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Last Updated: Monday, 10 April 2006, 07:50 GMT 08:50 UK
Howard to help Iraq wheat inquiry
John Howard, Australian Prime Minister
John Howard said the move was for the benefit of Australian farmers
The Australian prime minister is to give a written statement to an inquiry into whether the country's wheat board made illegal payments to Iraq.

John Howard said Terence Cole, who is heading the inquiry into the Australian Wheat Board, made the request.

"I will provide that statement to the inquiry tomorrow, consistent with the request," Mr Howard said on Monday.

It is alleged the wheat board paid millions of dollars in bribes to Saddam Hussein's regime.

Mr Howard later said the request showed the judge was not trying to protect the administration.

Wheat field in Cowra, 220 miles from Sydney
Iraq accounted for about 15% of total Australian wheat exports

"I've said all along this is an utterly transparent process which is not protecting the government but which is designed to get to the truth of this matter, and I'm more than happy to comply with the request made by the commission," he said at a press conference in Sydney.

Trade minister

The illegal payments are alleged to have been made under Iraq's oil-for-food programme.

A United Nations report published last year accused AWB of paying up to $222m to Saddam Hussein's regime between 1997 and 2003 to secure lucrative grain contracts.

It is alleged that under the auspices of the oil-for-food programme - which allowed Iraq to export a limited amount of oil to pay for food - money was channelled to the regime through a Jordanian trucking firm owned by the government.

Trade Minister Mark Vaile appeared before the inquiry on Monday and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is due to appear later this week.

Mr Vaile told the inquiry he did not see a series of cables warning of possible AWB corruption.

He said he was "aware in a very general sense" that the UN had raised concerns about the activities of the AWB, but he said he thought the matter was being dealt with by Australian trade officials.

The allegations threaten Australia's chances of securing a lucrative contract to export 1m tonnes of wheat to Iraq.

Australia exports some 2.5m tonnes of wheat to Iraq every year.

John Howard on the statement he will make

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