|The New York Times
Follow-Up to Kofigate
WASHINGTON — Never has there been a financial rip-off of the magnitude of the U.N. oil-for-food scandal.
At least $5 billion in kickbacks went from corrupt contractors — mainly French and Russian — into the pockets of Saddam and his thugs. Some went to pay off his protectors in foreign governments and media, and we may soon see how much stuck to the fingers of U.N. bureaucrats as well.
Responding to a harangue in this space on March 17, the spokesman for Kofi Annan confirmed that the secretary general's soft-spoken son, Kojo, was on the payroll of Cotecna Inspections of Switzerland until December 1998. In that very month, the U.N. awarded Cotecna the contract to monitor and authenticate the goods shipped to Iraq.
Prices were inflated to allow for 10 percent kickbacks, and the goods
were often shoddy and unusable. As the lax Cotecna
made a lot of
corporate friends, Iraqi children suffered from rotted food and diluted
The U.N. press agent also revealed that Benon Sevan, Annan's longtime right-hand man in charge of the flow of billions, was advised by U.N. lawyers that the names of companies receiving the contracts were "privileged commercial information, which could not be made public." Mr. Sevan had stonewalling help.
To shift responsibility for the see-no-evil oversight, the U.N. spokesman noted that "details of all contracts were made available to the governments of all 15 Security Council members." All the details, including the regular 10 percent kickback to the tune of $5 billion in illegal surcharges? We'll see.
To calm the belated uproar, Annan felt compelled to seek an
"independent high-level inquiry," empowered by a Security Council
resolution, as some of us called for.
Nor are the White House and State Department so eager for a real
investigation, because as the truth emerges, the U.N. may use the furor
as cover for refusal to confer its blessing on the new Iraq.
present and former U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. would have to take
issue with Annan if he tried to hide under their wing. Peter
and Andrew Hillman, our frequent representatives on the "661 committee"
— so named for a sanctions resolution — are not about to be the U.N.'s
If the secretary general appoints a Franco-Russian Whitewash Team, to whom can the world turn?
1. The Iraqi
government-in-formation. Spurred by Kurds
who have been blowing the whistle on this superscam for five years,
free Iraq has hired accountants and lawyers to sift through captured
bills and contracts in Baghdad. Former spooks are freelancing usefully.
Paul Bremer, our man in Baghdad, has placed a trove of additional
half-corrupted tapes and damaged and damaging documents under seal to
be turned over after June 30, Sovereignty Day.
2. The House International Relations Committee's
chairman, Henry Hyde, whose interviewers are in New York today,
hold initial hearings on April 21. Congress's investigative arm,
General Accounting Office, will testify about the scope of the
chicanery that it estimates at $10 billion (including Saddam's
clandestine oil smuggling to Syria and Jordan). It's a start that
should awaken Senate Foreign Relations as well as Justice.
3. The press, stimulated by U.N. stonewalling, is on
Al Mada led the way. Already
denying the feisty Iraq newspaper's
findings are a former French
interior minister, a pro-Saddam member of
Arab writers and a financier reportedly behind a
Scott Ritter film. The Times, Wall Street
Journal and Sunday Telegraph
have been exposing the outline of what Newsday admits is "the most
underreported story of the year." Among magazines, National
out front with no interest shown by The New Yorker and Newsweek.
All of us need an embittered whistleblower. If an ex-U.N. type named Shaukat Fareed reads this — call me.