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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)

Update 1.31.04.

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

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February 19, 2004 12:30 PM | Permalink for this comment

The Guardian is investigating the money that made its way into British anti-sanctions campaigns. No further word about Father Benjamin's oil rights, but it does look like various governments are taking the documents that implicate Benjamin and 269 others seriously.


May 3, 2004 05:23 PM | Permalink for this comment

Josh Marshall follows up on news from Iraq about the stalled investigation into the payoffs here and here.

The heart of matter, again, is that Saddam Hussein allegedly used the program to engineer pay-offs to a long list political leaders and journalists around the world. The problem is that none of the documents which are said to support this claim have been seen, let alone authenticated by any neutral observers. . . .

Let me be clear, I don't think any of this means that these allegations are not true. I figure that most of them are. But I say that mainly on the basis of the supposition that this hullabaloo wouldn't have gotten so far without there being something to it. And that's not a particularly good reason.


June 7, 2004 12:54 PM | Permalink for this comment

Josh Marshall notes that the documents on which the allegations are based have now been "lost" in the turmoil around Chalabi's intelligence give-away to Iran. Hmm.

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