- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 23, 2005

Oil-for-food text due

NEW YORK — The final report of the oil-for-food investigation authorized by the United Nations will not be issued until Thursday, but the fallout has begun.

The panel, led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, will release its findings on thousands of companies that apparently paid bribes to Saddam Hussein’s regime to obtain contracts.

Executives at two U.S. oil companies were implicated publicly last week in paying kickbacks to the Iraqi dictator’s regime, and some observers expect that more investigations and fines will be announced in coming months. Saddam was ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2003.

Officials of the Reston-based oil trading company Midway Trading Inc. pleaded guilty Thursday to grand larceny in connection with Iraq contracts and agreed to pay a $250,000 fine.

Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who has announced several prosecutions related to the oil-for-food program, said the company admitted paying about $440,000 in kickbacks to get contracts.

On Friday, Texas oilman Oscar S. Wyatt Jr. was arrested and charged with conspiracy and paying millions of dollars to the regime. He was released on $2.5 million bail.

His attorneys say the charges against the outspoken 81-year-old are politically motivated. Authorities also are seeking the indictment of two Swiss nationals in connection with that case.

The companies named in the upcoming report have been notified by the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC), as the panel is formally called, and given a chance to respond.

Panel members have indicated that the firms have headquarters around the world and include not only oil companies, but also those supplying humanitarian goods and services.

The Volcker panel has no law-enforcement or subpoena powers. It’s only real advantage over the myriad congressional investigations is its exclusive access to all U.N. documents and the mandatory cooperation of all current and former U.N. personnel.

Mr. Volcker has said the level of cooperation from the United Nations was satisfactory, but that law-enforcement agencies were not cooperating closely.

The IIC, which employed more than 100 people worldwide and had offices in New York, Paris and other cities, will have cost about $35 million when it winds up.

The Office of Internal Oversight Services, the U.N. watchdog agency, was criticized in previous reports from Mr. Volcker as failing to look into the cash-cow program and because it could not say whether it would be auditing how the money was spent.

The Volcker commission’s budget came from money earmarked to administer the seven-year, $64 billion oil-for-food program, which used Iraqi oil exports to pay for desperately needed food and humanitarian goods for ordinary people devastated by sanctions.

The new Iraqi government says the money belongs to the country’s government and should not be squandered on a U.N. investigation. The Volcker panel says it’s money well-spent and could result in reparations that would offset the cost.

The report will not look into possible wrongdoing within the U.N. Secretariat and is, one official said last week, “the first time any of us are looking forward to a Volcker report.”

Quake needs ‘huge’

Various U.N. agencies are coping with humanitarian disasters worldwide, but the earthquake in Kashmir presents the most pressing logistical and financial challenges.

“This is a huge, huge disaster and, as I’ve said, it’s perhaps the biggest that we have ever seen — affecting 4 million people, 28,000 square miles, and with huge demands in impossible terrain, and at the time of the cold season,” U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters last week.

Aid groups are “looking for materials which basically do not exist and will have to be manufactured as quickly as possible. When you talk of ‘winterized tents,’ I’m not sure there’s enough winterized tents in the world to meet the needs we have today. So, it is a race against time to save the lives of these people.”

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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