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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 October 2005, 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK
French ex-envoy faces Iraq probe
Former French Ambassador to the UN, Jean-Bernard Merimee (file picture, 1995)
Mr Merimee was taken into custody on Monday
A top French former diplomat has appeared before a judge as part of an inquiry into alleged corruption in the UN's oil-for-food programme in Iraq.

Jean-Bernard Merimee, the French ambassador to the UN from 1991 to 1995, was detained on Monday, on the orders of Paris magistrate Philippe Courroye.

He is suspected of having received oil allocations from Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Reports into the oil-for-food scheme have found that Iraq used barrels of oil as bribes to subvert the programme.

Mr Courroye is leading the investigation into 11 French officials alleged to have been involved in the scandal.

Last month, Serge Boidevaix, 77, the former Secretary General for the French Foreign Ministry, was placed under formal investigation along with four other officials.

Paris reaction

Mr Merimee, 68, was one of the most prominent diplomats at the UN in the early Nineties, occupying France's permanent seat on the Security Council.

He was also France's ambassador to Italy and to Australia, and later became a special adviser to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The French foreign ministry has distanced itself from Mr Merimee and Mr Boidevaix.

It said that the allegations concerned only the two men's private activities after their retirement and did not involve the French government.

Mr Annan's spokesman would not comment on Mr Merimee's case, but said the UN supported "the efforts of national authorities who wish to pursue proceedings into activities of their own nationals who may or may not have been involved in the oil-for-food programme".

The programme was set up in 1996 to allow the then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to sell limited amounts of oil in order to buy humanitarian goods and ease the effects of sanctions.

But since his overthrow in April 2003, allegations have emerged of widespread corruption in the system, by which the Iraqi government, foreign politicians and UN officials benefited by billions of dollars.



FROM OTHER NEWS SITES:
New York Times World Briefing: Europe, Asia, Africa, Americas - 18 hrs ago
Guardian Unlimited Former UN ambassador arrested in Iraq inquiry - 29 hrs ago
SABC French ex-envoy to UN held in oil-for-food probe - 35 hrs ago
Washington PostFrench Official Detained in Oil-For-Food Probe - 48 hrs ago
Telegraph Diplomat held in oil-for-food inquiry - 53 hrs ago
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