Tue, Jun 29, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Iraq's oil money not accounted for

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

A Christian charity has accused the coalition authority in Iraq of failing to account for up to US$20 billion of oil revenues which should have been spent on relief and reconstruction projects.

At the same time, Liberal Democrat politicians in the UK are demanding an investigation into the way the US-led administration in Baghdad has handled Iraq's oil revenues. The coalition is obliged to pay all oil revenues into the Development Fund for Iraq, but according to Liberal Democrat figures, the fund could be short by as much as US$3.7 billion.

Christian Aid, in a report yesterday, claims that the US-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority, which hands over power to an interim administration in Iraq this week, is in flagrant breach of the UN security council resolution which gave it control of the country's oil revenues.

Resolution 1483, passed in May of last year, stated that the money should be spent in the interests of the Iraqi people and independently audited, but an auditor was appointed only in April.

The charity quoted an anonymous UN diplomat as saying: "We only have the total amounts and movements in and out of the development fund. We have absolutely no knowledge of what purposes they are for and if these are consistent with the security council resolution."

Last October, Christian Aid revealed that US$4 billion of oil revenues were unaccounted for, but although procedures have been tightened up, the charity said, "we still do not know exactly how Iraq's money has been earned, which companies have won the contracts that it has been spent on or whether this spending was in the interests of the Iraqi people."

According to the latest figures from the coalition, the development fund has received US$10.7 billion. Yet it also admits that US$12.5 billion has been generated since June of last year.

When 5 percent is taken away to pay for Kuwaiti compensation, US$1.2 billion is still missing, say the Liberal Democrats.

Their own research, published today, also suggests that US$12.5 billion is in any case toward the low end of estimated revenue from oil sales.

The British government said earlier this year that "information on the amount paid for Iraqi oil is not publicly available" to protect commercial confidentiality.

Christian Aid says billions of dollars are now being hastily allocated to projects which have not been properly planned and fears the authority will be wound up this week without ever having to account for the expenditure.

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