Ex-of­fi­cial in­dicted in oil-for­food scam

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Betsy Pisik and Jerry Seper

A fed­eral grand jury in New York on Jan. 16 in­dicted Benon Se­van, for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tor of the United Na­tions’ oil-for-food pro­gram, on charges of bribery and con­spir­acy to com­mit wire fraud, the first crim­i­nal charges filed against a U.N. of­fi­cial in con­nec­tion with the hu­man­i­tar­ian pro­gram.

The in­dict­ment, un­sealed in U.S. Dis­trict Court in New York, also named a brother-in-law of for­mer U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Boutros Boutros-Ghali, New York busi­ness­man Efraim Nadler, a dual U.S.Egyp­tian cit­i­zen.

Be­cause­both­menar­e­as­sumedto be abroad — Mr. Se­van in his na­tive Cypru­sandMr.Nadler­inEurope— the U.S. gov­ern­ment has lodged ar­rest war­rants with In­ter­pol to ex­tra­dite them to the United States for trial.

“The oil-for-food pro­gram was cre­ated to pro­vide crit­i­cal hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to the Iraqi peo­ple,” said U.S. At­tor­ney Michael J. Gar­cia in New York. “But the for­mer gov­ern­ment of Iraq thor­oughly cor­rupted the pro­gram by em­ploy­ing undis­closed Iraqi agents in the United States to try to in­flu­ence the terms un­der which the pro­gram was adopted and by de­mand­ing se­cret kick­backs from par­tic­i­pants in the pro­gram dur­ing its op­er­a­tion.”

Mr. Se­van, 69, is ac­cused of il­le­gally re­ceiv­ing $160,000 “gen­er­ated from the sale of Iraqi oil un­der the pro­gram — from Nadler on be­half of the gov­ern­ment of Iraq,” ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment.

Eric Lewis, an at­tor­ney for Mr. Se­van, dis­missed the charges, say- ing the U.S. gov­ern­ment is us­ing his client “as a scape­goat and a dis­trac­tion from the United States’ own mas­sive fail­ures and mis­man­age­ment in Iraq.” He said the money Mr. Se­van is ac­cused of ac­cept­ing as a bribe was re­ported to the United Na­tions years ago as fam­ily gifts.

Mr. Nadler, 79, was named on charges of help­ing an un­named co­con­spir­a­tor ob­tain the right to buy Iraqi oil un­der the oil-for-food pro­gram in ex­change for com­mis­sions from the oil sales, and then divert­ing $160,000 of the com­mis­sions to Mr. Se­van.

The con­nec­tions were first ex­posed in 2005 by the In­de­pen­dent In­quiry Com­mit­tee — led by for­mer Fed­eral Re­serve Chair­man Paul A. Vol­cker — in­ves­ti­gat­ing the pro­gram.

U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki­moon “would like to con­vey that the United Na­tions has been co­op­er­at­ing­withtheau­thor­i­tiesabout­fol­lowup to the Vol­cker re­ports and the U.N. will con­tinue to do so,” said spokesman Farhan Haq. “He re­it­er­ates his com­mit­ment to have the United Na­tions up­hold the high­est eth­i­cal stan­dards.”

For­mer Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Kofi An­nan­waivedMr.Se­van’sim­mu­nity upon the re­quest of prose­cu­tors more than a year ago. If con­victed, Mr. Se­van faces 50 years in prison and Mr. Nadler faces 112 years, prose­cu­tors said.

Mr. Haq said U.N. of­fi­cials could be al­lowed to tes­tify in a case, de­pend­ing on the cir­cum­stances.

The oil-for-food pro­gram was a seven-year $64 bil­lion U.N. ef­fort to sell Iraq’s oil and buy food and es­sen­tial goods to al­le­vi­ate civil­ian suf­fer­ing caused by in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic sanc­tions im­posed on Sad­damHus­sein’sgov­ern­mentafter his 1990 in­va­sion of Kuwait.

The sanc­tions re­mained in place, with mod­i­fi­ca­tions, un­til the gov­ern­ment­wasover­thrown­byU.S.-led coali­tion forces in 2003.

The pro­gram was ad­min­is­tered by Mr. Se­van, but its rules were set by Se­cu­rity Coun­cil mem­bers and its con­tracts were awarded by Sad­dam’s regime.

Over time, com­pa­nies were re­quired to give kick­backs to Iraq to win­con­tract­stosellmer­chan­dis­eor buy oil, cre­at­ing a slush fund for the regime at a time of acute hard­ship for civil­ians.

Betsy Pisik re­ported from New York.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Benon Se­van

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