USDA Secretary Mike Johanns announced the immediate suspension and proposes permanent debarment of Australian wheat exporter AWB Wednesday. The company, which recently effectively lost its monopoly exporter status in Australia, has been under fire after evidence surfaced that the company paid millions in bribes to Saddam Hussein's regime.
"We have a duty to protect the public interest by ensuring the firms and individuals with whom we do business abide by the law," says Johanns. "We have taken this immediate step based on evidence of illicit activities and, in some cases, evidence of attempts to conceal those activities."
The idea of debarment had come up after the Nov. 27 Cole Commission Report, which found that AWB had exploited the U.N. Oil-for-Food program and paid over $200 million in bribes and kickbacks to the Iraqi government.
Effective immediately, these companies and individuals are barred from participating in any U.S. government procurements as well as many other U.S. government programs such as loan guarantees. During the suspension, FAS will conduct proceedings that may result in debarment of AWB Limited and its former employees indefinitely, and CSC for five years. AWB Limited and the 11 individuals face indefinite debarment because there is evidence to suspect that their direct involvement in the bribes and kickbacks paid to the Saddam Hussein regime were made more egregious by attempts to cover-up their actions.