A day after his first meeting with the former public face of Saddam's administration, Badih Arif dismissed speculation that Aziz might testify against his former colleagues or give evidence on alleged corruption at the United Nations.

"We used to offer assistance to parties, institutions and states that stood by Iraq. We helped them via the United Nations because the oil-for-food programme was a legitimate programme supervised by the UN," the lawyer quoted Aziz as saying.

"This cannot be considered bribery because it was our right to sell oil to those who wanted it and we could not affect the price at all, as it was set by the United Nations itself."

UN criticised

The United Nations has come under scrutiny over corruption allegations in the oil-for-food programme it supervised.

The programme, started in December 1996, allowed Iraq to sell oil to ease the suffering of ordinary Iraqis from draconian UN sanctions imposed over its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Iraq's new leaders released documents this year indicating Saddam also used secret grants of oil to reward 1300 people and groups in more than 40 countries.

The 68-year-old Aziz laughed at suggestions that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was involved in any misdeeds, Arif said, adding that was what Washington wanted to believe.

Arif said he spent five hours on Thursday with the former foreign minister, one of 12 top figures from the toppled government who are in US custody near Baghdad airport awaiting trials for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.