The United States administration turned a blind eye to extensive sanctions-busting in the prewar sale of Iraqi oil, according to a new Senate investigation.
A report released last night by Democratic staff on a Senate investigations committee presents documentary evidence that the Bush administration was made aware of illegal oil sales and kickbacks paid to the Saddam Hussein regime but did nothing to stop them.
The scale of the shipments involved dwarfs those previously alleged by the Senate committee against UN staff and European politicians like the British MP, George Galloway, and the former French minister, Charles Pasqua.
In fact, the Senate report found that US oil purchases accounted for 52% of the kickbacks paid to the regime in return for sales of cheap oil - more than the rest of the world put together.
"The United States was not only aware of Iraqi oil sales which violated UN sanctions and provided the bulk of the illicit money Saddam Hussein obtained from circumventing UN sanctions," the report said. "On occasion, the United States actually facilitated the illicit oil sales.
The report is likely to ease pressure from conservative Republicans on Kofi Annan to resign from his post as UN secretary general.
The new findings are also likely to be raised when Mr Galloway appears before the Senate subcommittee on investigations today.
The Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow arrived yesterday in Washington demanding an apology from the Senate for what he called the "schoolboy dossier" passed off as an investigation against him.
"It was full of holes, full of falsehoods and full of value judgments that are apparently only shared here in Washington," he said at Washington Dulles airport.
He told Reuters: "I have no expectation of justice ... I come not as the accused but as the accuser. I am [going] to show just how absurd this report is."
Mr Galloway has denied allegations that he profited from Iraqi oil sales and will come face to face with the committee in what promises to be one of the most highly charged pieces of political theatre seen in Washington for some time.
Yesterday's report makes two principal allegations against the Bush administration. Firstly, it found the US treasury failed to take action against a Texas oil company, Bayoil, which facilitated payment of "at least $37m in illegal surcharges to the Hussein regime".
The surcharges were a violation of the UN Oil For Food programme, by which Iraq was allowed to sell heavily discounted oil to raise money for food and humanitarian supplies. However, Saddam was allowed to choose which companies were given the highly lucrative oil contracts. Between September 2000 and September 2002 (when the practice was stopped) the regime demanded kickbacks of 10 to 30 US cents a barrel in return for oil allocations.
In its second main finding, the report said the US military and the state department gave a tacit green light for shipments of nearly 8m barrels of oil bought by Jordan, a vital American ally, entirely outside the UN-monitored Oil For Food system. Jordan was permitted to buy some oil directly under strict conditions but these purchases appeared to be under the counter.
The report details a series of efforts by UN monitors to obtain information about Bayoil's oil shipments in 2001 and 2002, and the lack of help provided by the US treasury.
After repeated requests over eight months from the UN and the US state department, the treasury's office of foreign as sets control wrote to Bayoil in May 2002, requesting a report on its transactions but did not "request specific information by UN or direct Bayoil to answer the UN's questions".
Bayoil's owner, David Chalmers, has been charged over the company's activities. His lawyer Catherine Recker told the Washington Post: "Bayoil and David Chalmers [said] they have done nothing illegal and will vigorously defend these reckless accusations."
The Jordanian oil purchases were shipped in the weeks before the war, out of the Iraqi port of Khor al-Amaya, which was operating without UN approval or surveillance.
Investigators found correspondence showing that Odin Marine Inc, the US company chartering the seven huge tankers which picked up the oil at Khor al-Amaya, repeatedly sought and received approval from US military and civilian officials that the ships would not be confiscated by US Navy vessels in the Maritime Interdiction Force (MIF) enforcing the embargo.
Odin was reassured by a state department official that the US "was aware of the shipments and has determined not to take action".
The company's vice president, David Young, told investigators that a US naval officer at MIF told him that he "had no objections" to the shipments. "He said that he was sorry he could not say anything more. I told him I completely understood and did not expect him to say anything more," Mr Young said.
An executive at Odin Maritime confirmed the senate account of the oil shipments as "correct" but declined to comment further.
It was not clear last night whether the Democratic report would be accepted by Republicans on the Senate investigations committee.
The Pentagon declined to comment. The US representative's office at the UN referred inquiries to the state department, which fail to return calls.
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.