Page last updated at 01:28 GMT, Saturday, 6 June 2009 02:28 UK

Briton fined over Iraq oil scam

Iraqi oil pipeline
Mr Irving had previously said the charges were "without foundation"

A UK businessman has avoided jail for his role in a scam which involved making illegal payments to Iraq's former regime under Saddam Hussein.

John Irving, 54, was given one year's probation and a $500 (£313) fine by a US court after admitting he aided and abetted illegal oil imports.

Irving, of Sherborne St John, in Hampshire, apologised for his role in US firm Bayoil flouting UN sanctions.

He had faced up to 20 years in jail but agreed a plea bargain in April.

That involved him admitting one offence in return for a lenient sentence.

Irving had told the court: "I feel I have let this country down, my friends and family down, and myself."

Judge Denny Chin described Irving as "a good man who made a mistake".

He never thought he would get involved, yet he allowed himself to do so
Larry Lustberg
Irving's lawyer

Irving was among a number of former Bayoil traders charged in 2005 with conspiracy to commit fraud and engaging in banned transactions with Saddam Hussein's regime.

The charges related to secret surcharges placed on oil contracts under the UN oil-for-food programme, which was designed to allow Iraq to export crude oil in return for humanitarian imports.

Prosecutors had alleged traders fixed an artificially low selling price for oil between January 2000 and the start of the Iraq war in March 2003.

Employees of the company agreed to pay inflated commission prices during oil transactions "with the knowledge and expectation" that kickbacks would be paid to officials in the Saddam regime, according to the charge sheet.

'Extraordinarily painful'

At least "several hundred million dollars" made its way to Iraqi government officials through front companies and bank accounts between 2000 and 2003, prosecutors said.

The charge Irving admitted carries a maximum prison term of 20 years.

Under the terms of the plea bargain, Judge Chin was recommended a sentence guideline of between zero and six months' imprisonment.

In the Southern District Court of New York, he said: "One year probation is sufficient. The mistake was an aberrational one."

Irving's lawyer Larry Lustberg said the last four years had been "extraordinarily painful" for his client.

Mr Lustberg added: "He never thought he would get involved, yet he allowed himself to do so.

"He knows it was wrong and has suffered for it every day."

When the investigation was revealed in 2005, Irving had insisted the claims were "entirely without foundation".

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