The government of Iraq filed a civil suit in late June in federal district court in New York City against two individuals and about 50 companies and some of their related firms for bribery that allegedly occurred under the United Nations oil-for-food program. Referring to the U.N. program as “the largest financial fraud in human history,” the 47-page complaint seeks more than $10 billion in damages.
Many of the defendants named in the complaint — which relies heavily on the U.N.’s October 2005 internal report by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker — have already faced enforcement action for violating U.N. regulations or U.S. law, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Among those discussed in our prior posts are ABB, AB Volvo, Flowserve, Akzo Nobel, Chevron, Siemens, Ingersoll-Rand, York International, Oscar Wyatt, El Paso (successor to Coastal Corp.) and Textron. Others named in the complaint include Air Liquide, Atlas Copco, Boston Scientific, BNP Paribas, Buhler, Daewoo, Daimler-Chrysler, Dow, Eastman, Glaxo, Dresser, Kia Motors, Novo Nordisk and Vitol.
The complaint describes how kickbacks paid to representatives of Saddam Hussein were funded through illegal and undisclosed transportation and port fees, bogus after-sales service fees and overpricing of goods and services.
Although there is no private right of action under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, this is the third civil suit filed this year in U.S. federal court by alleged victims of overseas public corruption. In March, Bahrain-owned Alba sued Alcoa and its agent in Pittsburgh for allegedly inflating prices and using the money to bribe Bahraini officials. Then in April, Denver-based oilman Jack Grynberg and his company brought a suit in the District Of Columbia against their former consortium partners BP and Statoil, and their top executives, for allegedly using some of Grynberg’s money to bribe government officials in Kazakhstan.
Similar to the Alba and Grynberg complaints, the Iraqi government’s claims are based on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), common-law fraud and breach of fiduciary duty. Iraq also alleges illegal price discrimination under the Robinson Patman Act (“It shall be unlawful for any person engaged in commerce, in the course of such commerce, knowingly to induce or receive a discrimination in price which is prohibited by this section.”).
The complaint says the federal court in New York should hear the case because the oil-for-food program was administered at the United Nations’ headquarters there, all funds related to the program “were supposed to pass through an escrow account in New York,” and all oil-for-food contracts were “approved in New York.”