An Iraqi-American businessman who pleaded guilty this week to secretly lobbying influential Americans on behalf of Saddam Hussein pursued contacts with Democrats like former President Jimmy Carter and Republicans like Jack Kemp, the former vice presidential candidate, government officials said Friday.
The businessman, Samir Vincent, is now cooperating with a federal investigation into corruption in the UN oil-for-food aid program for Iraq. He pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges that he had pocketed millions of dollars in hidden oil profits in exchange for helping the Iraqi government in its efforts to end economic sanctions imposed in 1990.
Kemp said in a statement Friday that he had met with Vincent first in about 1997 to discuss the US position on sanctions. He described the essence of the conversations by saying that Vincent had told him he was motivated "by the national security of the United States and thought the Iraqi government believed the sanctions would never be lifted, which he said he believed was leading them to obstruct inspectors from coming into the country."
Kemp said he agreed that sanctions might be lifted, but only in exchange for an unconditional guarantee of unlimited and surprise inspections for unconventional weapons.
Kemp said he had no dealings with Vincent on any other matters and received nothing in return for any discussions he had with government officials about Iraq sanctions.
Carter said through a spokeswoman in Atlanta that his only involvement with Vincent was in receiving him, along with three Iraqi clerics, at his home in Plains, Georgia, in September 1999. The spokeswoman, Deanna Congileo, said the purpose was "to hear their views on the plight of children in Iraq and the impact of the UN sanctions on Iraq." Before the visit, Carter had long been on the record as opposing sanctions against Iraq.
The contact with Kemp was reported by Newsweek on its Web site this week. The New York Sun reported Vincent's contact with Carter in its Friday editions.
Vincent's practice of lobbying officials on behalf of Iraq was referred to in one of the government's charges, but the people he met with were not identified. That was in keeping with what officials said was the Justice Department's policy of withholding the names of people who are involved in a matter under investigation but not suspected of wrongdoing. Vincent has told prosecutors that he met with a number of other prominent Americans in his effort to enlist their help in getting sanctions lifted, the officials said. However, several of those officials, contacted on Friday by a reporter, said that they had never met him. So far, prosecutors do not believe that any former US officials engaged in wrongdoing, the officials said.
The charges against Vincent said that he had lobbied "former officials of the US government who maintained close contacts to high-ranking members of both the Clinton and Bush administrations in an effort to convince the US government to support the repeal of sanctions against Iraq."
Vincent's lobbying efforts between 1997 and 2001 were repaid with millions of dollars worth of allocations under the UN oil-for-food program. The program was intended to permit Iraq to sell limited quantities of oil on condition that the proceeds be used only for purchases of food and other necessities.
Vincent's lawyer, Robert A. Litt, said he would not discuss the case.
The officials said the case involving Vincent was the beginning of a rapidly widening American criminal inquiry into the Iraq aid program, which is also being investigated by a panel appointed by the UN.