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U.S. Citizen Pleads Guilty in Oil-For-Food Scam
Reuters.com
By Deborah Charles
Tue Jan 18, 2005 04:47 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An Iraqi-American illegally acted as an agent for Iraq under Saddam Hussein and received millions of dollars worth of oil from the country's U.N. oil-for-food program, U.S. court documents showed on Tuesday.

Samir Vincent, 64, a naturalized American citizen, pleaded guilty to four charges as part of a plea deal with the government, which is investigating whether U.S. laws were violated in the $64 billion oil-for-food program.

According to documents filed in the U.S. District Court in New York, Vincent pleaded guilty to conspiring and acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, violating economic sanctions and income tax fraud violations.

Vincent, who surrendered to the FBI on Tuesday morning in New York, faces a maximum of 28 years in prison, which could be reduced for cooperation. He also agreed to cooperate with the investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into corruption in the oil-for-food program.

Under the program, which began in December 1996 and ended in November 2003, the former Iraqi president's government was allowed to sell oil to buy civilian goods to ease the impact of U.N. sanctions on ordinary Iraqis.

The plea agreement represented the first case brought as part of the U.S. government's investigation into the scandal.

"Between 1996 and 2003, Vincent has admitted to receiving allocations for more than 9 million barrels of oil, the rights to which he sold for millions of dollars," U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said in announcing the plea deal.

U.S. Attorney David Kelley said Vincent reaped between $3 million and $5 million from the allocation of the oil and from payments from the Iraqi government.

ACTED ON BEHALF OF IRAQ

Vincent admitted his ties to Saddam's regime began before the oil-for-food program was launched.

"For a number of years, I acted on behalf of the government of Iraq in seeking to open a dialogue with the United States and the United Nations with the ultimate goal of lifting the sanctions against Iraq," Vincent said when he appeared before U.S. District Judge Denny Chin in New York.

 A sentencing hearing was tentatively set for late March.

Ashcroft called Vincent one of the "accomplices" in corrupting the oil-for-food program.

"Under the oil-for-food program, officials at the highest levels of the Iraqi regime had the power to select the companies and individuals who received the rights to purchase Iraqi oil," Ashcroft said.

"These companies and individuals, many of whom were not otherwise involved in the oil industry, made large profits by selling their allocations of Iraqi oil to brokers or companies capable of transporting the oil to a refinery," he added.

Since the overthrow of the Saddam government, Iraq has released lists of oil vouchers and kickbacks by the previous government. The lists detail legitimate contracts to oil companies but they are also a veritable who's who of political groups and individuals from whom the former Iraqi government wanted to buy influence while under U.N. sanctions.

Charles Duelfer, a former U.N. arms inspector who did a detailed survey last fall, said Saddam earned $1.5 billion through kickbacks from contracts for goods purchased through the oil-for-food program and $229,000 from surcharges on oil sold under the program.

Duelfer estimated Iraq also sold $8 billion in oil outside of the program: $4.4 billion in trade with Jordan, $2.8 billion with Syria and $710 million with Turkey, which was known to U.N. Security Council members, including the United States.

(Additional reporting by James Vicini, Gail Appleson and the United Nations bureau)

© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.

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