- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — A businessman who was accused in the 1970s of trying to buy influence in Congress in the “Koreagate” scandal was sentenced to five years in prison for conspiring to influence the United Nations’ oil-for-food program.

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin said the sentence was harsh for a defendant in poor health, but that it was reasonable and appropriate for 71-year-old Tongsun Park, convicted of accepting at least $2 million to secretly work on Iraq’s behalf to influence the oil-for-food program.

Park, a South Korean, traveled to Iraq to pick up $700,000 in cash and accepted envelopes stuffed with $100 bills.

“You acted out of greed, acted to profit out of what was supposed to be a humanitarian program,” the judge said as he sentenced Park on Thursday. He also fined Park $15,000 and ordered him to forfeit $1.2 million.

He said Park “blatantly violated the law” by bribing a U.N. official or acting as though he were and by assisting Saddam Hussein’s government while cheating the Iraqi people.

Park said he didn’t want to speak in court. His attorney noted his client’s age, poor health and desire to get his life back on track.

Park’s health problems include diabetes, high blood pressure and the difficulties of coping with a kidney transplant.

Park was indicted in the Koreagate scandal, in which agents of the Korean government were accused of trying to buy influence in Congress, but the charges were dropped.

Park was convicted seven months ago on conspiracy charges in the oil-for-food case. A jury rejected his assertions that he was a middleman representing the United Nations’ interests in relieving the pain of Iraqis under Saddam.

The judge noted that Park had signed a Nov. 29 document agreeing that his misconduct involved more than $2.5 million, that he would not appeal his sentence and that he would be sentenced within a range of four years and nine months to five years, the maximum sentence allowable under the law.

Federal prosecutors said at Park’s July trial that he was part of a corrupt group of bureaucrats and oil tycoons who enabled a humanitarian effort to be twisted into a corrupt venture for bureaucrats, oil magnates and Saddam.

Earlier Thursday, the judge rejected requests by Texas oilman Oscar S. Wyatt Jr., Houston-based Bayoil (USA) Inc. sole shareholder David B. Chalmers Jr. and oil trader Ludmil Dionissiev to dismiss charges that the three paid secret and illegal surcharges to Iraq to receive allocations of oil. Among charges they faced were wire fraud and conspiracy. The three have pleaded not guilty, were freed on bail and are awaiting trial.

Park was convicted despite the fact there were few links between him and Iraq after 1997, even though the conspiracy was reputed to have stretched from 1992 to 2002.

From 1996 to 2003, the oil-for-food program let the Iraqi government sell oil primarily to buy food and medicine for Iraqis who had been suffering since sanctions were imposed on their country after it invaded Kuwait and brought about the first Gulf War. By 2000, authorities said, Saddam had begun insisting that those he dealt with pay kickbacks.

Prosecutors said Park exploited his relationship with former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to help Samir A. Vincent, an Iraqi-American, earn the favor of Iraq and share as much as $45 million in windfall gains if the sanctions were lifted.

Authorities say the oil-for-food program was corrupted after Saddam was allowed to choose the buyers of Iraqi oil and the sellers of humanitarian goods.

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