID would deliver the wheat to Iraqis
as part of a post-war humanitarian program. The price included $38
million for the wheat, and $45 million in “handling and distribution
The cost of the wheat was ultimately picked up by the UN’s
World Food Program, which feeds people in crisis. Its officials were
also unaware the price was inflated.
The revelation that AWB was prepared to defraud the taxpayer
and an international aid program may be the final straw for the Howard
Government, which has previously defended AWB as it battles to save its
The Cole inquiry in Sydney is investigating allegations AWB
paid $290 million in illegal kickbacks to Saddam to secure wheat
contracts worth billions of dollars under the UN’s oil-for-food program
before the Iraq war.
AWB has insisted it thought the payments were for transport
costs, although a senior executive yesterday admitted at the inquiry
that the company knew it was breaching UN sanctions by inflating the
price of wheat.