Ft. Lauderdale, Fl USA
For those basically not familiar with the Food for Oil program...
History of the Oil-for-Food Program
The Security Council established the Oil-for-Food program in 1995 "as a temporary measure to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people" while economic sanctions remained in place.2 Of Iraq's population of 24 million, 60 percent were dependent on food shipments administered through Oil-for-Food.
Oil-for-Food was the United Nations' biggest program anywhere in the world. As Claudia Rosett pointed out in The Wall Street Journal, the U.N. oversaw "a flow of funds averaging at least $15 billion a year, more than five times the U.N.'s core annual budget."3 Oil-for-Food was administered by 10 U.N. agencies employing over 1,000 staff internationally and in New York, as well as 3,000 Iraqi nationals. The U.N. collected a 2.2 percent commission on every barrel of oil sold, generating more than $1 billion in revenue.
Until 2001, all Iraqi oil revenues were held in an escrow account run solely by Banque Nationale de Paris. The money was later kept by several unnamed international banks, all approved by Saddam's regime.
The program was shrouded in secrecy, with little transparency or public accountability. There was no system of external auditing or publishing of accounts. The identity of the banks holding the Iraqi funds was kept secret. Oil-for-Food became a cash cow for the U.N. and a lucrative source of contracts for Russian and French companies. The Times of London calculated that from 1996 to 2003, Russian companies received $7.3 billion of business through Oil-for-Food, and French firms earned $3.7 billion.4
Oil for Corruption
In the 12 months since the fall of the Iraqi dictatorship, a clear picture has emerged of how Saddam Hussein abused the United Nations' Oil-for-Food program. The Iraqi Governing Council has begun to release critical information detailing how, in the words of The New York Times, "Saddam Hussein's government systematically extracted billions of dollars in kickbacks from companies doing business with Iraq, funneling most of the illicit funds through a network of foreign bank accounts in violation of United Nations sanctions." In effect the program was little more than "an open bazaar of payoffs, favoritism and kickbacks."5
Between 1997 and 2002, the Oil-for-Food program generated over $67 billion in revenues for the Iraqi regime. With little U.N. oversight, the Iraqi dictatorship was able to circumvent and exploit the program. It is suspected of selling Iraqi oil at bargain basement prices that benefited numerous middlemen while overpaying for various imports, which rewarded suppliers. The Iraqis then demanded kickbacks from both groups. The program was officially ended in November 2003.
The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates that the Saddam Hussein regime generated $10.1 billion in illegal revenues by exploiting the Oil-for-Food program, including $5.7 billion from oil smuggling and $4.4 billion in "illicit surcharges on oil sales and after-sales charges on suppliers."6 The scale of the fraud was far more extensive than the GAO had previously estimated.
According to the GAO, the oil was smuggled by pipeline into Syria, by ship through the Persian Gulf, and by truck across the borders of Turkey and Jordan. Oil purchasers were charged a surcharge of up to 50 cents per oil barrel, with an added commission of 5 percent to 10 percent of the commodity contract. A U.S. Department of Defense study cited by the GAO evaluated 759 contracts administered through the Oil-for-Food program and found that nearly half had been overpriced by an average of 21 percent.7
An International Network of Beneficiaries
Emerging from the evidence is a mosaic of international corruption involving a patchwork of politicians and businesses across the world that benefited from the Oil-for-Food program and helped to keep Hussein in power. The Iraqi Oil Ministry recently released a partial list of beneficiaries: 270 names of individuals, political entities, and companies from across the world who received oil vouchers from Saddam Hussein's regime, allegedly at below-market prices.8
The list includes former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, the "director of the Russian President's office," the Russian Communist Party, the Ukraine Communist Party, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the son of Lebanese President Emile Lahud, the son of Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass, and George Galloway, a British Member of Parliament.
Ominously, the list also implicates U.N. Assistant Secretary General Benon V. Sevan, executive director of the Oil-for-Food program, who has stringently denied any wrongdoing. Sevan, a longtime U.N. bureaucrat with close ties to Kofi Annan, has taken an extended vacation, pending retirement later this month.
Kofi Annan's son Kojo may also be implicated in the mushrooming scandal. Kojo Annan had ties to Cotecna Inspection SA, a Swiss-based company that received a contract for inspecting goods shipped to Iraq under the Oil-for-Food program. The younger Annan worked for Cotecna in the mid-1990s and became a consultant to the company until shortly before it won the Oil-for-Food contract.9 Cotecna, reportedly implicated in earlier bribery scandals, did not disclose this potential conflict of interest, and neither did the United Nations.
France, Russia, and Saddam
No fewer than 46 Russian and 11 French names appear on the Iraqi Oil Ministry list.10 The Russian government is alleged to have received an astonishing $1.36 billion in oil vouchers from Saddam Hussein.
The close ties between French and Russian politicians and the Iraqi regime may have been an important factor in influencing their governments' decision to oppose Hussein's removal from power. They also highlight the close working relationships between Moscow and Baghdad and between Paris and Baghdad, and the huge French and Russian financial interests in pre-liberation Iraq.
Prior to the regime change in April 2003, French and Russian oil companies possessed oil contracts with the Saddam Hussein regime that covered roughly 40 percent of the country's oil wealth. French oil giant Total Fina Elf had won contracts to develop the Majnoon and Nahr Umar oil fields in southern Iraq, which contain an estimated 26 billion barrels of oil (25 percent of Iraq's oil reserves). Russian company Lukoil had won the contract to develop the West Qurna field, also in southern Iraq, which has an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil.11
Political and military ties between Moscow and Baghdad were extensive. Documents found in the bombed-out headquarters of the Mukhabarat (the Iraqi intelligence service under Hussein) reveal the full extent of intelligence cooperation between the Russian and Iraqi governments.