UNITED NATIONS – Iraq has protested a U.N. decision to use $30 million in revenue from the U.N. oil-for-food program for Iraq to help pay for the investigation of alleged corruption in the humanitarian effort.
In a letter obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Samir Sumaidiaie argued that Security Council resolutions don’t support the use of oil-for-food money “for an investigation into the internal practices of the United Nations in carrying out its duties.”
“My government believes that the use of such funds has no legal basis,” he said in a letter dated Nov. 19 to U.S. Ambassador John Danforth, the current Security Council president.
Last month, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the council that money for the probe headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker would come from an account earmarked to pay U.N. administrative and operational costs for the embattled humanitarian program.
Volcker said in August he doesn’t know how long the investigation would take, but estimated it would cost at least $30 million in the next year.
The oil-for-food program, which began in December 1996 and ended in November 2003, was launched by the Security Council to help Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Saddam Hussein’s regime could sell unlimited quantities of oil provided the money went primarily to buy humanitarian goods and pay reparations to victims of the 1991 Gulf War. Under the program, 2.2 percent of oil revenue went to cover the program’s administration and operations.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Tuesday that Annan answered Sumaidiaie’s letter last week saying “we feel it is a legitimate use of the 2.2 account, and that members of the Security Council agreed with that judgment.”
“As far as we’re concerned, this is an administrative decision made with the blessing of the council, and I don’t anticipate now that it would be changed,” he said.
Eckhard said Annan had considered two options to pay for the investigation — going to the U.N. General Assembly for a special assessment which would be shared by the 191 U.N. member states or tapping the 2.2 percent fund.
Sumaidaie argued in his letter that all money in the oil-for-food account “properly belongs to Iraq and should be transferred to the Development Fund for Iraq as soon as possible.”
Using the money to pay for the investigation “potentially victimizes the people of Iraq twice,” he said.
First, if the allegations of abuse prove to be true, Iraqis were deprived of needed financial resources to cope with sanctions, Sumaidaie said. And second, by requiring the people of Iraq to pay for an investigation into the alleged abuses, money is being diverted from rebuilding Iraq’s shattered infrastructure and economy.
Allegations of corruption in the oil-for-food program surfaced in January in the Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada, which published a list of about 270 former government officials, activists, journalists and U.N. officials from more than 46 countries suspected of profiting from Iraqi oil sales that were part of the U.N. program.
In October, a report by Charles Duelfer, the top U.S. arms inspector in Iraq, alleged that Saddam’s government manipulated the U.N. program to acquire billions of dollars in illicit gains and to import illegal goods, including parts for missile systems.
Last week, U.S. Congressional investigators estimated that Saddam’s government raised more than $21.3 billion in illegal revenue under the oil-for-food program and by subverting U.N. sanctions for over a decade.