STOCKHOLM, Sweden – The Swedish government knew in 2000 that Saddam Hussein's government demanded kickbacks from companies participating in the U.N. Oil-for-Food Program, officials and news reports said Tuesday.
An unidentified Swedish company informed the country's embassy in Amman, Jordan, in 2000 that Iraq was demanding 10 percent "fees" on all deals as a way to circumvent U.N. sanctions on Saddam's regime, according to a Swedish Foreign Ministry document published on the Web site of Swedish Radio.
The document was sent from the embassy in Amman to the Foreign Ministry and Swedish delegation at the United Nations in December 2000, Swedish Radio said.
The document stated clearly that the extra fees violated U.N. sanctions. But it was "clear that an open Swedish engagement in this issue would negatively affect other Swedish business opportunities" in Iraq, it said.
Anders Kruse, head of the Foreign Ministry's legal division, said Sweden had forwarded the information to the U.N. committee in charge of sanctions and was told the extra fees were widely known.
"This was something that was more or less commonly known, that was the picture we received," Kruse said. "We could not do anything about it. There were no possibilities for us here in Stockholm to do something."
A U.N. report last year said more than 2,200 companies had colluded with Saddam's government, paying kickbacks on lucrative contracts in the 1996-2003 program.
Sweden's anti-corruption prosecutor, Nils-Erik Schultz, who is investigating whether 14 Swedish companies named in the probe had violated any Swedish laws in making the deals, criticized the government Tuesday.
"I think a simple measure would have been to talk to the companies, or even make them sign a pledge not to pay any money on the side to Iraq," Schultz told Swedish Radio. "But we have not seen any measures taken to stop this."
The company that originally contacted Sweden's embassy in Jordan was not identified.
However, a spokesman with truck maker Scania said the firm had informed Swedish authorities of the Iraqi demands that year.
"We made them aware of the problem," Scania spokesman Hans-Ake Danielsson said.
Danielsson said Scania turned down contracts with Iraq because of the demands for extra fees.
"This was something we did not want any part of," he said.
On July 13, a South Korean businessman accused of being an Iraqi agent and trying to influence the oil-for-food program was convicted of conspiracy in New York federal court.
Tongsun Park, 71, arrested last year, was the first person tried in the scandal. He will be sentenced in October and could face more than a dozen years in prison for his role in the decade-long conspiracy.