- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2005

NEW YORK — Investigators have concluded that the United Nations’ former chief of the Iraq oil-for-food program, Benon Sevan, took kickbacks under the $64 billion program and refused to cooperate with their probe, his attorney said yesterday.

Although the amount of money Mr. Sevan is thought to have taken isn’t known, the findings would be a major blow to the United Nations because of his stature in the organization and the control he had over the oil-for-food program.

Eric Lewis, the attorney, denied the charges in a statement that appeared timed to pre-empt the investigation’s report.

“The committee’s allegations are baseless,” he said. “Mr. Sevan never took a penny, as he has said from the beginning.”

The United Nations-appointed Independent Inquiry Committee, led by former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker, plans to release its findings about Mr. Sevan on Tuesday. The world body is paying Mr. Sevan a symbolic $1 a year to keep him on the payroll so he will cooperate.

Mr. Volcker’s committee refused to comment yesterday on Mr. Lewis’ assertions.

“Our final judgment on [Mr. Sevan] will be rendered on Tuesday,” said committee spokesman Mike Holtzman.

The oil-for-food program, started in December 1996 to help ordinary Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions imposed after dictator Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, quickly became a lifeline for 90 percent of the country’s citizens.

Under the program, Saddam’s regime could sell oil, provided the proceeds were used to buy humanitarian goods or pay war reparations.

In a bid to curry favor and end the sanctions, Saddam is suspected of giving former government officials, activists, journalists and U.N. officials vouchers for Iraqi oil that could be resold at a profit.

Mr. Lewis said the committee has concluded that a small trading company called African Middle East Petroleum (AMEP) paid Mr. Sevan for his help in winning lucrative oil contracts from Saddam’s regime.

Mr. Volcker’s team has been investigating the oil-for-food program for more than a year. The committee concluded in February that Mr. Sevan solicited oil allocations from Saddam’s regime on behalf of AMEP from 1998 to 2001. It accused Mr. Sevan, who has refused to meet with investigators since February, of a “grave conflict of interest.”

The team found $160,000 in what it called “unexplained funds” belonging to Mr. Sevan, who said the funds came from an aunt in his native Cyprus.

After the February report, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Sevan but said he would wait until the report came out before making a decision.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide