Iraq kickbacks under scrutiny

That same committee questioned the Wheat Export Authority's independence from disgraced exporter AWB.


Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner Mick Keelty gave no indication as to when Iraq kickback charges, if any, could be laid.

"The task force has completed its scoping phase and moved into its initial investigation phase. A senior coordination group has been established which is consistent with Commissioner Cole's recommendation," he said.

"The task force is independent and communicates to government through a senior coordination group chaired by the secretary of the Attorney General's department."

The long-awaited report into the $290 million in bribes paid by AWB to the former Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq was released on November 27 last year.

Commissioner Terence Cole recommended 11 former AWB executives and an oil businessman face possible criminal charges for allegedly deceiving the United Nations and Australian government over the scandal.

AWB influence

The Wheat Export Authority has denied it is being influenced by a group of farm lobbyists who are working together to create a new single desk for wheat marketing.

A Senate estimates committee has heard Labor senator Kerry O'Brien suggest the group, which consists of the Victorian Farmers Federation, AgForce, Western Australian Farmers Federation and NSW Farmers Association, is little more than a front for disgraced exporter AWB.

"Has the authority undertaken any investigation to determine the veracity of claims that a new alliance of state based grain groups … is actually organised by and a front for the AWB Limited?" Senator O'Brien asked.

"In other words AWB Limited is playing a manipulative role in the grain grower representation market."

Authority acting CEO Peter Woods refused to comment on whether the group was a front for AWB.

"It's not something we would need to comment on," Mr Woods told the committee.

Prime Minister John Howard yesterday announced long-awaited changes to the way Australia exports wheat to the rest of the world.

The changes were sparked by the Cole commission of inquiry into $300 million in kickbacks paid by AWB to the regime of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Mr Howard has given farmers a March 1, 2008 deadline to reach agreement on the nature of a new wheat export body based around a single desk.

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