Monday, August 08, 2005

Oil For Food chief Benon Sevan took cash

From the Associated Press via WSJ: (subscriber-only)

NEW YORK -- Investigators probing claims of wrongdoing in the Iraq oil-for-food program accused its former chief, Benon Sevan, of corruption for taking illegal kickbacks and recommended his immunity from prosecution be lifted.

The investigators said a former United Nations procurement officer sought a bribe and should have his immunity lifted as well. Alexander Yakovlev also was accused of collecting nearly $1 million in kickbacks outside the oil-for-food program.

The third report by the Independent Inquiry Committee, led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, was a new blow to the scandal-tainted $64 billion program. For the first time, it gave a motive for Mr. Sevan's actions, saying his finances were "precarious" shortly before his alleged misdeeds.

Some critics have accused the U.N. of squandering millions -- and even billions -- of dollars in its mismanagement of the program. Yet Mr. Volcker's team found that Mr. Sevan appeared to have received kickbacks of just $147,184 from December 1998 to January 2002.

The report touched briefly on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his son, Kojo. It said new emails suggesting Mr. Annan knew more than he said about his son's involvement in the program raised questions that would be answered in the committee's final report, expected in September.

Mr. Yakovlev resigned earlier this year, and Mr. Sevan announced his resignation on Sunday. He criticized investigators, Mr. Annan, the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. critics who have cited the oil-for-food program as emblematic of perceived bungling and outright corruption.

The game is up I think.

Kofi Annan is in hot water. Either he refuses to remove Sevan's immunity from prosecution which could make his position untenable or he goes along with the Volcker commission recommendations in which case my guess is that Benon Sevan will sing like a canary. Alternatively, Annan could do the honorable thing - take responsibility and resign.

Or, if you're a real cynic, Annan lets Sevan take the heat and Sevan ends up sleeping with the fishes.

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