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MP questions Iraq role of Briton tainted over Elf

Antony Barnett and Martin Bright
Sunday November 16, 2003
The Observer

A British billionaire with links to the Government is to make a fortune from post-Saddam Iraq despite being convicted of fraud in Europe's largest corruption scandal.

Nadhmi Auchi, who has a big stake in a consortium to build Iraq's mobile phone net work, was given a 15-month suspended jail sentence in Paris last week and fined £1.4 million for his role in the Elf oil scandal.

Iraqi-born Auchi brokered a number of deals with Saddam's regime. He is believed to have advised the Government on Iraq and was once tipped for a post-war role.

Last week Auchi was found guilty of receiving illegal commissions worth £30m to help Elf buy a refinery in Spain. He is to appeal. The trial saw Elf's former chief executive, Loik le Floch-Prigent, jailed for five years for embezzling £210 million to bribe politicians and middlemen.

Opposition MPs pressed the Government to explain its relationship with Auchi. Science Minister Lord Sainsbury once presented a gift and gave a speech in his honour. Former Foreign Office Minister Keith Vaz was a director of his London company General Mediterranean Holdings and made 'factual inquiries' on Auchi's behalf over the French extradition request.

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, who sits on the Treasury Select Committee, will be tabling parliamentary questions about the tycoon this week. He said: 'In the light of Auchi's conviction on very serious corruption charges and persistent rumours that he has been advising the Government informally on post-war Iraq, we need to know what exactly is the relationship between him and the Blair administration.'

Last month the Coalition Provision Authority gave a consortium backed by Auchi the contract to build a mobile phone network in Iraq. He gave a £20m loan to Egyptian telecom firm Orascam, and owns 6 per cent of the firm leading the consortium.

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