A Houston oil trader pleaded guilty Friday in New York to U.S. fraud charges in connection with illegal profits and kickbacks involving the United Nations oil-for-food program in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule.
The trader, David Chalmers Jr., admitted that he and two companies he ran, Bayoil USA and Bayoil Supply and Trading, made millions of dollars in kickbacks to the Iraqi government — as well as huge profits — while trading oil under the $65 billion aid program.
In April 2005, Bayoil USA became the first American company to be indicted in the wide-ranging criminal investigation of the program, which was established by the United Nations in 1995 to ease some aspects of the sanctions imposed on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990. Under it, Saddam's government could use the money from limited oil sales to buy supplies like food and medicine.
The authorities said Bayoil and Chalmers not only made illegal payments to get Iraqi oil but also conspired to artificially lower its price, thus depriving the Iraqis of money for items they sorely needed. A man described by the authorities as an associate of Bayoil, Ludmil Dionissiev, a Bulgarian oil trader living in Houston, also pleaded guilty Friday to charges of fraud and conspiracy in the case.
"Motivated by greed, they flouted the law, made a mockery of the stated aims of the oil-for-food program and willingly conspired with a foreign government with whom our country was on the brink of war," John Klochan Jr., an FBI official in New York, said in 2005 when Chalmers was arrested.
Klochan also said Chalmers and others had turned the United Nations program into a "cash cow masquerading as a humanitarian venture."
The proceeding in Federal District Court in Manhattan followed the established pattern for guilty pleas. Chalmers, 53, appeared in court with his lawyer, Andrew Weissmann, and told the judge, Denny Chin, that he was pleading guilty of his own free will. He said he had recently been treated for stress by a doctor who was also treating him for alcohol abuse.
He then told the court that in the early 2000s, he had made deals to trade Iraqi oil, even though he knew the trades were outside the legal boundaries of the oil-for-food program and in violation of sanctions on Iraq. He also said he had sent an unspecified amount of money to an agent of Bayoil who then passed it on as a kickback to the Iraqi government.
Chalmers admitted as well that he had faxed letters to the United Nations headquarters in New York related to his legal dealings with Iraq, but he never mentioned the illegal ones. The kickbacks, he admitted, allowed him and his companies to export oil from Iraq.
Chalmers faced 20 years in prison on his guilty plea, but under an agreement with U.S. prosecutors, his recommended sentence has been reduced to 37 to 46 months. He also agreed to forfeit $9.1 million in profits.
Another Texas oil man, Oscar Wyatt Jr., has also been charged in the case, accused of paying kickbacks to Saddam's government.