- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

The latest revelations that the deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein used oil sales under the U.N. oil-for-food program to buy friends and influence policy around the world should turn on an alarm in Washington, New York, Paris and other capitals. Saddam’s influence buying is only a part of a broader phenomenon. Other oil-producing countries are engaged in similar activities on an even larger scale.

Several important lessons arise from discovery of Saddam’s buddy list. First, this is just the beginning: There are thousands of documents in Baghdad that American and Iraqi intelligence officers need to catalog, translate, analyze and investigate. The precedent — the Eastern German intelligence service STASI archives, which exposed hundreds of spies in Europe and America.

Second, the U.N. may have done more damage than good in Iraq — and may do so again. The U.N. oil-for-food officials knew about the global bribery effort and did nothing to stop it. Moreover, it is possible the officials in that august body facilitated and benefited from at least some of the transactions.

A key question is whether a “Mr. Sevan” who allegedly received oil export vouchers in Panama is the same person as the U.N. Assistant Secretary General Benon V. Sevan, who ran the oil-for-food program. So far, U.N. Secretary General Koffi Annan has refused an internal investigation, and the U.N. bureaucracy has stonewalled and resisted an external investigation of the oil-for-food program.

This is not the first time the U.N. has bungled major policy undertakings: The U.N. aid effort in the West Bank and Gaza called United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) only perpetuated the refugee problem and has been thoroughly penetrated by Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

Third, persistent rumors are worth checking. Stories about Saddam’s global payola have been in circulation for years, with nobody investigating. Similar stories are in circulation about Saudi and Chinese influence-buying. It is high time the law-enforcement and intelligence agencies in the U.S. and Europe cooperated in investigating.

The documents uncovered in Baghdad by the Iraqi Oil Ministry and published in Al Mada, an independent Iraqi newspaper, are a jackpot of embarrassing information. Their veracity is confirmed by Naseer al-Chaderji, a senior member of the Iraqi Governing Counsel (IGC), and by Claude Hankes-Drielsma, the British chairman of Roland Berger Strategy Consultants and an adviser to the IGC.

The documents list dozens of organizations and individuals in more than 50 countries who were instrumental in orchestrating pro-Saddam policies, and point to a spider web of allies, from the pro-Saddam British back-bencher Member of Parliament George Gallaway to President Jaques Chirac’s friend Patrick Maugein, an oil trader, and to highly influential former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, who has denied any connection to Iraq. While Bernarde Merimee — France’s ambassador to the United Nations — who is on Saddam’s buddy list, denied accusations, can banking details available in Baghdad exculpate the French diplomat?

The list includes Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the highly influential Russian Orthodox Church, Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization and Jordanian Islamic radical leader Layth Shbeilat. Some of those fingered have denied the accusations. Others, like Mr. Maugein, have announced they “did nothing wrong.”

There are a few surprises on the list. The extent to which Russia benefited from doing business with Saddam is mind-boggling. While others received several millions of barrels, Russia got the lion’s share of 1.3 billion barrels.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s “Liberal Democratic Party” is listed as receiving a whopping 80 million barrels. A senior official in that extremist party complained to the author in a 2002 meeting at the Duma that Washington’s military action against Saddam would “destroy the most lucrative business” they ever had.

President Putin’s United Russia party was equally well-oiled. Russian politically influential oil companies received close to a billion barrels with market value of more than $20 billion. “Our Foreign Ministry is for sale as far as the Russian oil companies are concerned. A department chief receives about $200 a month — you do the math,” a Moscow-based Russian Middle Eastern expert told me.

Many names and positions on the list require further investigation and clarification: Who is the anonymous “director” of the Russian Presidential Administration? The recently retired Alexander Voloshin, Mr. Putin’s chief of staff, or a lower-level official, possibly still in place? Undeniably, Moscow’s resistance to the war against Saddam was as implacable as it was shrill.

Did the millions of barrels earmarked for the “Ukrainian Social Democrat Party” benefit President Leonid Kuchma’s Chief of Staff Alexander Medvedchuk, the leader of that party or go directly the president who allegedly sold arms to Baghdad?

Just as Saddam’s oily revenues corrupted presidential chancelleries and newsrooms, funds from other major Middle Eastern oil suppliers with ambitious religious and political agendas may wreak even more havoc.

At stake is the integrity of the foreign policy process, which is supposed to, but often does not, reflect national interests — not the size of bribes in ministers’ bank accounts. However, an ugly reality is emerging, one that should be investigated by U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies.

Consumer countries have to strive to turn oil suppliers into what they should be: commodity providers, not power peddlers corrupting global political systems, media and academia. National agendas should be set at the ballot box and in legislatures, not in desert tents. Global bribery may be as dangerous to the West as global terrorism. Saddam’s buddy list is just the tip of the iceberg.

Ariel Cohen is a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. His expertise is in international energy security.

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