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A U.S. citizen pleaded guilty Tuesday to secretly working for the Iraqi government for the repeal of sanctions against the regime of Saddam Hussein. In the first conviction in the Southern District U.S. Attorney’s investigation of the United Nations oil-for-food scandal, Iraqi-born Samir Ambrose Vincent, 64, admitted that he conspired to act as an unregistered agent of a foreign power by lobbying in the United States. Vincent has agreed to cooperate with the government in what was described Tuesday by U.S. Attorney David Kelley as “the first overt step” in a wide-ranging investigation that has far to go. “If you just go by the information and the plea allocution, the defendant inculpated, or at least referenced, Iraqi officials, U.N. officials and former United States officials,” Kelley said. “We are also dealing with large quantities of oil, and our investigation is going to chase all the leads and follow them to their logical conclusion, whether that results in charges or not.” Vincent, who portrayed himself as a key player in establishing the program, was quietly ushered into a courtroom in lower Manhattan Tuesday morning. There, Judge Denny Chin accepted his plea allocution in a case presented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Edward C. O’Callaghan and Stephen A. Miller. Vincent pleaded guilty to four counts — acting as an unregistered agent, conspiracy to do the same, making false statements on his income tax return and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by lobbying for the repeal of sanctions imposed by President George H.W. Bush after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces in 1990. The conspiracy outlined in the criminal information alleges that Vincent worked on behalf of the Iraqi government to fight or circumvent sanctions from 1992 through 2003. As part of his work, Vincent received instructions from high-level Iraqi officials in 1995 to begin meeting with U.N. officials in Manhattan during the run-up to the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 986, which set the stage for the oil-for-food program. Iraq began selling oil in the program in December 1996. Although conceived as a way to alleviate the negative effect on children and other civilians of anti-regime sanctions imposed in the wake of the invasion of Kuwait, the U.S. government alleges, the oil-for-food program was corrupt to the core. The government alleges that the program provided a way for Saddam Hussein to siphon money and stay in power. From at least 2000 to 2003, the information charges, the Iraqi government conditioned the release of oil to purchasers on the payment of secret surcharges, with at least hundreds of millions of dollars “paid to front companies and/or bank accounts under the control of the Iraqi Government in various countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.” Vincent allegedly made plenty of money for his role as a secret agent of Iraq, helping to influence U.N. officials about the framework of the oil-for-food program. He was paid in cash and in Iraqi oil, the government said, receiving five allocations of oil totaling about 9 million barrels between 1997 and 2001. He allegedly made millions in re-selling it to an unidentified oil company. All told, Vincent made between $3 million and $5 million. The government alleges that some of the millions in cash delivered to Vincent by the Iraqi government was passed on to others, the ultimate destination being U.N. officials. According to a court transcript, Vincent told Chin he was instrumental in setting up the program in the first place. “In the early 1990s, I became concerned about the impact of the United Nations sanctions on the Iraqi people,” he said. “I began talking to Iraqi officials, including some who were my former schoolmates at Jesuit High School in Baghdad, and to prominent people in the United States about trying to set up a program under which Iraq would sell oil under the auspices of the United Nations and use the proceeds to purchase humanitarian goods.” Vincent said that after speaking with a number of Iraqi officials in Manhattan and Baghdad, he conveyed proposals on behalf of Baghdad to high-ranking United Nations officials. These exchanges were the start of negotiations for the establishment of the oil-for-food program, he said. Vincent said he also negotiated agreements for compensation. “Several million dollars in cash was sent by the Iraqi government to Iraqi government officials in New York pursuant to those agreements,” he said. “Several hundred thousand dollars was given to me in Manhattan, and the rest was given to others, one of whom I understood was a United Nations official.” Vincent said that, in late 2000, when Iraq began demanding kickbacks on oil allocations, he refused to pay and was told he would receive no more allocations. He acknowledged never registering as an agent, telling the judge, “I understood that the Iraqi Government did not want some of my activities on their behalf to become public.” Vincent was represented by Robert S. Litt and Jeffrey H. Smith of Arnold & Porter.

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