By Claire West

Riad El-Taher has been jailed for 10 months for making illegal payments to the Iraqi Government of Saddam Hussein in contravention of United Nations sanctions and UK law.

Riad El-Taher, a British citizen aged 71 from Esher, Surrey, has admitted that in 2001 he made four illegal payments totalling over $500,000 to the Iraqi Government in order to secure lucrative oil contracts. During this period payments to Iraq could legally only be made after a licence had been granted by HM Treasury. El-Taher had neither obtained nor sought any such licence.

The contracts obtained by the illegal payments were for two million barrels of oil valued at over $50 million. This oil was sold for a profit of over $600,000, most of which was deposited in an offshore bank account controlled by El-Taher.

United Nations sanctions
Economic sanctions were imposed by the United Nations in 1990 following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. They barred all imports and exports from Iraq with some exceptions such as medicines. After Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait, the UN resolved in 1991 that sanctions would only be lifted following destruction of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons, inspection of its nuclear capabilities and payment of compensation to the victims of its invasion of Kuwait.

In 1995 the UN relaxed the sanctions regime to allow the export of oil to fund the purchase of food, medicine and other humanitarian goods provided that all monies created by the sale of Iraqi crude oil went into a UN controlled escrow account; with all purchases of humanitarian goods being paid out of the same account. At no stage were monies to be paid to Iraq. This relaxation of the sanctions regime was known as the Oil For Food Programme and lasted until 2003 when all sanctions were lifted following the coalition invasion of Iraq and the end of the Saddam Hussein regime.

The illegal payments made by El-Taher related to contracts entered into under the Oil For Food Programme.

UK law
The breaching of United Nation sanctions on Iraq was made a criminal offence in the United Kingdom by legislation implemented in 1990 and 2000.

El-Taher pleaded guilty to offences under the legislation implemented in 2000, i.e. The Iraq (United Nations Sanctions) Order 2000 (Statutory Instrument 3241) which made it a criminal offence to make funds available to the Iraqi Government without a licence granted by HM Treasury.

SFO investigation
After the fall of the government of Saddam Hussein, the UN set up a committee to investigate sanctions breaches. This committee published its findings in October 2005, identifying El-Taher as one of the individuals involved in breaking sanctions

The SFO investigation led to El Taher being arrested in August 2008 and charged in August 2009. He pleaded guilty to all charges on 13 January 2011 and was sentenced today, 25 February 2011.

Commenting on the result, SFO Director Richard Alderman said

"I am pleased with this result. The offences committed here denied humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq. The SFO has been investigating these breaches of sanctions resolutely".