01 December 2005

Oil for Terrorism

A lot has been uncovered about the corrupt "Oil for Food" program. Links between the UN, Russian, French, and even American government officials, corporations and other individuals and Saddam Hussein have been firmly established. It seems their desire to stop the war had less to do with concerns for peace than concerns for getting their piece. Granted, not all those who opposed the war were getting kickbacks from uncle Saddam, but a disturbing number of them were.

We would know more but Kofi Annan crony Iqbal Riza's primary responsibility for his last three years of employment was to oversee the shredding of documents having to do with the Oil for Food scandal--before US committees (including Volcker) could get their hands on them.

It was a great program, really, if you are a corrupt government official. Saddam overpays for services and gets a 10% kickback. In exchange for laundering his money you are paid handsomely and expected to support him, given the opportunity. Thus, the connection between pre-war Saddam sympathizers and Oil for Food.

On Wednesday Claudia Rosett, journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, wrote a piece about Oil for Food. Among other things she reported on a movement in the UN to obtain the documents used in the Volcker report. If you think they will end up anywhere other than the shredder, think again. One of the interesting details was this admittedly circumstantial (and may remain so because of Riza's shredded documents and if the UN has its way with the others) between Saddam and Osama bin Laden.
Another odd oversight in the Volcker report is the glaring lack of follow-up on suppliers--especially ones that were, according to Mr. Volcker, based in places such as Cuba and Afghanistan--that, as far as Mr. Volcker could determine, paid no kickbacks. That could mean they were just companies so honest, selling goods so desirable, that in these cases Saddam simply forsook his crooked ways. Or it could mean Saddam for more worrisome reasons was so eager to transfer money to these companies that he did not even bother to demand a kickback. These companies include U.S. suppliers of food and equipment, a drug manufacturer in Cuba; and a company listed by Mr. Volcker as operating out of both the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan, some of that during the years in which Osama bin Laden, courtesy of the Taliban, was resident there, planning the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S.

The likeliest explanation of Saddam's growing zest to overpay for relief, and his apparent benevolence toward select companies in places not generally famed for their shopping centers, is that both these tendencies offered Saddam ways to transfer purloined relief money to suppliers who were in a position not only to sell him rice, soap and medicine, but to do sanctions-busting favors for Saddam--such as procure illicit goods, forward money to secret bank accounts, or send it onward to people whom Saddam wished to support. Arms dealers and terrorist groups come to mind. All that would have been possible, under cover of these U.N. contracts, no less. Saddam's suppliers under the U.N. program included companies based in or linked to such financial havens as Liechtenstein and Switzerland; such arms-trafficking hubs as Russia, China and Belarus; and such trouble spots as Syria, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and--as Mr. Volcker notes in passing--Cuba and Afghanistan.
(for WSJ subscribers, read more here)

The UN is not a transparent organization. Its officials aren't responsible to an electorate. One professor of mine, interested in politics, had an internship at the UN. After a few short months he quit because virtually no one did anything. This, coming from a man who worked for both the Senate Banking and Foreign Relations Committees--committees of a branch of government not known for its work ethic. I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that the UN wants to keep this information from other, critical eyes.

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