Probe: Saddam’s regime pocketed $10.2 billion from U.N. program
UNITED NATIONS – A yearlong investigation of the U.N. oil-for-food program issued a strong indictment of the United Nations and its top leadership Wednesday, concluding they tolerated corruption and allowed Saddam Hussein’s government to pocket $10.2 billion.Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the findings “deeply embarrassing to all of us” and said he accepted the criticism leveled at him personally. But he said he had no intention of resigning.Instead, Annan urged world leaders at next week’s U.N. summit to use the “golden opportunity” to adopt U.N. reforms the Independent Inquiry Committee said were imperative for the world body to regain its respect and credibility.The 191 U.N. member states negotiating a final document for the leaders to adopt are deeply divided on the proposals to overhaul U.N. management, and Annan warned of the “grave danger that the opportunity will be missed.”The committee’s five-volume, 1,036-page report concludes that those responsible for managing the $64 billion oil-for-food program – both U.N. member states and the world body’s staff – failed the ideals of the United Nations and ignored clear evidence of corruption and waste.Presenting the report at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, who chaired the committee, said: “Our assignment has been to look for mis- or mal-administration in the oil-for-food program and for evidence of corruption within the U.N. organization and by contractors. Unhappily we found both.””In essence, the responsibility for the failures must be broadly shared, starting, we believe, with member states and the Security Council itself,” he said.The powerful 15-member council came in for stinging criticism because its main oil-for-food committee often ignored evidence of corruption, while some council members condoned oil smuggling to Iraq’s neighbors.The report does not say why the corruption was overlooked but notes that Russia was one of the nations that long blocked efforts to probe the claims. Russian companies were heavily involved in oil-for-food and the country was a leading proponent of lifting the U.N. sanctions.The United States and other members of the council allowed oil shipments to Jordan and Turkey because those two countries were desperate after the Iraq sanctions blocked access to their largest trading partner and interrupted oil supplies.The report criticized the almost total lack of oversight of the program by the secretary-general and Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette, who was the direct boss of Benon Sevan, the program’s executive director now being investigated for allegedly accepting kickbacks. It issued “adverse findings” against all three.”No one seemed clearly in command,” Volcker said, and the report gives meticulous accounts of Annan, Frechette and others dodging responsibility.Nonetheless, an outside review commissioned by the committee concluded that the oil-for-food program “reversed a serious and deteriorating food crisis,” thereby preventing hunger and deaths from malnutrition. The program also helped keep Saddam from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, the report said.One of the largest humanitarian programs in history, oil-for-food was established to help ordinary Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait – and it was a lifeline for 90 percent of the country’s population of 26 million.The report criticized the way the program was created in 1996 by then-U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Saddam was allowed to choose the buyers of Iraqi oil and the sellers of humanitarian goods, which he used to curry favor by awarding oil contracts to former government officials, activists, journalists and U.N. officials who opposed the sanctions.Lax oversight allowed Saddam’s regime to pocket $1.8 billion in kickbacks in the awarding of contracts during the program’s operation from 1997-2003, the committee said.The smuggling of Iraqi oil outside the oil-for-food program in violation of U.N. sanctions poured much more money – $8.4 billion – into Saddam’s coffers during the same period, it said.Saddam also violated U.N. sanctions before the oil-for-food program started, illegally selling oil to Jordan, with the acquiescence of the United States and other Security Council members, and pocketing an additional $2.6 billion, the report said.”This estimate of illicit incomes – $12.8 billion – sets out in quantitative terms the consequences of the United Nations’ failure to properly oversee the program and maintain the integrity of the sanctions regime,” the committee said.After Volcker addressed the council, the 15 members gave their preliminary reactions. Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Samir Sumaidaie, who was also invited to respond, said the Iraqi people “for various reasons … were robbed of a great deal of what was theirs by right.””The lessons will continue to be studied and various actions will be taken, but that loss is permanent,” he said.U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said “the U.S. may or may not agree with all of the findings,” but everyone can agree “there was corruption both inside and outside the U.N. system.” The most important thing now is to use the oil-for-food shortcomings “as a catalyst for change,” he said.”This report unambiguously rejects the notion that business as usual at the United Nations is acceptable,” Bolton said. “We need to reform the U.N. in a manner that will prevent another oil-for-food scandal. The credibility of the United Nations depends on it.”While the report focused primarily on management, it again addressed the most damaging allegations against Annan and reaffirmed previous findings of insufficient evidence that he knew about an oil-for-food contract awarded to a company which employed his son, Kojo.Neither was there any evidence to demonstration that he interfered in the contract won by the Swiss company, Cotecna.It reiterated that Annan did not sufficiently investigate conflicts of interest involving his son.As for Kojo himself, the committee said he used his father’s “name and position” in 1998 to buy and deliver a car at a reduced price. It said he asked beforehand whether he could buy the car in his father’s name, but there was no evidence to show the secretary-general ever agreed.Vail, Colorado
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