- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004


Congressional investigators yesterday said Saddam Hussein’s government reaped $10.1 billion in illegal revenues related to the United Nations’ oil-for-food program — much more than previous estimates.

The findings by the General Accounting Office come as the United Nations considers expanding its investigation of reports of corruption in the program.

The Treasury Department, meanwhile, acted yesterday to seize more Iraqi money stashed around the world by formally submitting the names of 16 members of Saddam’s family and 191 quasi-governmental companies to the United Nations.

A U.N. Security Council resolution requires member nations to freeze accounts and financial assets that might hold Iraqi money and transfer the funds to the Development Fund for Iraq. The members of the deposed Iraqi president’s family on the Treasury list were “critical to the financial workings and underpinnings of the regime,” Treasury official Juan Zarate told a House panel.

The oil-for-food program allowed Saddam’s government to sell oil if the money was used to buy humanitarian goods and pay victims of the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Other oil sales were prohibited under a U.N. embargo imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait. The program ended in November.

The GAO had previously estimated that Saddam’s government had received $6.6 billion in illegal revenues from the program from 1997 through 2002.

But using updated data, the GAO has concluded that Saddam received $5.7 billion from oil smuggled out of Iraq and $4.4 billion in illicit surcharges on oil sales and purchases of commodities, according to testimony prepared for the House Financial Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

On Wednesday, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said the United Nations had asked the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and U.S.-led coalition to provide evidence of the corruption. The request followed reports that former Cabinet officials, legislators, activists and journalists had profited from Iraqi oil sales.

In its testimony, the GAO said the United States has had mixed results in recovering Saddam’s hidden assets. The United States has seized about $926 million of the assets of Saddam’s regime in Iraq and other countries have frozen about $3.7 billion of Iraqi regime assets. But little progress has been made in identifying and freezing most of Saddam’s hidden assets. GAO said the regime was believed to have illegally acquired $10 billion to $40 billion.

But Mr. Zarate, the Treasury Department’s deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, told the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that the program has had recent successes.

Almost $2 billion in Iraqi assets have been identified and frozen outside the United States and Iraq within the past year. About $750 million has been transferred to the Development Fund for Iraq, controlled by the Coalition Provisional Authority.

“One of the conundrums of this effort has been trying to understand and get a hold on the full universe of assets pilfered by the Hussein regime,” Mr. Zarate said.

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