>> UN SCANDAL ...NO SACRED COWS!
Allegations of Widespread Corruption Involve Saddam Hussein, U.N. Senior Officials
By Brian Ross
April 20-- At least three senior United Nations officials are suspected of taking multimillion-dollar bribes from the Saddam Hussein regime, U.S. and European intelligence sources tell ABCNEWS.
One year after his fall, U.S. officials say they have evidence, some in cash, that Saddam diverted to his personal bank accounts approximately $5 billion from the United Nations Oil-for-Food program.
In what has been described as the largest humanitarian aid effort ever undertaken, the U.N. Oil-for-Food program began in 1996 to help Iraqis who were suffering under sanctions imposed following the first Gulf War.
The program allowed Iraq to sell limited amounts of oil, under supposedly tight U.N. supervision, to finance the purchase of much-needed humanitarian goods.
Most prominent among those accused in the scandal is Benon Sevan, the Cyprus-born U.N. undersecretary general who ran the program for six years.
In an interview with ABCNEWS last year, Sevan denied any wrongdoing.
"Well, I can tell you there have been no allegations about me," he said. "Maybe you can try to dig it out." And in a Feb. 10 statement, Sevan challenged those making the allegations to "come forward and provide the necessary documentary evidence" and present it to U.N. investigators.
But documents have surfaced in Baghdad, in the files of the former Iraqi Oil Ministry, allegedly linking Sevan to a pay-off scheme in which some 270 prominent foreign officials received the right to trade in Iraqi oil at cut-rate prices.
"It's almost like having coupons of bonds or shares. You can sell those coupons to other people who are normal oil traders," said Claude Hankes-Drielsma, a British adviser to the Iraq Governing Council.
Investigators say the smoking gun is a letter to former Iraqi oil minister Amer Mohammed Rasheed, obtained by ABCNEWS and not yet in the hands of the United Nations.
In the letter, dated Aug. 10, 1998, an Iraqi oil executive mentions a request by a Panama-based company, African Middle East Petroleum Co., to buy Iraqi oil -- along with a suggestion that Sevan had a role in the deal. "Mr. Muwafaq Ayoub of the Iraqi mission in New York informed us by telephone that the abovementioned company is the company that Mr. Sevan cited to you during his last trip to Baghdad," the executive wrote in Arabic.
A handwritten note indicated that permission for the oil purchase was granted by "the Vice President of the Republic" on Aug. 15, 1998.
The second page of the letter contains a table titled "Quantity of Oil Allocated and Given to Mr. Benon Sevan." The table lists a total of 7.3 million barrels of oil as the "quantity executed" -- an amount that, if true, would have generated an illegal profit of as much as $3.5 million.
"Somebody who is running the Oil-for-Food program for the United Nations should not be receiving any benefit of any kind from a rogue dictator who was perpetuating terror in his country," said Hankes-Drielsma.
Full Investigation Announced
The United Nations, at first, dismissed the allegations about Sevan, but this week, Secretary General Kofi Annan said there would be a full investigation led by the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, Paul Volcker.
"We are going to investigate these allegations very seriously," Annan said during a press conference.
In addition, Congress is scheduled to begin hearings into the bribery scandal this week.
As for Sevan, when news of the scandal first broke earlier this year, he took a long vacation to Australia.
He declined to answer questions when ABCNEWS found him last week staying at a luxury casino resort.
A U.N. spokesman says Sevan, who makes $186,000 a year, has submitted his retirement papers, effective May 21. The spokesman said Sevan would remain on full salary through the course of the U.N. investigation, which is expected to last at least three months.
Oil Contracts for Political Support
The inquiries into the United Nations Oil-for-Food program result from the release in January of a list of 270 individuals, companies and institutions that allegedly received lucrative oil contracts from Saddam Hussein's former regime in return for political support.
The list was published by an Iraqi independent newspaper which claimed the document was discovered in the files of the former Iraqi Oil Ministry in Baghdad.
Oil vouchers were allegedly given either as gifts or as payment for goods imported into Iraq in violation of the U.N. sanctions.
