- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

NEW YORK — Prosecutors investigating the U.N. oil-for-food scandal say it would be difficult to prosecute former program administrator Benon Sevan as long as he remains in his native Cyprus, a country that does not extradite its nationals for criminal proceedings.

Mr. Sevan was accused by an independent investigation Monday of steering contracts and improperly profiting from side deals while he was running the humanitarian aid program for Iraq.

But Mr. Sevan’s attorney, Eric Lewis, confirmed yesterday that his client is in Cyprus, where officials said they would not honor an extradition request. There is no extradition treaty between Cyprus and the United States.

A spokesman at the New York district attorney’s office said prosecutors are investigating Mr. Sevan’s actions, but would not say whether they are drawing up an indictment based on information uncovered by a panel headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

The Independent Inquiry Committee, with 85 investigators from 20 countries, also reported that senior U.N. procurement official Alexander Yakovlev had accepted more than $1 million in bribes from companies seeking inside information on U.N. contracts.

Mr. Yakovlev surrendered to the FBI office here hours after the report was made public Monday and immediately pleaded guilty in federal court to counts of wire fraud, money laundering and soliciting a bribe. He was released on $400,000 bail and is widely assumed to be cooperating with authorities.

Richard Goldstone, an official on the inquiry committee and a South African judge, told the British Broadcasting Corp. yesterday that the committee expects to name “hundreds of companies from tens of countries” in a broader report to be released in October.

Meanwhile, two top investigators told the Associated Press that half the 4,500 companies that took part in the oil-for-food program paid kickbacks or illegal surcharges and are being given a chance to respond to the accusations.

“We will report on the management and the corruption,” Mr. Volcker said in an interview Monday. “We will talk about the benefits and the shortfall.”

The committee on Monday said Mr. Sevan had received roughly $145,000 that could not be explained properly, but it was not known precisely which laws he might have broken.

The Volcker panel said Mr. Sevan had interceded with the Iraqi oil ministry to win vouchers for a small Geneva-based oil company run by two Egyptian friends who then transferred money to Mr. Sevan.

The probe traced an elaborate web of travel, telephone calls and financial transactions among Mr. Sevan and Efraim Nasser and Fakhry Abdelnour — both relatives of former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Mr. Lewis said he is not aware of any grand jury proceeding in Mr. Sevan’s case. Asked whether his client might return to the United States, he said, “We have not discussed it.”

Former Cypriot Attorney General Alecos Markides said by telephone that Cyprus would not extradite Mr. Sevan to the United States but there was a chance of a trial in that country.

“It can be tried by a court in Cyprus provided someone wants to bring the evidence to Cyprus,” he said. “But I am not sure a criminal court here would take it up.”

Jerry Seper in Washington contributed to this report.

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