Australia: PM Howard suffering from Pinocchio syndrome or Ronald Reagan disease? Print E-mail

Imagine, John Howard can't remember "reading a diplomatic cable three years ago warning that AWB might be paying kickbacks to Iraq"! Déjà vu Pinocchio?



Or have Ronald Reagan's ghosts arrived to haunt John Howard?

Perhaps time for the PM to give up his mindless jogging, one of the world's best kept secrets as a cause of cerebral atrophy.

As for Howard's "There seems to be an assumption that I spend all day and Mr Downer spends all day reading the hundreds of individual cables that come from all over the world": A firm "NO" to that sarcasm, but the nation's taxpayers do indeed fund Howard's huge team of advisors, secretaries and clerks, and are entitled to "assume" that between them all they do make certain that nothing as important as blatant corruption escapes the Prime Minister's eye - Lynette
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The Sydney Morning Herald -- Wednesday March 22, 2006

Kickback brief? I don't recall: PM


Prime Minister John Howard says he does not recall reading a diplomatic cable three years ago warning that AWB might be paying kickbacks to Iraq.

The confidential cable, which was tabled at the Cole inquiry yesterday, warned in June 2003 that every contract under the United Nation's oil-for-food program contained kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime.

The cable was sent from Australia's diplomatic office in Baghdad to Mr Howard and ministers, including Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Trade Minister Mark Vaile.

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley said the cable showed the government had turned a blind eye to the kickbacks.

But Mr Howard said the matter had been handled correctly by foreign affairs officials.

"That particular cable would have been amongst hundreds that I receive every week and I don't have any recall of it been brought to my attention and that would not be surprising," Mr Howard told ABC radio.

"There seems to be an assumption that I spend all day and Mr Downer spends all day reading the hundreds of individual cables that come from all over the world.

"The reality is that those cables come in and those that have a particular urgency and should be brought to my attention are brought to my attention but the great bulk of them aren't."

The Cole commission of inquiry is investigating almost $300 million in kickbacks paid by AWB to the former Iraqi dictator's regime.

The cable referred to an alert from a senior US Army official who wanted governments with companies dealing with Iraq to look for evidence of kickbacks in contracts.

While the cable did not mention AWB, the wheat exporter was the biggest provider of humanitarian aid to Iraq under the oil-for-food program.

A director in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Iraq task force, Zena Armstrong, told the inquiry that while she saw the cable she did not carry out any rigorous checks of AWB's wheat contracts amid strong denials from the company.

Mr Howard said he accepted Ms Armstrong's response.

"She's been quite up front about that and I'm sure perfectly honest and perfectly correct," he said.

But Mr Beazley said the latest evidence proved the government had chosen to ignore the warnings.

He said it was not so much a smoking gun as a "smoking artillery park" of evidence leading straight back to the government.

"They knew all about it. They chose to turn a blind eye to it," Mr Beazley told reporters in Melbourne.

AAP