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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Voloshin Denies Any Oil Payoff From Iraq

President Vladimir Putin's former chief of staff has denied that anyone in the presidential administration received oil payoffs from Iraq in exchange for opposing UN sanctions or the U.S.-led war that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime.

Alexander Voloshin, once considered the country's second-most powerful man, did not rule out that Russian businesspeople might have falsely led Iraq to believe they were acting on behalf of the Kremlin. But he insisted that the country opposed the war as a matter of principle, not bribery.

"Russia thought the war was a mistake in principle, and that there was no real proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And all the subsequent investigations proved us right," Voloshin said in a briefing with a small group of foreign journalists Wednesday.

In his meetings with U.S. President George W. Bush and other top U.S. officials in Washington shortly before the war, Voloshin said, "I explained to the Americans that of course [Iraq] is a dictatorship; Saddam Hussein is a complete dictator, but this was no threat to the United States or anybody close. And when this dictatorship falls, chaos will envelop the country."

When he arrived in Washington, he said, U.S. officials quizzed him repeatedly.

"They had an idea that we should bargain," he said. "They were asking, 'What are your interests in Iraq? What can you say?' And despite all the talk, Russia didn't have a lot of interests in Iraq. ... There was no strong reason for Russia to support the regime of Saddam."

Voloshin's account was presented in response to a report by a U.S. Senate committee this week on the oil program, under which Hussein's regime was allowed to sell oil despite international sanctions in order to provide food for the Iraqi people.

The report said Russia's presidential administration, headed by Voloshin until October 2003, received illegal oil allocations worth more than $16 million under Iraq's oil-for-food program between 1999 and 2003. Voloshin and the administration were said to have walked away with nearly $3 million in exchange for working to lift the UN sanctions, according to the report.

But the one-time senior Putin aide, often referred to as the "gray cardinal" of the Kremlin before he resigned in protest over the arrest of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said he was never the beneficiary of shipments under the oil-for-food program, never received money and never met with Iraqi officials.

"Neither the administration of the president, the presidential staff, nor myself personally ever had anything to do either directly or indirectly or through intermediaries in trading in Iraqi [oil] quotas," he said.

Voloshin also said he had never met Sergei Isakov, reportedly identified by former senior Iraqi officials as Voloshin's envoy in the alleged transactions.