[JURIST] The UK's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) [official website] confirmed Tuesday that it had begun an investigation into whether UK firms paid illegal kickbacks to the Saddam Hussein regime in the now-defunct UN Oil-for-Food program [JURIST news archive], through which Hussein allegedly embezzled as much as $1.8 billion. According to the Guardian newspaper, drug manufacturers GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly, as well as Mabey and Johnson [corporate websites] are among the firms under investigation; all four issued statements to the Guardian denying all bribery allegations. The same companies were named in a 2005 interim report [JURIST report; PDF text] on the scandal compiled by the UN-appointed Independent Inquiry Committee [official website] into the UN Oil-for-Food program. The SFO is authorized to demand documents and take testimony, and may recommend criminal charges.
The UN Oil-for-Food program allowed the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein, under UN sanctions in the wake of the first Gulf War, to sell limited stocks of oil in return for foodstuffs and other humanitarian supplies. Hussein's regime nonetheless bribed foreign officials and commercial interests so it could sell oil on the black market, embezzling over $1 billion in program funds and perhaps as much another $10 billion from other sources. The Guardian has more.