come clean, kofi

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    COME CLEAN, KOFI
    Claudia Rosett
    Wall Street Journal, November 17, 2004



    With estimates soaring of graft and fraud under the United Nations Oil for Food program in Iraq, we are hearing a lot about the need to "get to the bottom" of this scandal… To get to that bottom will need a much harder look at the top--where Secretary-General Kofi Annan himself resides. That violates all sorts of taboos. But so, one might suppose, does a United Nations that allowed Saddam Hussein to embezzle at least $21.3 billion in oil money during 12 years, with the great bulk of that sum--a staggering $17.3 billion--pilfered between 1997-2003, on Mr. Annan's watch.



    These are the record-breaking new estimates released Monday by the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, whose staffers, despite Mr. Annan's refusal to cooperate, have spent the past seven months voyaging deep into the muck of Oil for Food… Sen. Norm Coleman, the subcommittee's chairman, underscored the urgency of such investigations, noting not only that…some of Saddam's vast illicit stash might right now be funding terrorists…



    [W]hen it comes to Oil for Food, Mr. Annan has labored hard in recent months to disavow his own large role and responsibilities… But Mr. Annan's own official U.N. biography states that before becoming secretary-general, he "led the first United Nations team negotiating with Iraq on the sale of oil to fund purchases of humanitarian aid"…



    Once Mr. Annan became secretary-general, he lost little time in getting deeply involved with Oil for Food. In October 1997, just 10 months into the job, he transformed what had begun as an ad hoc, temporary relief measure into the Office of the Iraq Program, an entrenched U.N. department, which reported to him directly--and was eliminated only after the U.S.-led coalition, against Mr. Annan's wishes, deposed Saddam. To run Oil for Food, Mr. Annan picked Benon Sevan (now alleged to have received oil money from Saddam, which he denies) and kept him there until the program ended about six years later... Within the month, Saddam had created the first crisis over the U.N. weapons inspectors, who were supposed to be part of the sanctions and Oil for Food package. Mr. Annan's response was…to go before the Security Council a few months later and urge that Baghdad be allowed to import oil equipment along with the food and medicine to which the program had been initially limited. This set the stage for the ensuing burst in Saddam's oil production, kickbacks, surcharges and smuggling. Mr. Annan then flew to Baghdad…and returned to declare that [Saddam] was a man he could do business with. The weapons inspectors returned to Iraq…but by the end of 1998, Saddam had evicted them for the next four years. Mr. Annan…went right on doing business… Under the Oil for Food deal, Mr. Annan's Secretariat pulled in a 2.2% commission on Saddam's oil sales, totaling a whopping $1.4 billion over the life of the program… Yet somehow the Secretariat never found the funding to fully meter oil shipments, ensure full inspections of all goods entering Iraq, or catch the pricing scams that by the new estimates of Senate investigators let Saddam rake in $4.4 billion in kickbacks on relief contracts.



    Mr. Annan and his aides would also have us believe that Oil for Food had nothing to do with Saddam's smuggling of oil... But it was only after Oil for Food geared up that Saddam's oil smuggling really took off, totaling $13.6 billion during his entire 12 years between wars, but with more than two-thirds of that--an estimated $9.7 billion--earned during the era of Oil for Food….



    Who at the U.N. took illicit money from Saddam--if, indeed, anyone did--is an important question, and worth pursuing. But so is the matter of who covered up for Saddam; who pushed to continue and expand a program so derelict that it failed to nab more than $17 billion in illicit deals, and so secretive that investigators have spent much of the past year trying simply to get their hands on information the U.N. should have made public at the time… That would be Mr. Annan. He is not protecting the U.N. At great cost to whatever noble aspirations the U.N. once had, and to all societies that value integrity over Potemkin institutions, he is protecting himself.



    (Claudia Rosett, a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the Hudson Institute,
    is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal Europe.)
 
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