By Daniel Trotta and Paritosh Bansal Mon Oct 1, 1:39 PM ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Aging Texas oilman Oscar Wyatt pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Monday in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal in which millions of dollars in kickbacks were paid to Saddam Hussein's government to win oil contracts from Iraq.
"I did not want to waste any more time -- I am 83 years old -- fooling with this operation. The quicker I get it over with the better," Wyatt said after the hearing.
The self-made tycoon known for his unfettered opinions and flamboyant style pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one of five charges against him, cutting short his trial in the face of extensive evidence.
Before prosecutors had rested their case in U.S. District Court, Wyatt suddenly agreed to plead guilty and admitted in court to agreeing to advise others to pay a surcharge into an Iraqi account in Jordan.
Under terms of the deal, the other charges will be dropped and he will be sentenced to 18 to 24 months in prison on November 27, versus the maximum of 74 years if convicted on all five counts. He also agreed to forfeit $11 million.
The Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office has now won six guilty verdicts and one jury conviction of individuals in connection with the oil-for-food program with several more defendants pending trial and six companies ensnared in the probe.
The program was established to help Saddam's Iraq sell oil to buy humanitarian supplies while it was otherwise under U.N. sanctions due to its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
But a U.N.-commissioned inquiry headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker found the program was corrupted by 2,200 companies in 66 countries that paid $1.8 billion in kickbacks to Iraqi officials to win supply deals.
Prosecutors said Wyatt was at the forefront of the scheme and presented bank records, U.N. records and Iraqi government records to back their claim that Wyatt paid kickbacks to secure Iraqi oil contracts.
One day of the trial produced an audio tape of Wyatt conversing in 1990 with the late Saddam, who was executed by hanging in December 2006 after an Iraqi trial for crimes against humanity.
Wyatt got his start selling oil drill bits out of the trunk of his car and went on to found the Coastal Corporation, which was sold to El Paso Corporation for $17 billion in stock in 2000 and 2001.
El Paso Corporation agreed to cooperate with the investigation when it settled a criminal and civil case with the government in February. El Paso admitted to obtaining Iraqi oil from third parties that paid secret, illegal kickbacks.
Defense lawyer Gerald Shargel portrayed Wyatt as a patriotic American whose advice was sought by nearly every U.S. president from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton, but not the Bushes. Shargel said the federal case was "entwined" with Wyatt's opposition to both U.S.-led wars against Iraq.
In one act that created friction with former President George H.W. Bush, Wyatt flew to Iraq with former Texas Gov. John Connally in December 1990 in a bid to free U.S. citizens held in Baghdad. That came just before the U.S. operation to dislodge Iraqi forces that had invaded Kuwait.
They brought back some two dozen people to Texas.
Even justice!! can be bought in US! The guy was supposed to serve 74 years in prison but made a DEAL and will spend only 18 to 24 months!
Can Karamagi opt for this kind of DEAL (if he is guilty)? The donors (teh teh teh) are better poised to advise us!