Bank denies fraud in Iraq scheme

French bank BNP-Paribas has admitted mistakes in some payments processed for the scandal-tainted UN oil-for-food programme in Iraq, but denied allegations of diverting funds.

    UN chief Kofi Annan has come under a cloud over the issue

    Everett Schenck, chief executive officer of BNP-Paribas' North American operations, admitted the mistakes on Thursday in a testimony before a US congressional hearing on the scandal.

    "We have found that in the course of processing assignments and payments, some mistakes were made," Schenck said.

    He added however that "to date, there has been no indication that any so-called third party payment has served as a means to corrupt the oil-for-food programme".

    Tainted programme

    The oil-for-food programme has been brought into disrepute by charges that millions of dollars in kickbacks were funnelled to President Saddam Hussein's regime with funds that had been intended for humanitarian relief.

    The programme was intended to allow UN-supervised sales of Iraqi oil to buy medicines and other essential supplies for the Iraqi population to alleviate the impact of international sanctions against the regime.

    "We have found that in the course of processing assignments and payments, some mistakes were made"

    Everett Schenck
    Chief Executive Officer,
    BNP-Paribas' North American operations

    In written remarks to the House International Relations subcommittee, Schenk said that errors such as those that surfaced in the bank's payments "are perhaps inevitable in the context of a programme that required the processing of approximately 54,000 payments ... involving an estimated five million pages of documents".

    Company conclusion

    Schenk added that an internal investigation is under way but said the company has already concluded that better training and oversight of clerical employees hired to process claims made during the programme, "could have minimised the incidence of such mistakes".

    BNP-Paribas said in a separate statement that "the payments identified to date appear to be consistent with normal trade finance practice even if, in certain instances, not within the special procedures implemented by the bank for the oil-for-food programme".

    "There is no indication that any of these payments were linked to any abuses that may have occurred in connection with the oil-for-food programme. We submit that, to our knowledge, no actions or inactions by the bank caused or contributed to any fraud in the programme."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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