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The U.N.'s oily scheme.

ITEM: The New York Times for April 23 reported that Secretary-General Kofi Annan "struck back ... at critics of the United Nations and his leadership, saying they were treating unproven charges as facts and ignoring the good that the 'oil for food' program brought Iraqis despite its scandal-ridden management."

BETWEEN THE LINES: Kofi Annan's justifications to the contrary, the UN was also deeply involved in the scandal that included smuggling, kickbacks and corruption. Since the program escaped scrutiny for some seven years, it will take some doing for investigators to track all the graft. It doesn't take too much imagination to picture the shredders working overtime at the UN. The U.S. government's General Accounting Office has determined that 80 percent of pertinent UN documents have not been turned over to investigators.

The trail of corruption certainly included Saddam. His regime got more than $10 billion in illegal revenues from the UN-run program, the GAO has already estimated. The theory behind the program was to allow Baghdad to sell some oil in exchange for food and other necessities, working around the economic sanctions to benefit the suffering Iraqi people. The result should have been predictable. Saddam got to choose the customers, and sold them oil below market value. These buyers resold that oil, at a large profit, to third parties--with payments being kicked back to Saddam. Meanwhile, the Iraqi dictator was also smuggling oil out of Iraq through neighboring countries.

Between 1997 and 2003, Kofi's crew approved more than $100 billion in business for Saddam. There were numerous French and Russian contractors involved, with the UN assisting the corruption by keeping the details under wraps.

According to a list published in the independent Iraqi newspaper al-Mada, some 270 individuals, companies and institutions were permitted to sell Iraqi oil in return for supporting Saddam, for looking the other way, or as payment for illegal imports.

Claudia Rosett of the Wall Street Journal, who has followed this issue assiduously, recently explained to a House panel that the UN's fondness for secrecy and privilege is bound to make it more difficult to get to the bottom of the scandal. As she put it: "We are asked to rely on the integrity of the same U.N. whose Office of Internal Oversight Services was evidently unable to spot or unable to stop the billions in graft under Oil-for-Food. We are asked to trust the same mechanisms of privilege and secrecy that produced, fostered and protected Saddam's festival of corruption."
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Title Annotation:Between The Lines
Author:Hoar, William P.
Publication:The New American
Date:May 31, 2004
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