Is the clock ticking on Secretary General Kofi Annan’s merry pranks at the United Nations?
Could be. The rank corruption of the body’s Iraqi Oil-for-Food program is bubbling slowly to the surface – promising to ensnare scores of European politicians and businessmen, as well as a gaggle of Annan’s Turtle Bay colleagues.
An upcoming audit being prepared by a firm that successfully traced stolen Holocaust-era assets is expected to confirm the names of some 200 people and companies around the world who allegedly were bribed by Saddam’s regime.
The list, found in Iraq (news – web sites)’s Oil Ministry, was first cited by an Iraqi newspaper, al Mada, at the end of January.
Meanwhile, the General Accounting Office (news – web sites) estimates that Saddam Hussein (news – web sites) skimmed as much as $10.1 billion from the $47 billion program – originally established in 1996 to buy humanitarian supplies for ordinary Iraqis.
Among those expected to be named are the head of the U.N. program, the Russian Communist Party, the PLO and “a French businessman close to President Jacques Chirac.”
This, of course, may help explain Chirac’s implacable opposition to the dispossession of Saddam a year ago.
And Kofi Annan’s longtime pro-Saddam bent, as well.
As Andrew Apostolou notes on the preceeding page, Annan’s immortal words – “I think I can do business” with Saddam – take on an entirely new meaning.
This much is clear: Saddam was able to turn the program into a mystery- shrouded tool for sanctions-busting, bribery and international influence-peddling.
The fog began to clear in February after the name of Benon Sevan – the U.N.-appointed executive director of the Oil-for-Food program – appeared on the al Mada list.
According to al Mada, individuals, corporations and political parties on the list received cash-convertible oil vouchers from Saddam.
Sevan apparently was given vouchers for at least 11 million barrels of oil, worth some $3.5 billion. No wonder the program he ran:
* Knowingly collaborated with Saddam’s massive violations of the U.N.’s own sanctions.
* Said and did nothing about the Saddam regime’s use of Oil-for-Food income to build presidential palaces.
* Ignored huge kickbacks, thereby making itself complicit in Saddam’s bribery of foreign leaders, opinion-makers and companies.
* Permitted the regime to cheat Kurds in northern Iraq of billions – money, by the way, that is still unaccounted for.
This much, too, is clear: The vast profits for foreign companies made possible by abuses of the Oil-for-Food program helped buy foreign support for the Baghdad regime.
Saddam made a point of throwing Oil-for-Food business and oil-voucher bribes at contractors from key countries, especially those with vetoes on the Security Council, like France and Russia:
* Forty-six recipients of illegal allocations of oil were Russian companies or individuals – many with links to President Vladimir Putin (news – web sites).
* French interests were so deeply involved in corrupt Oil-for-Food dealings that France opposed the ending of sanctions even after Saddam had fallen.
And the scheme seems to have worked: France, Russia and Germany were all hostile to military action to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Is it any wonder that Russia and France now oppose independent inquiries into the scam, although Secretary General Kofi Annan – under extreme pressure – has nominally agreed to the idea?
The Iraqi Governing Council has been probing the scam since al Mada first revealed it. The audit, prepared for the council by KPMG and the law firm Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer, is due in May.
Complicating the effort, however, is the refusal of the BNP Paribas Bank of France to make available critical Oil-for-Food program records.
And U.N. officials in New York have declined to send necessary statements for months.
Yes, the U.N. says an “internal inquiry” is under way.
But, given that Kofi Annan’s son Kojo is linked to the scandal, it’s not hard to imagine how hard that effort will be pressed.
And though the elder Annan has admitted to the need for an outside inquiry, there’s no reason to believe that he – or anyone else at the U.N. – will be even slightly helpful when it counts.
Remember, folks as high-ranking as the president of Indonesia, former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua and pro-Saddam British politician George Galloway are implicated.
These are, after all, people with substantial influence at Turtle Bay.
And there are others – many others – who are similarly situated.
Plus, it has now become undeniable that the folks Kofi Annan had running the program were fully aware of the graft they were enabling.
Indeed, for Kofi Annan to say – as he did last week – that he was agreeing to an investigation “because I don’t think we need to have our reputation impugned” is simply laughable.
His own son is part of it.
Here’s the bottom line:
A U.N. program that was supposed to help the Iraqi people instead stole from them – and, worse, collaborated with their oppressor.
Those responsible for this colossal theft are international criminals – and the same goes for those who covered for them at the U.N. Secretariat.
The United Nations itself stands bereft of moral authority when it comes to Iraq, and to America’s heroic effort to reclaim that tortured nation for its people.
Kofi Annan needs to disappear, and to take his son with him.
Neither Jacques Chirac nor Vladimir Putin possess a shred of decency, so nothing can be expected from them.
But none of them – not Annan, not Chirac, not Putin – has any standing in the debate over Iraq’s future.
The same goes for the entire United Nations, as well.