Crooked deals that channeled Australian Wheat Board (AWB) money to former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in contravention of UN sanctions may have ended up financing Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel, it was claimed yesterday.
AWB, a government entity until its privatization in 1999, paid A$280 million (US$217 million) in bribes to Saddam to secure wheat contracts in Iraq under the UN's oil-for-food program.
The illicit payments were confirmed last week in evidence to an independent inquiry set up by the Australian government.
Labor's Kevin Rudd, the opposition foreign affairs spokesman in parliament, said the kickbacks could have gone to Hamas to fund its suicide bomber program.
He quoted from a report issued by the US Congress in November 2004 that declared Saddam paid US$25,000 in rewards to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers from kickbacks he received through the oil-for-food program.
"Here's my challenge to [Foreign Minister Alexander] Downer," Rudd told reporters. "Please satisfy the Australian people that not one Australian dollar went to fund the Palestinian suicide bombers, that not one Australian dollar went to fund Hamas and its suicide bombing operations in Israel."