Thursday, October 04, 2007

UN Sanctions -- Not

Claudia Rosett has been a bulldog staying on the UN Oil for Food story of corruption. I think the story was supposed to be that sanctions against Iraq and Saddam Hussein were creating great hardships for the people of Iraq, and the Oil for Food program was supposed to be the means of providing humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq. It seems the reality was something quite a bit less than humanitarian. The following is from Rosett's commentary in the WSJ ($$) yesterday:
Messrs. Khudair and Yacoub described a system corrupt to the core. Their duties inside Saddam Hussein's bureaucracy consisted largely, and officially, of handling and keeping track of kickbacks. That included who had paid and how much, and via which front companies. When Saddam's regime systematized its Oil for Food kickback demands across the board in 2000, keeping track of the graft flowing into Saddam's secret coffers became a job so extensive that the marketing arm of Iraq's Ministry of Oil, known as SOMO (State Oil Marketing Organization) developed an electronic database to track the flow of the "surcharges," as they were called.

To show how this worked, prosecutors last week produced a silver laptop onto which Saddam's entire oil kickback database had been downloaded by Mr. Yacoub, from backup copies he made just before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. With the laptop display projected onto a big screen before the jury, Mr. Yacoub booted up the system and into a query box typed "Coastal," the name of Wyatt's former oil company. Up came itemized lists of millions of dollars worth of surcharges he testified that Wyatt's company, or affiliated fronts, had paid to the Iraqi regime. These were broken down not only chronologically, but according to which front companies Mr. Yacoub said had channeled the money.

The other Iraqi witness, Mr. Khudair, corroborated parts of this scene. He explained to the jury a series of detailed notes taken at secret Baghdad meetings, which he had recorded by hand in desk calendars provided as gifts by oil contractors in Iraq.

In the end, Wyatt's guilty plea of conspiracy rested on a payment of about $200,000, made in 2001 through front companies into an Iraqi-controlled secret bank account in Jordan. But as witnesses during the trial sketched out the context, what came into view was a gigantic hidden world of dealings with Saddam's Iraq. From a cooperating government witness, Samir Vincent (who in 2005 pleaded guilty to a number of federal charges related to Oil for Food), the jury heard that Wyatt had paid Vincent's fees and expenses to make more than half a dozen trips per year during the early 1990s between the U.S. and Iraq to try to help Saddam out from under U.N. sanctions.

[. . . .]

Should we expect to see that silver laptop in heavy demand by scores of other U.N. member states trying to bring Oil for Food fraudsters to justice?

Nope. As it is, the U.S. stands almost alone in prosecuting the culprits and sending the guilty to prison. In Russia, China, Syria, Cyprus, Yemen, Egypt, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Jordan -- to name a few significant players -- there has been no such summons to justice. In Switzerland, home to a cosmopolitan nest of Oil for Food fronts, a number of companies have paid fines to federal and local authorities, but their names and the details have been kept confidential.
Now, in the future when our political discussions turn to suggestions of seeking UN support or approval about this or that, I want to remember the UN's Oil and Corruption program. Of course, this is not the first expose of UN efforts which seem to have been excellent illustrations of corruption. I think I should also make note of Rosett's list of significant players. It might help me understand what is real and what is not with respect to international politics.

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