Oil Man Oscar Wyatt on Trial for Deals with Iraq

Federal prosecutors say well-known Texas oilman Oscar Wyatt earned millions of dollars through illegal dealings with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Wyatt is on trial in federal court in New York on charges of violating an international economic embargo against the country.

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Federal prosecutors said yesterday that a well-known Texas oilman earned millions of dollars through illegal dealings with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Oscar Wyatt is on trial in federal court in New York. He's accused of violating an international economic embargo against the country.

NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI: Eighty-three-year-old Oscar Wyatt is known as a tough businessman with decidedly unconventional views. In December 1990, on the eve of the First Gulf War, he traveled to Baghdad. There he used his connections with the Iraqi government to obtain the release of some two-dozen captured oil workers. Prosecutors say after the war Wyatt kept doing business with Iraq despite the United Nations economic embargo. They say he paid kickbacks to government officials and earned millions of dollars as a result. And in opening statements yesterday, they said they would present audiotapes and Iraqi government records to prove their case. Wyatt is charged with five counts of engaging in illegal contacts with Iraq, and if he's convicted could be sentenced to decades in prison.

Through his lawyer, Wyatt has denied the charges. Wyatt says he's being persecuted because of his longstanding antipathy to the Bush family and for his opposition to both Gulf wars. During opening statements yesterday, Wyatt's lawyer portrayed him as a patriot and veteran who had advised numerous presidents and was a confidante of presidents Reagan and Nixon. The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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