GSK, AstraZeneca confirm in British Iraq 'bribes' probe

GSK,  AstraZeneca  confirm in British Iraq 'bribes' probe

( AFP ) - British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and Anglo-Swedish peer AstraZeneca are being investigated over bribes allegedly paid to Saddam Hussein's deposed Iraqi regime, they confirmed Saturday.

Both companies have been asked to hand over documents by Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which is probing possible breaches of the United Nations' oil-for-food sanctions against dictator Saddam's regime.

GSK and AstraZeneca denied any wrongdoing and said they were co-operating fully with the investigation.

"GSK does not believe that its employees or its agents in Iraq knowingly engaged in wrongdoing regarding the oil-for-food programme," said a spokesman for the firm.

"In fact GSK went to considerable lengths to co-operate with UK government authorities responsible for the UK administration of the programme and to impose anti-corruption measures when dealing with intermediaries in Iraq at a time when the environment was extremely volatile and difficult."

An AstraZeneca spokeswoman said: " AstraZeneca has received a request from the SFO for documents as part of its review of the oil-for-food programme in Iraq.

"The company will be providing the documentation."

The SFO said in February it had opened a formal probe into "issues relating to the breaches of the embargo (against Iraq)". The probe could take three years and is expected to cost around 22 million pounds (44 million dollars, 30 million euros).

The oil-for-food programme ran from 1996 to 2003, the year in which US-led forces invaded Iraq. It allowed Baghdad to sell oil in exchange for humanitarian goods the country lacked due to sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

But the Iraqi government swindled millions of dollars from the scheme, sparking a scandal that caused huge embarrassment to the UN.

Paul Volcker , the former US Federal Reserve chairman, said in a 2005 report into abuses of the programme that Saddam's regime demanded kickbacks from foreign companies under the scheme, and accused more than 2,000 companies of involvement.

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