French ex-envoy out on bail, still under suspicion

13th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 12 (AFP) - A French judge on Wednesday placed a former French ambassador under formal investigation for his suspected role in corruption related to Iraq's oil-for-food programme, a judicial source said.

PARIS, Oct 12 (AFP) - A French judge on Wednesday placed a former French ambassador under formal investigation for his suspected role in corruption related to Iraq's oil-for-food programme, a judicial source said.

Jean-Bernard Mérimée, 68, French ambassador to the United Nations in New York -- and therefore a Security Council regular -- between 1991 and 1995, was placed under investigation for "influence peddling" and "active corruption of a foreign public sector employee."

Mérimée was taken into custody Monday by a French judge probing alleged allocations granted under the oil-for-food programme by then Iraqi president Saddam Hussein between 1996 and 2003. He was let out on probation with the payment of EUR 150,000 bail.

Under the oil-for-food programme -- approved by the United Nations in 1995 -- the government of Iraq was authorised to sell limited amounts of oil, the proceeds of which were to be devoted to humanitarian supplies.

Saddam Hussein is believed to have granted "vouchers" to individuals known to oppose sanctions against Iraq. These were then sold on for a mark-up to oil companies that were authorised to trade with Baghdad.

Mérimée is suspected of receiving allocations, or oil vouchers, in exchange for his "real or supposed" support for the Iraqi regime between 2001 and 2003.

He is also suspected of having sold allocations to third parties, and having paid commission to people close to the Iraqi regime.

The French foreign ministry on Wednesday distanced itself from Merimee and another former senior diplomat who is implicated in the investigation, Serge Boidevaix.

"According to the information we have, Messieurs Serge Boidevaix and Jean-Bernard Mérimée are the subjects of legal action to do with their private activities carried out after their retirement," ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei told journalists.

Boidevaix, 77, a former secretary-general at the French foreign ministry, is one of five other people already placed under judicial investigation by judge Philippe Courroye in connection with the case.

The others are: businessman Claude Kaspereit; Bernard Guillet, an adviser to former French interior minister Charles Pasqua; Gilles Munier, head of an Iraqi-French friendship society; and Palestinian journalist Hamida Nana.

The foreign ministry said it had written to Boidevaix and Merimee in September 2001 to remind them of their "special responsibilities" as former top diplomats and had received acknowledgement of the letters.

Courroye began his investigation in 2002 -- before the US invasion of Iraq -- into illegal commissions allegedly paid by the French oil group Total in order to obtain contracts with Baghdad.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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