Tariq Aziz will not testify against Saddam, denies graft in U.N. program.

Tariq Aziz, a jailed former senior aide to Saddam Hussein, wants to write a book about Saddam but rejected reports that he will testify against the former dictator, his lawyer said Friday. Aziz also denied there was any corruption in the U.N.-run oil-for-food program.

The lawyer, Badee Izzat Aref, said he met Aziz -- Iraq's former deputy prime minister and foreign minister -- for five hours Thursday in a small room in an area near Baghdad with a member of the U.S. military present.

Aref quoted Aziz as saying he denied "any wrongdoings related to the oil-for-food program" that allowed Iraq to sell oil to buy food and medicine for its people suffering under U.N. sanctions imposed in 1990.

U.N. officials have been accused of corruption in the oil-for-food program that started in 1996. A report in October by U.S. arms inspector Charles Duelfer said Saddam was able to "subvert" the $60 billion program to generate an estimated $1.7 billion in revenue outside U.N. control from 1997 to 2003.

The report alleged that Iraq tried to manipulate foreign governments by awarding contracts and bribes to foreign companies and political figures in countries who showed support for ending sanctions, in particular U.N. Security Council members Russia, France and China. It alleged, among other things, that Aziz paid a cash bribe of up to $20 million to a female colonel in the Russian Intelligence Service.

The corruption allegations have further strained relations between the United Nations and Washington.

The Iraqi media has speculated that Aziz could agree to testify against Saddam and other top leaders as part of a plea bargain. But Aref said that would not happen.

"I am not ready to testify against President Saddam Hussein. I will not say anything that contradicts with my conscience and honor," Aziz said a handwritten statement that Aref showed to an Associated Press reporter.

"I am not ready to speak about Saddam Hussein now, but I will when I become a free person. I will write a book about him because I am not ready to testify in front of any court or any judge," Aref quoted Aziz as saying. "It is a conspiracy. When the Americans want us dead they will hand us over to Iraqis and ... they will kill us. The orders will be American but the hands that carry it out will be Iraqi."

The lawyer said his driver dropped him at a checkpoint near Baghdad's airport for the visit Thursday and he was taken from there in a three-vehicle convoy for a 20-minute drive to the location where Aziz and 10 other former Saddam aides are being held.

"Before going into the room, American soldiers asked me not to hug him, so I only shook hands with him," the lawyer said.

Aref said Aziz told him he meets the other 10 top Baath Party officials, excluding Saddam, during a three-hour break every day when they can walk in the open air or have a shower. They are only allowed three showers a week, Aziz said.

Aref said Aziz told him former prime minister Mohammed Hamza al-Zubaidi appears to be suffering from psychological problems.

"He always hallucinates," Aziz was quoted as saying.

It was the first meeting between Aziz and his lawyer since he was captured by U.S. troops 20 months ago. The meeting came shortly before Aziz is expected to be interrogated by an investigative judge.

Aref, who said Aziz's family had chosen him to defend the former minister, said he did not know when Aziz would be questioned by an investigative judge.

"He appeared in good spirits and good health," Aref said.

The meeting comes 10 days after interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said war crimes trials against Iraq's former Baath Party leaders were about to start.

Last week, Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as Chemical Ali for his role in poison gas attacks against the Kurdish minority, and former Defense Minister Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmad appeared at a preliminary hearing.

Aziz was among 12 defendants, including Saddam Hussein, who appeared before the judge to hear charges against them in July.

Aziz, the only Christian in the top Baath Party leadership, was allegedly involved in several party purges in the 1970s and 80s during which an unspecified number of people died.

[Source: By Omar Sinan, Associated Press, Baghdad, Irq, 24Dec04]

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