By LARRY NEUMEISTER
The Associated Press
Friday, August 24, 2007; 11:39 PM
NEW YORK -- The government said in court papers that it is entitled to portray a Texas businessman as so eager to win oil contracts from Saddam Hussein's government that he told Iraqi officials about the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq and encouraged opposition to the war.
The government argued that jurors should hear about statements that Oscar S. Wyatt Jr. made to win favor with those who handed out lucrative Iraqi oil contracts. The documents were filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan late Thursday for Wyatt's Sept. 4 trial.
Wyatt, 83, of Houston, is accused of conspiring to pay millions of dollars in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime to win contracts under the United Nations' oil-for-food program in Iraq. If convicted, Wyatt could face more than 60 years in prison.
Prosecutors said the evidence is even more relevant if Wyatt's lawyers are going to defend him by referencing acts of patriotism in his life.
Lawyers for Wyatt have said in court papers that the statements about their client should not be allowed in the trial because they are highly prejudicial and irrelevant and because they allege that Wyatt committed treason and helped an enemy of the United States.
The statements about him were contained in a diary kept by an employee of Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization. The diary claims that Wyatt bragged at a Jan. 27, 2003, meeting that he had convinced a U.S. senator to speak out against an attack on Iraq. The diary said Wyatt also discussed the nature of a U.S. invasion of Iraq, including anticipated troop numbers, timing and direction of attack, prosecutors said.
Gerald Shargel, one of Wyatt's lawyers, said Friday that his client never told the Iraqis anything that was not publicly known leading up to the war.
"Oscar Wyatt has shown time and again that he's an American patriot," Shargel said. "He was a war hero, flying bombing missions in World War II. He loves this country. He doesn't love this administration."
The government said U.S. District Judge Denny Chin should allow the evidence to be shown to a jury.
"Evidence does not create unfair prejudice simply because it puts a defendant in an uncomfortable position of explaining unpopular conduct to the jury," prosecutors wrote. "Wyatt's attempt to demonstrate his loyalty to the Hussein regime is inextricably linked to his efforts to obtain oil."
Prosecutors said they did not intend to prove that Wyatt provided secret or classified information to the former government of Iraq and will not introduce evidence that Wyatt actually persuaded any legislators to give speeches in 2003.
The government said Wyatt was trying to force the evidence to be excluded from the trial by exaggerating its significance as an allegation of treason.
The government said Wyatt was granted the very first oil allocation under the oil-for-food program in 1996 and continued to receive allocations through 2002, long after Saddam's regime stopped awarding allocations to other U.S. citizens and companies.
The oil-for-food program, which ran from 1996 to 2003, was created to help Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. It let the Iraqi government sell oil primarily to buy humanitarian goods.