Friday, January 30, 2004
A priest's 4.5 million barrels of oil.
Question: What does a Roman Catholic priest do with 4.5 million barrels of Iraqi oil? Apparently, he sets up meetings between Tariq Aziz and Pope John Paul II.
Brian Ross of ABC News reports that a list has been found in Iraq's oil ministry that names "270 prominent individuals, political parties or corporations in 47 countries" who were "given Iraq oil contracts instantly worth millions of dollars" — apparently in exchange for helping Saddam Hussein's government.
Let's focus on one individual listed under "Italy" in the ABC News list: Fr. Jean-Marie Benjamin of Assisi. (The Australian Broadcasting Corporation called him "A priest for peace".) Eleven months ago, Fr. Benjamin set up a meeting between Saddam's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, and the pope. He also brought Aziz to the tomb of St. Francis. According to the National Catholic Reporter:
Aziz's Feb. 13-16 trip to Italy was arranged by Fr. Jean Marie Benjamin, 56, a French priest living in Italy who has written books [Irak, l'apocalypse, Irak, ce que Bush ne dit pas], produced documentary films ["Iraq: The Journey to the Forbidden Kingdom" and "Iraq: The Birth of Time"], and recorded songs against the U.N.-imposed sanctions in Iraq as well as against a possible war ["Mr President" and "Un giorno nuovo," on CD and DVD here].
Benjamin, who has known Aziz since 1998 and describes himself as a friend, spoke Feb. 17 in an exclusive interview with NCR.
A former U.N. official and classical music composer, Benjamin told NCR that he wrote on Jan. 12 to Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the pope's foreign minister, asking if the pope would receive Aziz if he came to Rome. Tauran sent a reply by fax 48 hours later, Benjamin said, indicating that if a request came from Iraq's embassy to the Holy See, it would receive a favorable reply.
It appears that Benjamin also benefitted handsomely from his advocacy on behalf of Iraq's government. But doesn't that make him a lobbyist rather than an activist? I have a bit of a problem with the idea of a priest to whom Caesar renders a little kickback.
ABC News explains what 4.5 million barrels translates into:
"You are looking at a political slush fund that was buying political support for the regime of Saddam Hussein for the last six or seven years," said financial investigator John Fawcett.
Investigators say none of the people involved would have actually taken possession of oil, but rather just the right to buy the oil at a discounted price, which could be resold to a legitimate broker or oil company, at an average profit of about 50 cents a barrel.
That would amount to at least $2 million. Tariq Aziz was apparently a very generous friend.
(Via Andy at Mycelium Network)
The Associated Press reports Fr. Benjamin's denial:
"After having dedicated a number of years to dangerous and tiring work to support the Iraqi people, ... to be denigrated in such a fashion, with such vulgar slanders, shows once more how infinite is the wickedness of those who in truth are now interested in Iraqi oil," Father Benjamin said.
The report also indicates that the list of 270 recipients of Iraqi oil rights has not been fully corroborated, which leaves open the real possibility that the list could be spurious. To be continued . . .
Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 30 January 2004 at 5:00 PM