French Bank Caught Up in Oil-for-Food Probe; U.S. Arm of Paribas OK'd Payments to Third Parties

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 29, 2005 | Go to article overview

French Bank Caught Up in Oil-for-Food Probe; U.S. Arm of Paribas OK'd Payments to Third Parties


Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The U.S. arm of French bank BNP Paribas approved hundreds of payments to unauthorized third parties under its contract with the United Nations' scandal-plagued Iraq oil-for-food program, bank officials told Congress yesterday.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the California Republican who chairs the House International Relations subcommittee on oversight and investigations, said the bank had been lax in monitoring who received the billions of dollars in transfers it processed under the seven-year program that ended in 2003.

"It makes me wonder if the bank cared at all about the risk it placed on its investors in running the oil-for-food program," Mr. Rohrabacher said.

Everett Schenk, chief executive officer of BNP Paribas-North America, acknowledged the bank had committed "avoidable errors" in handling some of the vast program's accounts, but said an extensive internal probe had uncovered no outright fraud related to questionable transfers.

"The bank has seen no indication that any assignment of proceeds or payment to any so-called 'third party' is causally linked to any corruption that may have occurred in connection with the oil-for-food program," he said.

The money trail is critical because Saddam Hussein is accused of skimming about $10 billion in funds from the program, in part through kickbacks and inflated deals and in part from bribes to politically influential parties around the globe.

Committee investigators focused on the case of Saudi-based Al Riyadh International Flowers Co., an approved supplier of humanitarian goods to Iraq under the U.N. program. At Al Riyadh's instruction, BNP Paribas officials reassigned its letter of credit to a Malaysian import-export firm, East Star Trading Co.

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