Iraqi Trade Minister Ali Allawi said on Tuesday that the ministry has evidence of foreign involvement.

"We have detailed records that were recovered from the Mukhabarat (former intelligence service) that a number of foreign companies were actively involved and implicated in this plundering," Allawi told AFP.

"We intend to pursue them in Iraq and international courts. We are now building cases one after the other and we are drafting indictments."

Allawi said most of the offenders were from, "Near Eastern countries including Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt," which had "trade protocols" with the fallen government of Saddam Hussein.

"These countries had an ambivalent attitude toward the previous regime and they allowed, whether knowingly or not, their territories to be used for large-scale defrauding of Iraq."

Allawi declined to reveal the names or number of individuals who would be targeted in these lawsuits, adding that many of the Iraqis who "engineered the fraud" have taken refuge in neighbouring countries like Jordan.

He called Amman "the capital of the Baath in exile."

"We have detailed records that were recovered from the Mukhabarat (former intelligence service) that a number of foreign companies were actively involved and implicated in this plundering."

Ali Allawi, Iraqi Trade minister

Fawzia Abbas an Iraqi businesswoman based in Jordan said traders were frequently jailed.

"Everybody in Iraq knows that many Iraqi traders were imprisoned because they passed goods and commodities that did not meet the Iraqi standards. Many companies here in Jordan were put on the black list after attempts to pass goods of poor quality under the oil for food programme," she told Aljazeera.net on Tuesday.

"The Iraqi government used to furnish us with strict standards of goods required by it. Goods which did not meet the Iraqi specifications used to be banned from entering Iraq. I think current Iraqi officials should consider how to solve the country's problems instead of continuing to spend time and effort on pursuing the alleged faults of the former regime, " Abbas said.

Excluding oil smuggling, Allawi said 95% of the cases involved trade under the United Nations oil-for-food programme that allowed Iraq, which was under international sanctions for the last 13 years of Hussein’s Baath rule, to use oil revenues to buy products for humanitarian purposes.

He said most of the violations include inflated pricing for non-commodity items such as construction materials and automotive spare parts, which in some cases were sold to the government at "three times the going market prices."

"Sellers' cartels operated and managed by the Mukhabarat" also slapped a 10% surcharge on goods sold to the government, according to Allawi, who added that other fraud involved the shipment of "substandard goods" and the "negotiation of letters of credits with insufficient documentation."