un scandal ensnares french bank

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    UN SCANDAL ENSNARES FRENCH BANK
    Agence France-Presse, National Post,
    November 18, 2004



    The head of a congressional committee investigating the oil-for-food program in Iraq said yesterday the French bank BNP Paribas received hundreds of millions of dollars from the scandal-plagued UN program, while possibly ignoring rampant abuses by Saddam Hussein’s regime. “There are indications that the bank may have been noncompliant in administering the oil-for-food program,” said Henry Hyde, chairman of the House of Representatives’ International Relations committee. “…Evidence seems to indicate that in some cases, payments in the oil-for-food program were made by BNP at times with a lack of full proof of delivery of goods, and other necessary documents.”



    [I]nvestigators have also concluded Saddam used money from the UN program to reward families of Palestinian suicide bombers who blew themselves up… The documents, cited by the Associated Press, indicate Saddam kept secret bank accounts in Jordan where he collected bribes from foreign companies and individuals doing illicit business under the UN program. They say he used some of the money to pay Palestinian families up to US$25,000 each after their kin died during a suicide blast…



    The UN aid program--which ran from December, 1996, until November, 2003--was intended to ease the burden of international sanctions on Iraq by allowing it to sell limited amounts of oil to buy humanitarian supplies. But the Iraqi dictator abused the program, raking in up to US$21-billion through an elaborate system of international kickbacks, illicit oil sales and black market operations. Investigators say the Iraqi dictator made billions by offering vouchers for oil as bribes to hundreds of officials from different countries, partly in a bid to get the sanctions overturned.



    “[P]ayments may have been authorized by BNP to third parties, separate from the originally intended recipient of the Letter of Credit,” [Mr. Hyde] said… “If true, these possible banking lapses may have facilitated Saddam Hussein’s manipulation and corruption of the program… [and] it is reasonable to ask if BNP adequately supervised its compliance programs overseeing the administration of the oil-for-food program…”



    Both arms of the U.S. congress are investigating the program, as is a UN team led by…Paul Volcker. Last month, Mr. Volcker released a 300-page roster of companies across the globe that took part in the program. It showed that one of the biggest beneficiaries of the program was Russia, where firms bought about 30% of the oil sold under the scheme, totalling about US$19-billion of contracts. Another report, by Charles Duelfer, the top U.S. investigator for the CIA, also accused Russian individuals, political parties and government ministries of cheating on oil-for-food by taking kickbacks or paying surcharges. Yesterday, Russia dismissed accusations the Russian forms abused the program…

 
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