A month ago this space outlined the ongoing Australian probe of AWB Ltd., that nation’s single-desk wheat exporter, and the nearly $215 million in kickbacks and bribes it paid to Iraqi officials to keep Aussie wheat flowing into Iraq between 1999 and the U.S.-led takeover in spring 2003.
The column also noted that U.S. wheat growers had asked Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns to cut off (officially, “debar”) AWB’s American affiliate, AWB USA, from U.S. Dept. of Agriculture credit programs since the investigation had revealed clear evidence – memos, sales documents, bank statements – that AWB management was up to its eyeballs in Iraqi corruption and graft.
Well, the probe continues as does the wait by U.S. growers for Johanns to boot AWB USA from the USDA credit trough.
In Australia. On the Australian front, mounting evidence has established hard links between AWB’s Iraq game and Prime Minister John Howard’s government.
It is now nearly indisputable that top Australian officials were not only aware of AWB’s kickbacks in Iraq, they endorsed them.
For its part, AWB has seen enough. On Feb. 9, it announced the resignation of Andrew Lindberg, the monopoly exporter’s managing director.
Lindberg had to go. In several days of testimony early in the investigation, he sounded like a bumbling idiot while dodging tough, direct questions. The best reply he could make to more than 40 of ‘em was a weak “I don’t know.”
In one “particularly heated exchange,” noted the Aussie press, frustrated investigators finally just “asked Mr. Lindberg if he was ‘a complete fool’ – to which Mr. Lindberg said he was not.”
OK, not a complete fool, but now a gainfully unemployed one.
In the United States. The U.S. side of the crooked mess remains in limbo. Calls by wheat growers and several U.S. senators to debar AWB USA from USDA credit programs were conditionally dismissed by Johanns’ Feb. 10 in a letter to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
“If confirmed,” Johanns wrote Harkin, “the (AWB bribery) allegations