In 1995 the UN relaxed the sanctions regime to allow the export of oil to fund the purchase of food, medicine and other humanitarian goods provided that all monies created by the sale of Iraqi crude oil went into a UN controlled escrow account; with all purchases of humanitarian goods being paid out of the same account. At no stage were monies to be paid to Iraq. This relaxation of the sanctions regime was known as the Oil For Food Programme and lasted until 2003 when all sanctions were lifted following the coalition invasion of Iraq and the end of the Saddam Hussein regime.
The illegal payments made by El-Taher related to contracts entered into under the Oil For Food Programme.
The breaching of United Nation sanctions on Iraq was made a criminal offence in the United Kingdom by legislation implemented in 1990 and 2000.
El-Taher pleaded guilty to offences under the legislation implemented in 2000, i.e. The Iraq (United Nations Sanctions) Order 2000 (Statutory Instrument 3241) which made it a criminal offence to make funds available to the Iraqi Government without a licence granted by HM Treasury.
After the fall of the government of Saddam Hussein, the UN set up a committee to investigate sanctions breaches. This committee published its findings in October 2005, identifying El-Taher as one of the individuals involved in breaking sanctions.