Instead of Powdered Milk, French Built Arms Factory for Saddam

The French corporation, Thales Group, has denied selling arms to Saddam Hussein after an ex-official accused the company of doing just that this week in Le Monde.

However, the Thales Group needs to explain how a French “weapons manufacturer” gains a “powdered milk factory” contract in Iraq. What makes this accusation even more suspicious is that Thales was a leading supplier of weapons to Iraq according to Iraqi reports to the UN. The French State has one-third ownership in the company.

Before the War in Iraq, US Arms inspectors visited a baby milk processing plant in Abu Ghraib in December 2002 that had been bombed twice previously. The dried milk manufacturing plant was constructed under contract with SODETEG, a subsidiary of Thomson-CSF, renamed The Thales Group in 2000.


Le Monde reported this past week that a former Thales employee, Michel Josserand, claims that instead of building a powdered milk factory for Iraqi children, Thales built a factory used for chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein instead:

Michel Josserand, former chief executive of Thales Engineering and Consulting, or THEC, said in an interview with newspaper Le Monde that the paying of bribes by Thales was widespread — in violation of French law and international conventions.

“I estimate that Thales must pay out between 1 percent and 2 percent of its global revenue in illegal commissions,” he said. Thales posted revenue of 10.3 billion ($12.5 billion) for 2004.

He also said Thales had “sidestepped the (U.N.) Oil for Food Program and delivered chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein’s government.”

Josserand has told police investigating Thales that the company took part in the construction of an Iraqi chemical-weapons plant disguised as a factory that made powdered milk, Le Monde reported.

A Thales spokesman says that Thales never broke the embargo against Saddam:

Thales spokesman Christophe Robin said the company also “categorically and totally” denied the allegations concerning Iraq.

“We never broke the embargo,” Robin said in a telephone interview. “Thales does not produce chemical weapons. Thales completely denies these unfounded and dishonest allegations.”

Later Friday, Thales issued a second statement saying it had “decided to take immediate legal action for defamation against the French daily newspaper Le Monde and Michel Josserand.”

Paris prosecutors are investigating corruption allegations at Thales after irregularities surfaced in the company’s bid to build a light railway in the southern French city of Nice.

Josserand, whose THEC division won the contract, was fired by Thales and placed under formal investigation in May after the group filed a criminal complaint against its former employee.

“The group would like to point out that these allegations have been made by a former manager of this subsidiary, who was dismissed by the group for irregularities committed as part of a contract for the Nice tramway,” the Thales statement said. “Furthermore, the group itself lodged a complaint regarding corruption during this project.”

In his interview, however, Josserand described himself as a scapegoat now living in fear for his life.

He said he had informed police about bribes paid out for contracts in Greece, Argentina, Asia and elsewhere in France — often via several foreign intermediaries such as construction companies.

The French state happens to own around a third of the equity in Thales.

Before the War in Iraq, back in 2002, Iraqi officials wrote about US suspicions of biological weapons produced at a powdered milk factory:

Iraq insisted on Sunday it had no secret weapons and challenged Washington to send in CIA agents to prove otherwise. One of at least three sites visited by UN experts on Monday (December 23, 2002) was a closed baby milk plant where the facility chief told reporters later: “It was an ordinary visit and we answered all their questions.”

The chief, Youssef Taher, did not say what banned material the plant had been suspected of producing. He said the plant closed three years ago due to the high cost of producing milk locally compared to importing it. Iraq has pledged full cooperation with the inspectors.

The US did inspect a baby milk processing plant before the war began:

UN experts carried out a 24th day of inspections on Monday (December 23, 2002) visiting a factory making powdered milk for babies twice bombed by US warplanes, as Iraq hit out at Washington’s “rabid” campaign for war. After fresh denials from the regime it has any prohibited arms or banned military programmes, at least three UN teams were at work in the field in the morning.

Inspectors from the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) went back to the giant Al Fao engineering plant in the Al-Kremiat area, which they had already visited on Saturday. A biological team entered the baby milk factory at Abu Ghreib, 20 kilometres northwest of the capital. Suspected of hiding biological weapons production, the factory was totally destroyed during the 1991 Gulf war and bombed again in 1998 after reconstruction.

French weapon’s companies have a strange history of building unused powdered milk factories in Iraq. You can read more about these projects HERE.

The French company Thales, according to Iraqi reports, was one of the biggest contributors to the Iraqi weapon’s program:

Just take a look at the French companies that have been part of Iraq’s weapons programs, according to the Iraqi’s own accounting in their last report to the UN. They include

·Thomson CSF ·Aerospatiale ·Matra Espace ·The Thales Group

These companies are among France’s largest defense firms. The French government has a substantial interest in each of them. Therefore, they’ve had a direct economic stake in maintaining Saddam.

Even under UN sanctions, France was the largest of Iraq’s trading partners, representing over 22% of Iraq’s imports last year, totaling over $3 billion.

It seems probable that these relationships didn’t end just because of the UN sanctions or US pressure.

Also, in August of this year, according to the Duelfer Report, half of the companies in the Oil for Food Program paid kickbacks for surcharges.

Earlier this year, the Duelfer Report accused French officials and businessmen of receiving bribes in the Oil for Food Program. Several French businessmen received vouchers giving them the right to buy millions of barrels of Iraqi oil at discounted prices
under the United Nations Oil-for-Food Program.

Thales has a US plant and office in Irvine, CA.

Erik at the French Blog No Pasaran has more on this story and questionable French business practices.

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