Australian DFAT director knew of trucking company involved in alleged Iraqi kickbacks

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Cole inquiry was told on Friday by a former director of the Middle East branch of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) that she had heard the name “Alia” during her time at DFAT. Alia is the Jordanian trucking company used by the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) and alleged to have been paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime.

Previously, Alexander Downer, Australia’s foreign minister, insisted that nobody in DFAT knew about Alia until it was named in the United Nations report on kickbacks paid to Iraq under the oil-for-food program.

Jill Courtney, a former director at DFAT, told the Cole Inquiry that she heard of Alia some time in 2000.

In a statement provided to the inquiry, Ms Courtney states “When I saw the name ‘Alia’ in newspaper reports of the Cole Inquiry over the last few weeks in relation to the Jordanian trucking company used by AWB I recognised the name and I now believe that it was aname that I had heard in that context during the time I worked in the Middle East branch in 2000 and 2001.”

Ms Courtney told the inquiry that she hard heard or read about Alia as a Jordanian trucking company which was being used by the AWB during her time at as a director of the Middle East branch at DFAT. Ms Courtney said that she could not recall how she came by the information.

Ms Courtney was asked by John Agius SC (counsel assisting the inquiry), “Is there any possibility that you saw it or heard of it as a Jordanian trucking company, and that what you have done when you read about it in the newspaper, in the context of this inquiry, is to learn then that it was being used by AWB, and that you have fused the two matters together?” She replied, “No.”

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