Australians Agree Payout over Bribes

Australia's AWB wheat firm agreed on Monday to pay 39.5 million Australian dollars (35 million $US) to settle a class action for bribing the regime of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to secure lucrative deals.

The former monopoly exporter will make the payment, including interest and costs, to more than 1,000 shareholders and farmers who claimed the scandal cost them 100 million Australian dollars.

"We are pleased that it has been settled," retired farmer John Watson told reporters outside the Federal Court in Sydney. "We are pleased that corporate accountability has been brought to the fore."

Sanctions-busting kickbacks were paid by AWB to secure billions of dollars in grain deals with Iraq between 1999 and 2003 under a United Nations oil-for-food programme.

Iraq's new government suspended business with the AWB in 2006 after their role in the scandal was confirmed by an official inquiry.

AWB chairman Peter Polson described the settlement, which still needs court approval, as "commercially acceptable" and said it was in the best interests of shareholders.

"The company is pleased to put this matter behind it as this is the final legal matter directed against the company in Australia arising out of activities under the United Nations Oil For Food Programme," he said in a statement.

The programme ended in 2003 after the United States-led invasion of Iraq toppled Saddam, who was executed in December 2006.

A key allegation was that AWB failed to meet disclosure obligations to the market about the payments, which were disguised as fees to a Jordanian company.

In August, Australian authorities decided not to pursue criminal charges after an independent review found prospects of a successful prosecution were "limited and not in the public interest".

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