Three un-named executives at Volvo Construction Equipment (VCE) have been charged with paying bribes to Saddam Hussein's government in a bid to overcome restrictions on trade under the United Nations' Oil-for-Food Programme.

The three have been under investigation by Sweden's National Anti-Corruption Unit (NACU) for three years and could face jail sentences if convicted, according to local newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).

Prosecutor Christer van der Kwast, head of the NACU, said the three are suspected of having paid bribes worth SEK 20 million (€ 1.72 million) to win contracts for 145 wheel loaders and 43 road graders between 2000 and 2002. The formal charge is "grave sanction breach".

"Volvo will be a pilot case for Sweden. It will be decisive for continuing with proceedings," said Mr van der Kwast, who was also reported as saying he would demand prison sentences because he views the crime "as serious", according to the SvD report.

When contacted by KHL, Klas Magnusson, VCE's senior vice president of corporate communications, said, "Three individuals have been charged, and this may result in a trial at some point in the future. Understandably, we don't want to risk prejudicing the outcome of this trial by making any comments at this point in time." ‘

VCE was one of about 2200 companies listed in a 2005 UN-backed investigation as having colluded with Saddam Hussein's government. The report said the companies paid a total US$ 1.8 billion (€ 1.43 billion) in "kickbacks and illicit surcharges" to Iraq under the UN's Oil-for-Food Programme.

The inquiry passed documents it uncovered to the governments' of the companies involved, allowing them to request further materials for their own investigations. Other Swedish companies mentioned in the report include Atlas Copco and Scania.

In March last year, VCE was forced to pay US authorities US$ 19.6 million (€ 15.5 million) in fines, as well as return past profits with interest from contracts related to the bribery scandal.

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