The U.N. Oil for Food program was supposed to deliver food and medicine to the people of Iraq while Saddam Hussein remained in violation of U.N. economic sanctions.However,a mounting pile of evidence indicates that Saddam was able to continue his brutal regime, not in spite of the oil-for-food program, but because of it.
Incredibly, the deposed leader was able to bribe a global network of international power players and turn the Oil for Food program into a massive charade. So successful was his operation that over seven years, he may have collected more than $10 billion in illegal cash kickbacks while U.N. officials apparently turned a blind eye, thus victimizing the very people Oil for Food was intended to help.
Iraqi bureaucrats in the Ministry of Oil kept meticulous records of recipients awarded preferential oil contracts by Saddam. This tidy ledger lists an intriguing array of 270 international power brokers who allegedly received oil shipments or vouchers at below-market prices, which in turn they resold for huge profits.
Many recipients of Saddam's largess occupy positions at the highest levels of influence in government, businessandpolitics around the world, revealing an unimaginable scale of corruption. It appears that the Iraqi people were not only betrayed and exploited by Saddam, but also by international predators of opportunity.
ClaudeHankes-Drielsma, no stranger to examining large-scale fraud, led the investigation of the Nobel Prize and South African corruption scandals. He estimates that the Oil for Food scam is likely to emerge as the largest financial scandal in history.
Under U.N. mismanagement and possible malfeasance, billions of dollars were stolen from the people of Iraq, causing Iraq's basic health infrastructures to deteriorate to the point where innocent people, many of whom were children, became sick and died from lack of food and medicines.
Russians by far benefited the most — receiving more than 2.5 billion barrels. In all, 46 recipients are from Russia. The largest recipient was the Russian state itself, at 1.4 billion barrels. The French were the second-largest beneficiary of oil, at 165 million barrels, including 36 million barrels to Patrick Maugein, CEO of the oil firm SOCO International and a close political and financial supporter of President Jacques Chirac.
Mr.Maugein,when questioned by the French newspaper Le Monde, denied in late January the allegation that he illegally benefited from the oil contracts. The former minister of the interior, Charles Pasqua, also appears on the list for 12 million barrels. Additionally, there is a strong indication that all of the financial transactions from the list were directed by the Paris bank BNP. In all, the list contains recipients from 52 different countries, many of whom were non-end users.
The executive director in charge of the Oil for Food program was Benon V. Sevan. His name also appears on the list as having received oil export vouchers for 11.5 million barrels. Conveniently, he is on extended leave and is due to retire upon his return.
It is hard not to conclude that the intense opposition to the war in Iraq was directly related to the lucrative deals made under the Oil for Food program. There is mounting credible evidence that the U.N. utterly failed in its responsibility to manage the program. Moreover,it seems extremely implausible that the United Nations was unaware of what was going on. Worse, it may be revealed that high-ranking U.N. officials were willing participants.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has asked for an outside investigation, but it is not yet clear whether it will go forward. To regain credibility in the eyes of the world, the United Nations must demand a full account of every transaction to determine how it came to preside over this colossal fraud on the international community. Anything short of full cooperation and disclosure will only serve to further discredit the United Nations and severely diminish its role.
The people of Iraq deserve the truth, and they deserve to have their money back. All those involved who are found to have illegally received money through the Oil for Food program, which was intended for the people of Iraq, should face criminal prosecution and be forced to return their ill-gotten gains. This will be a test for the new Iraqi government, which can establish the standards of honesty, accountability and transparency that we should have expected from the United Nations, which under Mr. Annan's leadership now faces its biggest challenge in its history.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute