Global Policy Forum

UN Council to Approve


By Evelyn Leopold

March 30, 2004

Security Council members, except Russia, were ready on Tuesday to welcome a United Nations investigation into allegations of corruption in the now defunct Iraq oil-for-food program, diplomats said. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan notified council members last week he was setting up an independent panel to probe any wrongdoing by U.N. officials running the program, but needed backing from member states to investigate companies around the world.

Most council members wanted to welcome the probe but diplomats said Russia, whose companies among those of other nations that had dealings with Iraq, only wanted to "note" Annan's intention to pursue a full scale investigation. In contrast France went out of its way last week to embrace the investigation and offer its cooperation. France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, issued a statement saying it was important to get "right to the bottom of possible wrongdoings or illicit activities from U.N. staff as well as contracting entities."

Annan is investigating the U.N.-run program that began in late 1996 and ended last year. Some $65 billion passed through the program, which monitored Iraqi oil sales and purchases of civilian goods. It was aimed at easing the impact on ordinary Iraqis of harsh economic sanctions imposed after the 1991 Gulf War. The U.S. General Accounting Office, an interagency body headed by the Treasury Department, says Iraqi elites raised $4.4 billion by imposing illegal surcharges. Iraq is estimated to have smuggled another $5.7 billion in oil outside the U.N. program.

Iraqi officials going through ministry papers leaked a list of about 250 government officials, businessmen and journalists from 46 countries alleged to have received bribes from Saddam Hussein's government. Among the names on the list is Benon Sevan, the U.N. official who was executive director of the oil-for-food program and has vigorously denied wrongdoing. Consequently, Annan wants his own investigation to see if the world body is to blame.

Council members said they expected a letter to be issued to Annan on Wednesday. "Britain welcomes Annan's probe, backs it four-square," said British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry. Annan said in a letter last week that the panel would investigate companies with contracts in the oil-for-food program and protect the confidentiality of whistle blowers.

More Information on the Iraq Crisis
More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq
More Information on Oil-for-Food Programme


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