Probe of Ashcroft conflicts

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

Federal grand juries in New York and Washington have turned up major conflicts of interest involving U.S. Attorney General John Ashcraft.

Although Ashcroft recused himself from the Enron investigation because of a conflict, he has not done so in connection with campaign donations from ExxonMobil and BP Amoco.

Both grand juries remain active, but Ashcroft has quietly moved to exert control over the New York grand jury and to exercise extraordinary influence over the Washington grand jury.

This comes after the departure of Mary Jo White, who was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York state. She left because of what she said was interference from Washington with her prosecution and investigation of alleged terrorists after the attacks of Sept. 11.

The New York Times, in October 2001 reported White’s authority, after eight years of successful prosecutions, was transferred to Washington, D.C. She had coordinated a Joint Terrorist Task Force and got more than two dozen convictions in five major trials. Her office indicted 15 of the 22 most wanted terror suspects as identified by the White House.

The Times said Washington officials haven’t stated where the grand juries will convene or where indictments may be brought.

Grand juries are investigating allegations that Exxon and British Petroleum Amoco paid cash bribes to the president of Kazakhstan and his oil minister, and that Mobil carried out an illegal swap of Kazakh oil through Iran in 1997.

Vice President Cheney’s energy task force was meeting with representatives of both companies after the grand juries were empaneled because of information from Mideast sources and from Swiss banks.

According to From the Wilderness, an Internet publication, Mobil bought a 25 percent stake in Kazakhstan’s Tengiz oil field after Chevron previously purchased a 50 percent stake. Condoleeza Rice, Bush’s national security advisor, formerly was on the Chevron board of directors.

The oil swap with Iran was seen as a desperate bid to get the Tengiz oil to market. The only thing preventing the oil companies and their ancillary industries from building the necessary pipelines was the Taliban.

American oil companies with heavy investment in the oil fields of the region included ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, BP Amoco, Phillips, Total/Fina/ELF, Unocal, Halliburton and Enron. Enron alone invested more than $3 billion in a power plant in Dabhol, India. Enron also held contracts for feasibility studies for pipeline construction in the area.

Allegations being investigated involve violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the 1996 Iran Trade Sanctions Act.

ExxonMobil was the single largest contributor to Ashcroft’s campaign fund in the 2000 Senate race. The company gave $11,650, some $4,140 more than Enron. Other oil industry donors to Ashcroft’s campaign which have heavy investments in Kazakhstan include Chevron ($7,500), Enron ($7,499), Independent Petroleum Association of America ($5,000), BP Amoco ($4,000) and Halliburton ($3,500). The information is contained in documents held by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Total reported corporate donations to Ashcroft from oil companies with vested interests in opening up Kazakh oil fields amount to $39,149. That figure does not include soft money donations. These contributions are exceeded only by Enterprise Rent-a-Car as Ashcroft’s largest contributor.

ExxonMobil’s role in the alleged bribery and illegal oil swap was documented by Seymour Hersh in a July 2001 article in New Yorker magazine.

Ashcroft declined to comment on allegations of conflicts of interest. In May 2001, at The Hague in the Netherlands, he said: “We must come to recognition, personally and culturally, that corruption is not just a violation of the law, not just an economic disadvantage, and not merely a political problem, but that it is morally wrong. It is now widely recognized that the consequences of corruption can be devastating; devastating to economies, devastating to the poor, devastating to the legitimacy and stability of government and devastating to the moral fabric of society.”

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