Sixth Guilty Plea in Iraq Oil-for-Food Scheme

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 2, 2007

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 1 -- Oscar S. Wyatt Jr., the prominent Texas oilman who in 1990 negotiated the release of American oil workers in Iraq, pleaded guilty Monday to paying millions of dollars in bribes to Saddam Hussein's government in exchange for discounted oil.

Nearing the end of his trial, Wyatt, 83, entered a guilty plea before a federal judge in Manhattan to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his role in subverting a U.N.-administered humanitarian aid program in Iraq. He is the sixth person to plead guilty in a federal investigation that has recovered more than $16.5 million in illicit proceeds, which are to be returned to Iraq.

"He traded the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people for the satisfaction of his own greed and the greed of the former government of Iraq," said Michael Garcia, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York. "His guilty plea today, in the face of the overwhelming evidence presented at trial, ensures that he will pay the price for the conduct."

Wyatt, the former chairman of Coastal Corp., was part of a small group of Texas oil executives who had traded in Iraqi oil since the 1970s and were accused of skirting U.S. laws to maintain that business after the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Iraq following its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. David B. Chalmers Jr., head of Bayoil, pleaded guilty in August to similar charges.

Despite the sanctions, Wyatt maintained close ties with Iraq's leaders, buying furniture for the Iraqi mission to the United Nations and a car for the Iraqi Embassy in Washington, according to U.N. investigators.

Wyatt initially claimed innocence to the bribery charges. But after nearly four weeks of testimony, he agreed to a plea agreement under which five other counts were dropped. "I didn't want to waste any more time at 83 years old fooling with this," Wyatt told reporters after the hearing. "The quicker I get it over with, the better."

As part of a plea deal, Wyatt agreed to forfeit more than $11 million in assets. He faces 18 to 24 months in prison when he is sentenced in November, although the judge could ignore that recommendation and impose a tougher penalty.

The U.N. oil-for-food program was established in 1996 to provide relief to millions of Iraqi civilians after a U.N. trade embargo. The program allowed Iraq to sell oil and use the proceeds to purchase food and medicine and to pay war reparations to Kuwaiti victims.

Federal prosecutors maintain that Wyatt paid more than $7.4 million in kickbacks to Hussein for a lower price on oil through two Cypriot front companies Wyatt controlled.

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