A Reston-based firm pleaded guilty Thursday to charges that it paid former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's government more than $440,000 in illegal kickbacks in 2000 and 2001 to purchase discounted Iraqi crude through the $64 billion U.N. oil-for-food program.
Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau announced that Midway Trading conspired with a Romanian partner, Bulf Oil, to deposit the kickbacks in a Jordanian bank, bypassing U.N. rules designed to prevent oil profits from falling into the hands of the former Iraqi government. The company, which pleaded guilty to first-degree grand larceny in New York State Court, agreed to pay a $250,000 fine.
Morgenthau declined to say whether officials at either company would be charged with crimes, and said his investigation into wrongdoing in the program is continuing. An attorney for the firm, Mark MacDougall, declined to comment. Attempts to reach Stephen W. Baumgart, listed in Virginia State Corporation Commission records as Midway's president, were unsuccessful. His wife, Margaret, who is listed as the company's secretary, said in a brief interview she had no information about the matter.
Thursday's developments came about a week before Paul A. Volcker, the chairman of the U.N.-appointed commission probing misconduct in the program, is scheduled to release a report that will name companies that paid kickbacks in exchange for doing business with Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion. Morgenthau thanked Volcker for cooperating with his investigation.
"The oil for food program was set up as a way for the Iraqi people to receive humanitarian goods and not to line the pockets of the ruling party," Morgenthau said in a statement.
The program was established in December 1996 to allow Iraq, which had been subject to U.N. sanctions after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, to sell oil to buy food, medicine and pay war reparations. But the Iraqi government raised more than $2.6 billion in illicit profits by compelling companies to make illegal payments in exchange for doing business, Volcker told a Senate committee this week.
Morgenthau said Midway was initially unaware that a payment, deposited into a bank account controlled by a Bulf official, was a kickback, but later learned the money had gone to Iraqi officials. Even so, he said, Midway signed on to buy more oil and made another payment that it knew was intended for Iraqi officials.
Research editor Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.