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Australia oil-for-food inquiry to get statement from PM

[JURIST] Australian Prime Minister John Howard [official profile] said Monday that he will provide a statement [press release] to the judicial inquiry [Cole Commission official website] into Australia's involvement in the oil-for-food scandal [JURIST news archive], offering to appear before the panel if necessary. Led by retired judge Terence Cole [official profile], the inquiry began in November and has primarily focused on the Australian Wheat Board [corporate website], which allegedly paid $222 million in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's government. Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile gave a statement on Monday and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer will appear on Tuesday. Downer has already told the media that no one from his department was involved or aware of the scandal. Meanwhile, the UN official responsible for managing the contracts with Iraq has criticized the ministers' claims [Australian report], saying that UN Resolution 661 [PDF text] requires all leaders to ensure that their countries did not transfer funds to Iraq.

Australia is one of the first countries to conduct its own probe into the oil-for-food program. Earlier this month, France launched an investigation [JURIST report] into 172 French companies that were implicated in the scandal, and Sweden began an inquiry [JURIST report] in January. The Australian has local coverage. AP has more.

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