USDA seeks debarment for AWB Ltd.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the immediate suspension and proposed debarment of AWB Ltd., formerly the Australian Wheat Board, and its affiliates from participating in U.S. government programs and contracts.
“We have taken this immediate step based on evidence of illicit activities and, in some cases, evidence of attempts to conceal those activities,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns in a statement on Wednesday.
The USDA said there’s sufficient evidence to suspect that AWB, 11 individuals, and a Minnesota-based company engaged in bribery, kickbacks, and similar behavior resulting in payments to Saddam Hussein’s government to secure wheat export contracts to Iraq between 1999 and 2003. The department also said there’s evidence that AWB attempted to cover up its actions.
The individuals named in the proposed debarment include Paul Ingleby, Jim Cooper, Mark Emons, Peter Geary, Michael Long, Dominic Hogan, Nigel Officer, Charles Stott, Murray Rogers, Michael Watson, and Trevor Flugge. The USDA also sent similar notification to Commodity Specialists Co. in Minneapolis.
During the suspension, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service will conduct proceedings that may result in the indefinite debarment of AWB Ltd. and its former employees, and a five-year suspension for Commodity Specialists.
The USDA’s action on Dec. 20 follows an Australian government investigation into AWB’s alleged violations of the United Nations’ oil-for-food sanctions against Iraq. The potential wrongdoing by AWB originally surfaced in the UN’s Volcker Commission Report, which found that $1.8 billion of the oil-for-food program funds had been illegally diverted to members of Hussein’s government in violation of the UN rules. AWB was responsible for diverting about $220 million of that total.
On Nov. 10, 2005, the USDA suspended AWB (USA) Ltd., but did not take further action until the Australian government concluded its investigation. AWB (USA) Ltd. agreed to recuse itself from participation in USDA programs during the investigation.