Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Thursday that his senior advisers did not alert him to a string of warnings that Australia's monopoly wheat exporter was paying millions of dollars in kickbacks to Iraq's Saddam Hussein to secure contracts under the UN's discredited oil-for-food program.
Howard, who spent just 50 minutes on the stand, was the most senior of three government ministers to testify this week at a so-called Royal Commission into alleged bribes paid to Baghdad by the Australian Wheat Board. All three denied being told of the multimillion-dollar corruption accusations until UN officials began investigating the company, now known as AWB Ltd.
Howard is the first prime minister to appear at such a high-level inquiry since former Labour leader Bob Hawke testified at a probe into Australia's intelligence agencies in 1983.
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