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E.O. 12958: DECL: 3/06/2016 TAGS: PREL, KFIN, PGOV, PINR, IZ, FR SUBJECT: IIC FOLLOW-UP: FRENCH INVESTIGATION OF OIL-FOOD-CORRUPTION CONTINUES
REF: A. STATE 40595
B. BAGHDAD 318 C. PARIS 552 D. PARIS DAILY REPORT FOR NOVEMBER 17 2005 AND PREVIOUS
Classified By: Deputy Political Counselor Bruce Turner, reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (SBU) In the wake of the UN Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) reports into Oil-for-Food Program (OFF) corruption, the GoF has launched investigations of a number of French nationals named in the IIC reports, though so far none have been charged with a crime. The GoF investigation is being led by financial investigating judge Philippe Courroye, who, according to press reports, has placed five individuals under formal investigation (the precursor to criminal charges): former French Ambassador to the UN (now retired) Jean-Bernard Merimee; former MFA Secretary-General (retired) Serge Boidevaix; Bernard Guillet, former Diplomatic Advisor to then-Interior Minister Charles Pasqua; Gilles Munier, former Secretary-General of the Franco-Iraqi friendship group and a
SIPDIS longtime defender of the Saddam regime; and Claude Kaspereit, president of the firm European Trading International and son of a former center-right parliamentarian. Other prominent personalities cited in IIC reports and targeted by Courroye, though not formally placed under investigation, include: former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua; Patrick Maugein, president of an oil trading company and reputed to be a longtime friend of President Chirac; Michel Grimard, a former member of the governing council of the Rally for the Republic (RPR) party, the precursor to Chirac's center-right UMP party; and Elias Firzli, a Lebanese lawyer believed to be a key middleman in OFF-related corruption.
2. (SBU) Of the individuals named in para 2, the Merimee and Boidevaix investigations attracted the most local media
scrutiny and sparked unusually harsh criticism of the French Foreign Ministry and past GoF Iraq policy, given the two former diplomats' elite status as "ambassadors for life," and high-level connections. (Bio Note: Boidevaix served as then-PM Chirac's diplomatic advisor in the mid-1970's -- during which Chirac first met with Saddam -- and went on to serve as French Ambassador to India and Germany, and MFA NEA A/S-equivalent, before retiring in 1993 from the number two position in the MFA. Merimee served as French Ambassador to the UN from 1991 to 1995, and French Ambassador to Australia, India, Morocco, and Italy, before retiring in 1996 and serving as a special advisor to UNSYG Kofi Annan.) According to IIC reports, Merimee received illicit allocations for some 6 million barrels of Iraqi oil between 1996 and 2003 (during the period he was an advisor to SYG Annan), part of which he used to buy a house in Morocco. Meanwhile, the IIC accused Boidevaix of receiving allocations for some 32 million barrels of Iraqi oil, via a non-existent front company, "Vittol-France," between 1998 and 2002. In response to the Merimee and Boidevaix allegations, the French MFA announced the creation of a new MFA "ethics committee" to oversee both current and retired diplomats; despite calls in the French media for rescinding Merimee and Boidevaix's "ambassador for life" titles, the MFA has not taken such punitive action against them to date.
3. (C) In a late January meeting with poloffs (ref C), Judge Courroye sought U.S. assistance in facilitating interviews of high-level former Iraqi regime officials, including Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz. Courroye described such testimony as crucial to his investigation of OFF-related corruption, particularly with respect to former Interior Minister Pasqua. On March 31, the center-right French daily "Le Figaro" reported that Courroye will go to Baghdad to pursue his investigation, after overcoming initial objections from the French embassy, due to security concerns. According to the "Le Figaro" report, Courroye may travel to Baghdad within days, and will seek access to SOMO archives, in addition to
interviewing former regim officials. (Comment: We will seek confirmation from Courroye on his planned Baghdad trip; post also appreciates Embassy Baghdad's efforts (ref B) to help facilitate Courrouye's request for access to former regime officials. End Comment.)
Please visit Paris' Classified Website at: http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/paris/index.c fm