Monday, August 08, 2005

Oil-for-Food UN probe update

NEW YORK (AP)-[off the wire, no link]-Investigators probing claims of wrongdoing in the Iraq oil-for-food program on Monday accused its former chief, Benon Sevan, of corruption for taking illegal kickbacks and recommended his immunity be lifted for prosecution.

The investigators said a former U.N. procurement officer sought a bribe and should have his immunity lifted as well. Alexander Yakovlev was also accused of collecting nearly $1 million in kickbacks outside the oil-for-food program.

The third report by the Independent Inquiry Committee, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, was a new blow to the scandal-tainted $64 billion program. For the first time, it gave a motive for Sevan's actions, saying his finances were "precarious" shortly before his alleged misdeeds.

Some critics have accused the U.N. of squandering millions - and even billions - of dollars in its mismanagement of the program. Yet Volcker's team found that Sevan appeared to have gotten kickbacks of just $147,184 from December 1998 to January 2002.

The report touched briefly on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his son, Kojo. It said new e-mails suggesting Annan knew more than he said about his son's involvement in the program "clearly raises further questions" that would be answered in its final report, expected in September.

Yakovlev resigned earlier this year and Sevan announced his resignation on Sunday. He criticized investigators, Annan, the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. critics who have cited oil-for-food as emblematic of perceived U.N. bungling and outright corruption.

Copyright © 2005 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.(AP-DJ)--08-08-05 1227EDT

Sure it's only one guy who embezzled almost $150k, but that's where the paper trail starts, and it's how these cases slowly grow from the small guy to the big fish. All signs point to Annan, father or son, or both.

Should we start taking odds on Annan impeding this investigation and not lifting immunity?