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Copyright 2001 The Financial Times Limited Financial Times (London) April 12, 2001, Thursday London Edition 2 SECTION: INTERNATIONAL ECONOMY; Pg. 14 LENGTH: 449 words HEADLINE: INTERNATIONAL ECONOMY: UK leads way for business with Iraq BYLINE: By CAROLA HOYOS BODY: The UK is home to more companies doing oil business with Iraq than any other country, a confidential United Nations list of buyers - many of which are said to be paying illegal kickbacks to the Iraqi regime - shows. The list, obtained by the FT, was discussed yesterday in a closed-door meeting by members of the UN Security Council. It shows that 98 of 735 companies registered to buy oil directly from Iraq are from the UK. The vast majority of the companies on the list are shadowy middlemen, many of which are suspected of paying illegal surcharges to Saddam Hussein's government. Iraq's regime gains Dollars 2bn-Dollars 3bn (Pounds 1.4bn-Pounds 2.1bn) a year through oil smuggling and such surcharges, and diplomats are concerned Mr Saddam could use the unchecked money to build up his weapons arsenal. Halting the kickbacks is a top priority for the Bush administration and the UN as they struggle to maintain the crumbling 10-year-old sanctions regime. The UK mission to the UN has registered over 2 1/2 times more companies than the United Arab Emirates and more than four times more than Russia, which had been viewed as the main culprit in doing oil business with Iraq before UN oil overseers prepared the list. Ironically, the UK is at the forefront of the campaign to eliminate illegal kickbacks by weeding middlemen, who are not well established in the market, from the list of companies approved by the UN to buy Iraqi oil. The UK and the US have proposed tighter registration rules, forcing companies to prove financial solidity and a prominent past within the oil market, before being able to buy oil through the UN's oil-for-food programme. Diplomats believe that making the process more stringent would reduce the list to little more than 100 companies. "What we are proposing is that there should be criteria referring to the companies' respectability and reliability in the market," said one UK diplomat. Some of those currently registered through the UK include well-known trading companies such as Phibro Energy, as well as obscure names, such as Mr Abdullah and Mr Marcus Papadopoulos. "This doesn't reflect any endorsement by the British government," a UK official said. "At present we would have no legal basis to apply criteria to such applications of companies wanting to be on the register." Nevertheless, the revelation that the UK is the most prominent place from which middlemen register has added fuel to French and Russian objections over London's plan to toughen the rules. "If they want to reduce the middlemen they must sweep their own porch first," said one western diplomat, who is not enamoured of the UK's draft paper. LOAD-DATE: April 11, 2001 ----------------------------------------------- FREE! The World's Best Email Address @email.com Reserve your name now at http://www.email.com -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email firstname.lastname@example.org Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website: http://www.casi.org.uk