- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 22, 2004

To the outsider, it is hard to see what could link former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia, Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovksy and Benon Sevan, the U.N. official in charge of the Iraqi oil-for-food program.

According to testimony presented to the House Committee on Government Reform this week, there is at least one link: They appear on a list of 270 individuals and entities named in Iraqi oil ministry files as receiving vouchers allowing them to buy millions of barrels of oil.

According to Iraqi officials, two groups of people were allocated Iraqi oil for export — legitimate end users, usually defined as oil firms with their own refineries, and “non end users.”

The list of “non end users” was drawn up late last year by officials at the Iraqi oil ministry, drawing on files held by various prewar ministries and the state oil marketing organization.

It was leaked to the Iraqi newspaper Al Mada on Jan. 25, triggering a mixture of heated denials and stony silence. Many have said if they received vouchers, it was payment for legitimate business deals under the program.

The list is an extraordinary collection of names, stretching from Paris to Moscow, from the Vatican to the Far East.

In France, those named include friends of President Jacques Chirac, among them Mr. Pasqua and Patrick Maugein, the head of the French oil firm Soco International. Mr. Pasqua has denied illicit oil trading.

Mr. Maugein has confirmed that he traded with Iraq under the program, but said, “None of it was illegal.”

A former French ambassador to the United Nations, Jean-Bernard Merimee, is listed as receiving vouchers totaling 11 million barrels. Also on the list is a vocal friend of Iraq, Gilles Munier of the Franco-Iraqi Friendship Association.

At the Vatican, the Rev. Jean Marie Benjamin — a French priest who is reported to have arranged a meeting between the pope and Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister of Iraq — is listed as receiving the rights to sell 4.5 million barrels.

The list is dominated by Russian citizens and organizations.

In addition to Mr. Zhirinovsky, the list names the former Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, the Russian Orthodox Church, the “office of the Russian president,” President Vladimir Putin’s Peace and Unity Party, and companies linked to the Communist Party.

In Indonesia, the list is headed by Mrs. Megawati, whose spokesman has said she is “aware of the allegations.”

The files purportedly show vouchers being handed to socialist, communist and nationalist political parties in Ukraine, Belarus, the former Yugoslavia, Romania, and Slovakia.

There are also vouchers for the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

A prominent British member of Parliament is listed, along with his Jordanian business partner.

In Syria, there are vouchers listed for Firas Mustafa Tlass, the son of a veteran Syrian defense minister and Ba’ath party elder. Gen. Tlass has said he bought oil only under the program.

Most worrying for the United Nations is the entry for Panama, a Mr. Sevan. Congress was told this week that the reference is to Benon Sevan, the U.N. official in charge of the program.

Mr. Sevan has denied any impropriety and said: “It was incumbent on those who published these allegations to provide the necessary documents.”

Mr. Sevan returned to New York on Wednesday after a long vacation before his retirement next month. He has been asked to postpone his retirement until the conclusion of a U.N. investigation that began work yesterday.