WASHINGTON – Saddam Hussein’s government smuggled oil, added surcharges and collected kickbacks to rake in $10.1 billion in violation of the United Nations’ oil-for-food program, congressional investigators said Thursday.
The estimate, much larger than previous calculations, comes as the United Nations considers expanding its probe into the humanitarian program, which allowed Iraq to sell oil for food and medicine. Other oil sales were prohibited under a U.N. embargo imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
Investigators from the General Accounting Office told a congressional subcommittee that Iraq collected $5.7 billion by illegally smuggling oil out of the country through several routes. The oil traveled to Syria by pipeline, across the borders of Jordan and Turkey by truck and through the Persian Gulf by ship.
Surcharges levied against oil producers and commissions imposed against commodity suppliers participating in the oil-for-food program fetched another $4.4 billion.
The GAO had previously estimated that Saddam’s government had received $6.6 billion in illegal revenues from the program from 1997 through 2002.
The effort to identify and recover Iraqi money hidden worldwide has met with mixed success, GAO investigators told lawmakers on the House Financial Services oversight and investigations subcommittee.
The Treasury Department acted Thursday to freeze the assets of 16 family members related to Saddam and his top advisers. The list includes Saddam’s wives Sajida Khayrallah Tilfa and Samira Shahbandar; his daughters Raghad Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti, Rana Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti and Hala Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti; and his son Ali Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti.
The Treasury Department also identified 191 quasi-governmental companies suspected of engaging in illegal commerce and hiding money abroad.
The Treasury Department submitted the information to the United Nations, triggering a resolution that calls on member nations to freeze and transfer the assets held by those individuals and companies.
Juan Zarate, the Treasury Department’s deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, told the House subcommittee that some countries do not have the legal structure or “political will” to recover the money.
In the last year, countries other than the United States have recovered and sent about $750 million to the Development Fund for Iraq. Money in the Development Fund for Iraq has been spent on wheat purchases, electricity and oil infrastructure, equipment for Iraqi security forces, Iraqi civil service salaries and government operations.
About $1.3 billion in cash and valuables have been recovered in Iraq.
The amount of money the former Iraqi regime hid abroad remains unknown, and estimates range from $10 billion to $40 billion.
“One of the conundrums of this effort has been trying to understand and get a hold on the full universe of assets pilfered by the Hussein regime,” Zarate said.