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Oil-for-food probe names firms

Under the program, Iraq was allowed to sell oil to buy food and other supplies.
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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- U.N. investigators have released the names of some 4,500 firms that did business with the former regime in Baghdad.

Paul Volcker, the head of a U.N.-commissioned probe into the now-defunct Iraq oil-for-food program, released 550 pages Thursday listing transactions between companies and the Saddam Hussein government.

The oil-for-food program was a multi-billion dollar arrangement under which Iraq, whose income was limited by economic sanctions, was allowed to sell oil to buy food and other humanitarian supplies.

It expired officially after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Paul Volcker, a former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman, insisted the listing of hundreds of names does not indicate guilt or innocence, and is not a report of findings of what was wrong or right in the program.

"We will not make allegations as we go along," he told a news conference.

Members of the independent oil-for-food investigation said records show 3,545 companies exported goods to south and central Iraq, receiving payment totaling $32.9 billion. As well, 941 firms provided exports to northern Iraq through U.N.-related agencies.

Meanwhile 248 companies paid for and received Iraqi oil under contracts totaling $64.2 billion.

"We don't know everything about everyone on this list. We would welcome any help," Volcker said.

Some of the names may be front companies on which some people could provide information, he said, and he hoped the list will "encourage people to come forward."

The names are substantially the same as those listed by the CIA's Iraq weapons survey chief, Charles Duelfer, who released hundreds of names in his conclusions on the nation's weapons capabilities, alleging that oil-for-food money funded Saddam's search for weapons.

There are at least six other oil-for-food probes, stretching from the U.S. Justice Department to Capitol Hill committees. There have been various anonymous implications of guilt, about which Volcker bluntly said: "We can't stop them, we're not prepared to do that."

He said that only now are he and his staff "getting to the point of cutting to the bone" regarding specific people to investigate.

While many firms the panel has contacted have cooperated, he said BNP Paribas, a French bank at the center of money flows in the oil-for-food program, had been only "cooperative up to a point."

Millions of dollars were held by BNP Paribas for the oil-for-food program, whom Volcker regarded as a client of the United Nations.

Volcker said he has had good cooperation from American authorities in Iraq, but not "any real cooperation" from the Department of Justice and U.S. congressional investigators.

Interviews with people in Iraq are difficult because of the security situation there, he said, adding he doesn't think it is urgent to interview Saddam Hussein. He also noted that talking to his senior ministers is proving difficult because they are prisoners.

He refused to comment on the state of the investigation into Benan Sevan, the former director of the oil-for-food program, and on any probe of Kojo Annan, the son of the U.N. secretary-general who was employed by Cotecna company shortly before it was awarded the prime job of overseeing oil-for-food deliveries into Iraq.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan earlier Thursday told reporters the oil-for-food issue has "done damage to the U.N." and he hopes the Volcker investigation will get the facts out quickly as possible.

The definitive report from the probe is due to be released in the middle of next year.

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