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Howard to make statement on oil issue

Howard's comments came as a former UN official claimed his government was warned about the kickbacks six years ago.

india Updated: Apr 10, 2006 11:24 IST

Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Monday said he would provide a statement to an inquiry probing the involvement of the country's monopoly wheat exporter in corruption in the UN's Iraq Oil-for-Food programme.

Howard said retired judge Terence Cole, who is running the inquiry into the Australian Wheat Board's alleged multimillion dollar kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime, had asked him to provide a written statement.

"I will provide that statement to the inquiry tomorrow, consistent with the request," Howard said in a brief statement.

"As I have previously indicated, if I am asked to appear before the inquiry, I will be happy to do so."

Howard's comments came as a former UN official claimed his government was warned about the kickbacks six years ago.

At a brief press conference in Sydney, Howard said the request demonstrated that his administration was not being shielded by Cole -- whose inquiry Howard ordered.

The Australian inquiry is focusing on allegations in a UN report last year that the Australian Wheat Board, now known as AWB Ltd, syphoned $220 million to Saddam's regime to secure grain contracts worth more than $2.3 billion between 1997-2003 under the world body's now discredited Oil-for-Food programme.