UN’s oil-for-food program in Iraq to be probed

Middle East Online
July 7, 2004

Washington: The head of a committee investigating allegations of corruption in the United Nations’ oil-for-food program in Iraq promised Wednesday to conduct a careful probe and provide a “definitive report” in six to eight months.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Paul Volcker defended his three-person Independent Inquiry Committee against doubts it could not be “truly independent and dependably financed” since it was formed at the behest of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

“Oversight in those respects is welcome,” the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve said.

He promised “to provide a full public report of our findings and recommendations . . . and to provide interim reports.”

The oil-for-food program, which ran from December 1996 until November of last year, was the largest aid scheme in UN history, supervising around 67 billion dollars in contracts.

It allowed the regime of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to use its oil revenues to buy humanitarian supplies in order to ease the effect of 1991 Gulf War sanctions on ordinary Iraqis.

However, an Iraqi newspaper in January published a list of more than 200 people suspected of pocketing money from Iraqi oil sales. Benon Sevan, the UN official who ran the program, has denied any wrongdoing.

Volcker said his committee’s objectives were simple but “challenging to achieve.”

“We aim to provide, hopefully in six to eight months, the truly definitive report on the administration of the oil-for-food program,” he wrote in the business daily.

“In conjunction with responsible Iraqi and other national authorities as appropriate, we want to trace corrupt contractors and ill-gotten funds wherever they may be found. The chips will fall where they may.”

“At the end of the day, our hope and belief is that the truth will better enable the UN to go forward, with reforms as necessary, and provide the forum for international cooperation that we need and in which all of us can have confidence.”

Volcker warned that his committee would not respond to requests for premature information that could “impair the objectivity and necessary confidentiality of the investigative process.”

“Selective leaking of isolated facts, quasi-facts and even ‘facts’ of questionable origin are hardly helpful,” he wrote in the business daily.

He dismissed media criticism of the committee’s staffing and financing as “unwarranted” and defended his two associates, South African Judge Richard Goldstone and Professor Mark Pieth of the University of Basel.

“These are not men to be easily swayed by parochial, institutional or political considerations,” he added, citing Goldstone’s investigation of corruption in South Africa’s police and army at the end of apartheid, and Pieth’s expert knowledge of organized crime, money laundering and corporate corruption.

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