PENTAGON: CANCEL IRAQ CELL DEALS

Ever since America invaded, there's been something fishy about cell phone service in Iraq. First, the Coalition Provisional Authority ordered Bahraini mobile firm Batelco to shut down its cell service -- after allegedly spending millions on infrastructure. Then, a contract was mysteriously awarded to Orascom Telecom (OT), an Egyptian firm teetering on bankruptcy's brink.Now, the Washington Times reports, the Pentagon has asked the CPA to cancel $500 million worth of contracts of OT and two other cell providers, "citing fraud and the companies' links to an Iraqi-born Briton with ties to Saddam Hussein."OT is partly owned by Nadhmi Auchi, who also has a controlling interest in the bank BNP Paribas. The French financial giant has been accused of helping Saddam Hussein drain the U.N.'s "Oil-for-Food" program for his personal gain.

The Orascom contract contains a provision prohibiting ownership of the license from being held by "supporters or beneficiaries of the Saddam Hussein regime," [a Pentagon] memorandum said...Pentagon investigators have said bribes of up to $11.5 million were paid to Iraqis and other foreign nationals to win the contracts for the three companies with links to Auchi, who was convicted last year by a French court as part of an oil company financial scheme...U.S. officials said last week that the FBI is conducting a preliminary inquiry into whether Auchi or his associates bribed U.S. and Iraqi officials to fix bids for Iraqi cell phone contracts.
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