The following are the names of some of those listed as receiving Iraqi oil contracts (amounts are in millions of barrels of oil):
The Companies of the Russian Communist Party: 137 million
The Companies of the Liberal Democratic Party: 79.8 million
The Russian Committee for Solidarity with Iraq: 6.5 million and 12.5 million (two separate contracts)
Head of the Russian Presidential Cabinet: 90 million
The Russian Orthodox Church: 5 million
Charles Pasqua, former minister of interior: 12 million
Trafigura (Patrick Maugein), businessman: 25 million
Ibex: 47.2 million
Bernard Merimee, former French ambassador to the United Nations: 3 million
Michel Grimard, founder of the French-Iraqi Export Club: 17.1 million
Firas Mostafa Tlass, son of Syria's defense minister: 6 million
Zeynel Abidin Erdem: more than 27 million
Lotfy Doghan: more than 11 million
Megawati Sukarnoputri: 11 million
Ali Ballout, Lebanese journalist: 8.8 million
The Socialist Party: 22 million
Kostunica's Party: 6 million
Arthur Millholland, president and CEO of Oilexco: 9.5 million
Father Benjamin, a French Catholic priest who arranged a meeting between the pope and Tariq Aziz: 4.5 million
Roberto Frimigoni: 24.5 million
Samir Vincent: 7 million
Shakir Alkhalaji: 10.5 million
George Galloway, member of Parliament: 19 million
Mujaheddin Khalq: 36.5 million
Tokyo Saxwale: 4 million
Shaker bin Zaid: 6.5 million
The Jordanian Ministry of Energy: 5 million
Fawaz Zureikat: 6 million
Toujan Al Faisal, former member of Parliament: 3 million
The son of President Lahoud: 5.5 million
Khaled Abdel Nasser: 16.5 million
Emad Al Galda, businessman and Parliament member: 14 million
The Palestinian Liberation Organization: 4 million
Abu Al Abbas: 11.5 million
Hamad bin Ali Al Thany: 14 million
Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem: 1 million
Foreign minister of Chad: 3 million
The October 8th Movement: 4.5 million
The minister of the Forests of Myanmar: 5 million
The Social Democratic Party: 8.5 million
The Communist Party: 6 million
The Socialist Party: 2 million
The FTD oil company: 2 million
On Kerry's Honor
The symbols of service should mean something.
By Kate O'Beirne
"I've had thorns from a rose that were worse," says Grant Hibbard, John Kerry's former commanding officer about the wound the senator received on December 2, 1968, that earned him his first Purple Heart award. Earlier this month, the Boston Globe reported that Hibbard is among the Vietnam veterans who are questioning the awards that sent John Kerry home early from Vietnam. The controversy prompted Tim Russert to ask Kerry this past Sunday whether he would release all of his military records, including medical records and his officer evaluations. Kerry assured Russert that they're already publicly available at his headquarters. But they're not. And the tragic suicide of the Navy's Admiral Mike Boorda in 1996 is a reminder of why the media should be clamoring for their release.
The Boston Globe took Kerry at his word and headed to his campaign office to look at the records the senator claimed would be available, only to be told nothing further would be released. "All" of the military records Russert asked about would not be made available after all, including the medical records from his second and third purple hearts, and his officer evaluations. The newspaper recalled that the White House released 300 pages of documents on President Bush's National Guard service earlier this year.
In a press release this week, Tour of Duty author Douglas Brinkley announced that he thinks questions about whether Kerry legitimately earned those Purple Hearts are unseemly. Allowing that maybe he is "na?ve, or too pro-veteran," Brinkley declares: "Only somebody craven -- or with a political agenda -- could stoop so low." But, it's veterans who are raising questions. The ribbons we civilians admire as colorful adornments represent far more to veterans. Admiral Boorda recognized the importance of an award's integrity to men in uniform.
In 1996, a left-wing news service raised questions about two small "V" clips that the chief of Naval operations wore over two of the medals on his chest full of them. The clips are awarded for valor under fire, and there was some doubt about whether Boorda's two tours in Vietnam aboard combat ships qualified him for the awards, although the Washington Post reported that a 1965 Navy manual appeared to support Boorda's right to wear the clips. Unlike Kerry, the awards did not provide grounds for Boorda to shorten his tours of duty.
Hours before he was scheduled to meet with Newsweek reporters to discuss the controversy, the admiral went to his home at the Navy Yard and shot himself in the chest. The CNO had been in command of the Navy during a troubled period and his leadership was being criticized by its senior officers. Still, among the notes he left was one to "the sailors" expressing his fear that the controversy over his decorations might harm the Navy. Boorda had lied about his age to join the Navy and was the first CNO to rise through the enlisted ranks.
Evan Thomas, then Newsweek's Washington bureau chief who was scheduled to interview the Admiral, explained that he was devastated by his death, but defended his magazine's pursuit of the combat award story. "We've got to do our job," he said. "Part of that job is checking on the truthfulness of people in positions of power. Like the admiral." And, like a prospective president. So far, Newsweek has ignored the controversy over John Kerry's awards.
It might well be that the release of all of Kerry's military records would refute the criticisms of some of those who served with him. But, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, craven or partisan motives shouldn't be attributed to Vietnam veterans who honor the symbols of honorable service.
Posted by maximpost at 11:09 PM EDT