Monday, August 08, 2005

Oil For Food: Sevan's Take Down to "Just" $147,184

The third Interim Report of the Volcker commission is out, and again we see a disconnect between the way it is reported, and the serious of the offenses. Here is MSNBC on the embezzlement of the head of the program:
Some critics have accused the United Nations of squandering millions - and even billions - of dollars in its mismanagement of the program. Yet Volcker's team found that Sevan appeared to have received kickbacks of just $147,184 from December 1998 to January 2002.
So over three years time, Sevan only took about the gross median income of a U.S. citizen per year on top of his six-figure salary, money that was intended to help poor Iraqis disadvantaged by sanctions. It was "just $147,184", you see. Notice also the implication that because Sevan is only a six-figure thief personally, that critics who have accused the program of billions in fraud are somehow proven wrong.

Of course, no one has ever stated that the corruption began and ended with Sevan, to my knowledge. I would be willing to wager that there are several dozen recipients of similar largess out there, at the bare minimum.

As an example of the laxness of the U.N.'s monetary controls, there is this, from the same article:
Meanwhile, a U.N. procurement official has been arrested after investigators found evidence he took nearly $1 million in illegal payments from the winners of $79 million in U.N. contracts, a senior U.N. official said Monday...

...investigators also found that he secretly tried to bribe a company called Societe Generale de Surveillance S.A., which was seeking an oil inspection contract under oil-for-food.

They said Yakovlev passed secret bidding information along to a friend in France, Yves Pintore, who then approached SGS to check if it would "work with" him and "influential people in the U.N. in New York."

Volcker's team found no evidence that the company agreed to the bribe. However, it noted that Pintore essentially agreed to its characterization of his involvement.

And then there is this:

[The Interim Report] also found that two men helped Sevan: Fred Nadler, an AMEP director and brother-in-law of former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali; and Fakhry Abdelnour, the president of AMEP.

Volcker's team recommended that the United Nations assist in their possible prosecution as well.

Does anyone truly believe they were isolated occurrences? Isn't it far more likely that they are symptomatic of a program and an organization that are hotbeds of corruption, and that this is only the beginning? I know which possibility I'm betting on...

UPDATE 8:28 p.m. central: More from Leon H, who has hit some of the points I was trying to in a much more lucid manner, and from AJStrata, who covers some angles I missed...

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