UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 26 - More than 4,500 companies took part in the United Nations oil-for-food program and more than half of them paid illegal surcharges and kickbacks to Saddam Hussein, according to the independent committee investigating the program.
The country with the most companies involved in the program was Russia, followed by France, the committee says in a report to be released Thursday. The inquiry was led by Paul A. Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.
The findings are in the committee's fifth and final report, a document of more than 500 pages that will detail how outside companies from more than 60 countries were able to evade United Nations controls and make money for themselves as well as for the Hussein government.
Three investigators who described their findings in interviews declined to name the companies, though they said the companies would be identified in the document on Thursday. They refused to speak on the record about the report until it is released.
The new report studies the people outside Iraq who profited illicitly and how they did it. It will identify companies and individuals who took part, both deliberately and inadvertently, and will chronicle in detail the experience of 30 to 40 of them, the investigators said.
In an interview, Mr. Volcker said that while he knew the naming of companies and the exposure of international "machinations" would draw attention, he hoped it would not obscure his committee's purpose in keeping the focus of their work on the need for United Nations reform.
"In my mind," he said, "this part of our investigation, looking at the manipulation of the program outside the U.N., strongly reinforces the case that the U.N. itself carries a large part of this responsibility and needs reform.
"Even though we are looking at it from the outside, it kind of screams out at you, 'Why didn't somebody blow a whistle?' The central point is that it all adds up to the same story. You need some pretty thoroughgoing reforms at the U.N."
Those manipulating the program ranged from established trading companies to front companies set up for the purpose, and included some companies of international reputation as well as many well known in their home countries, the investigators said.
Mr. Hussein received $1.8 billion in illicit income from surcharges and kickbacks on the sales of oil and humanitarian goods during 1996-2003, when the program ran, the committee concluded in its last report in September.
Earlier Volcker committee reports summarizing the year and a half of inquiries have examined the activities of the United Nations, finding the institution's management inept and corrupt, and providing evidence that the program's former director, Benon V. Sevan, received kickbacks himself.
The $64 billion program was set up by the Security Council to help ease the effects of United Nations sanctions on the 27 million Iraqis by supplying food and medicines in exchange for letting the Hussein government export oil.
The investigators said Thursday's report would detail how Mr. Hussein first steered the program to gain political advantage with political allies and countries in a position to ease the United Nations sanctions. Both Russia and France are veto-bearing members of the Security Council.
"Then it got corrupted with a capital C when Saddam figured out how to make money off of it by putting on the surcharges and kickbacks," one investigator said.
At first, he said, companies balked at paying the extra fees, and the oil sales slowed. At that point, "less orthodox companies" came forward and accepted the terms, opening the way for the program's full scale exploitation and allowing legitimate companies to buy oil from illegitimate ones.
Another investigator noted that in the years immediately preceding the program, smuggling of Iraqi oil in much larger amounts had been going on for years to the benefit of the economies of American allies, including Jordan and Turkey. In his last report, Mr. Volcker said this smuggling amounted to $10.99 billion.
This investigator suggested that this had a compromising effect on the Security Council's willingness to step in and stop the practice. "Three years, four years already, letting the oil flow into Jordan and Turkey, so now you're going to be very strict about this smaller volume of oil?" he asked. "Unlikely."
All the companies named have been notified, and many have replied, with some of their responses reflected in the final report, an investigator said.
"The responses range from absolute denial to complete admittance," he said. "Some said, 'We had no knowledge of it' - that's a pretty standard response - and some said, 'If we paid it, we don't know we paid it.' "
Mr. Volcker has noted in the past that his committee is not a law-enforcement body, and expects the information it gathers to be turned over to national prosecutors. The committee is expected to close down at the end of November, and investigators declined to discuss whether it might extend its life beyond then.
The committee said some companies had complained that the evidence against them was gathered in Iraq and was therefore not trustworthy. But a lead investigator said that in those cases where corroborating evidence was available, the Iraqi information turned out to be sound.
"Everybody down the line kept very meticulous records because Saddam told them, 'You get the surcharge from everybody,' " he said. "So they all wanted to document how they got the surcharge."
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