Houston Oilman Oscar Wyatt Goes to Trial in UN Oil-for-Food Case

Prosecutors portray Houston oilman Oscar Wyatt as so eager to win oil contracts from Saddam Hussein's government that he told Iraqi officials about the impending U.S. invasion. But defense attorneys say that was no more than was discussed widely in the media at the time. Houston Public Radio's Ed Mayberry reports that Wyatt's trial is set to begin in New York.

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Oscar Wyatt is accused of funneling millions of dollars in kickbacks to Saddam's regime to win contracts under the United Nations' Oil-for-Food program. The 83-year-old oilman had contracts with Iraq until the eve of war in 2003. Houston oilmen David Chalmers, Jr., and BayOil employee Ludmil Dionissiev pleaded guilty to charges related to illegal payments to Iraq earlier this month. They are to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Denny Chin in Manhattan on November 19th.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela and Czechoslovakia William Luers is president of the United Nations Association, which works to engage Americans in issues of global concern. He says the Oil-for-Food program had several objectives.

"One was to stop the smuggling of oil (that) Saddam Hussein was undertaking. He was sneaking it out, with our tacit permission, through Turkey and Jordan. Secondly was to feed the people of Iraq. The retuns from this could be used to buy medicines and food, because the sanctions had the effect of having a heavy negative on the people who lived there and most of the money that was available through the smuggling of oil went to Saddam Hussein and his clique. The big mistake, which was negotiated by the principle members of the Security Council, was to give the authority to Saddam Hussein to let all the contracts. He made the decision as to who was going to sell him oil."

Oscar Wyatt was granted the very first allocation under the Oil-for-Food program in 1996.

"Virtually all the money that was stolen were 4,000 companies and individuals around the world who made deals directly with Saddam Hussein. So he got a cut, they got a cut, and then there was the price paid for the oil by the buyer. The only american that I know who was kept on the list was Oscar Wyatt, who apparently did have this relationship with Saddam Hussein. Now, I'm not going to judge whether it was criminal or not. I just have the sense that for years, he had this special relationship with Hussein."

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin ruled that prosecutors can present--as evidence--the handwritten notes from an employee of Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization. The diary said Wyatt, at a January 27th, 2003 meeting, discussed the nature of the invasion of Iraq--troop numbers, timing and direction of attack. But defense attorney Gerald Shargel said that his client never told the Iraqis anything that was not publicly known leading up to the war.

Ed Mayberry, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...