Corruption at the UN

His son Kojo is the cause. Kofi, the dad, running the United Nations as the first black to become the 7th Secretary General – thrashing through a 40 year UN thicket infested with hobbits and orcs – is normally a cool cat, known not to shrink from trouble but grow “calmer as a crisis mounts”.

But this crisis is monumental; personal; and a grist for the gossip mills.

Colleague and crony Benon Sevan, appointed by Annan to oversee the $100 billion humanitarian Oil-for-Food Programme in Iraq is accused of cribbing half of the 14 million barrels of oil allocated to the UN as its fee – 2.2% – on each barrel of oil sold. Apart from embezzling millions for himself, the UN under secretary-general is said to have allowed Saddam Hussein to do business with French, Russian and Chinese contractors, funneling the kickbacks offered in return, to Hussein’s personal accounts, totaling more than $10 billion.

Charged with nepotism and cronyism, Annan, 64, has been emasculated into announcing an independent commission to investigate the theft that has invited vicious catcalls against him for  “an open bazaar of payoffs, favoritism and kickbacks.” He has now named the former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker to head the probe.

“The UN’s mechanisms for controlling Oil-for-Food contracts were inadequate, transparency went by the wayside, and effective internal review of the program did not occur. . . . If the United Nations cannot be trusted to run a humanitarian program, its other activities, including peacekeeping, arms inspection regimes or development projects may be called into question,” castigates Sen. Richard Lugar, heading the Senate’s International Affairs Committee.

The House International Relations Committee too is scheduling its own hearings and its Chairman, Henry Hyde has already passed judgment on the UN saying that the Oil-for-Food program “represents a scandal without precedent in UN history.”

The Oil-for-Food programme, set up in 1996, allowed Saddam to sell oil (Iraq being the second largest producer) to earn money to buy food and medicine; to remove land mines; and to build hospitals, schools and water treatment plants for his citizens, instead he bilked billions and the UN let him.

Iraqi oil pumped under Sevan’s direct supervision for seven full years was openly sold to whoever lined Saddam and Sevan’s pockets – 75% being Americans themselves – and the revenues deposited in a UN controlled escrow account (French bank, BNP Paribas)
 for Iraq to purchase the necessities of life denied by America and the world under punishing economic sanctions .

 Sweetheart deals among the French, Russians, Chinese and Iraqis, bastard many a thief of Baghdad, with UN as the midwife. 

The former Iraqi oil minister claims that the UN “was stealing money from the Iraqi people,” alleging that as many as 300 UN bureaucrats were employed to administer the programme. “We were not pumping oil to feed Iraqis, but to feed (300) UN bureaucrats in New York.”

 Before Sevan’s recent mysterious disappearance into the nether world, facilitated by boss Annan, who shrewdly packed him off on long leave before retirement, Sevan nonchalantly admitted, ” that as much as 10 percent” of the programme’s revenues may have been “ripped off,” telling a TV channel: “Even if 10 percent of the revenue was stolen, 90 percent got to the people it was intended for. Why does nobody report that?” he asked peevishly.

Kofi Annan’s choice of giving the pivotal contract to the Swiss-based Cotecna Inspection SA. to inspect all Oil-for-Food shipments in Iraq has ripped open his reputation, with accusations of nepotism.  The peripatetic Kojo, 30, born from Annan’s first wife in Ghana, worked for Cotecna.

More intriguing is the question why Annan favoured Cotecna, the same depraved and convicted firm, that Pakistan’s “Mr Ten Percent” Asif Ali Zardari, hired as Pre-Shipment Inspectors (PSI)  when his wife, Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister!

Third World leaders – corrupt to their teeth like Mobutu, Suharto, Marcos, Mugabe and the current crop of autocrats in Uzbekistan and Kazahkstan, have done business with this tight-knit group of five global companies, generating more than $800 million a year of revenue and $150-$200 million in profit from inspection contracts with 44 of such desperately poor countries.

 “These companies’ owners include some of the richest people on the planet, who dwell in premier capitals like Geneva, London, Paris, and Milan”, says James Henry, author of the Blood bankers: Tales from the Global Underground Economy.

A Swiss court convicted Cotecna and SGS for bribing Benazir Bhutto, and leading members of her family, all through the 1990s, with the help of major Swiss, American UK, and French banks and a coterie of Swiss lawyers.

“In effect, all these Western institutions helped to undermine Pakistani democracy and its chances for providing a democratic alternative to Islamic fundamentalism and military dictatorship,” says Henry, an economist by training, a lawyer and an investigative journalist, who tells us how many of the “world’s leading banks and financial groups have, often with the complicity of their governments and supranational institutions, created and fuelled the new high-growth global markets for dirty debt, capital flight, money laundering, tax evasion, corruption, illicit weapons traffic, and other new transnational forms of dubious economic activity”.

No surprise then if the World Bank and the IMF fail to police Cotecna and its ilk, and why Kofi Annan quietly handed on a platter the Oil-for-Food programme to them despite their stinking track-record.

 “In Pakistan’s case”, explains Henry, “it shows how vulnerable democratic development can be to corruption – encouraged and facilitated by a coterie of unscrupulous First World bankers, lawyers, and inspection companies.”

The Nobel Peace laureate Kofi, which means ‘Friday’ because that’s the day he was born, with his M.A in Management from MIT, egregiously allowed his son and crony to smear his good name.

Kojo’s bizarre trail of shady deals has gotten tongues wagging. Four years ago the contract for the $75million airport in Harare, capital of Zimbabwe, involved a nephew of its president Robert Mugabe; the son of a former Saudi oil minister; and the son of the UN chief!

After diplomatic pratfalls in Iraq, with everyone insisting that the UN must now step in, Bush and his cohorts on ther Right are desperate for a whistle-blower, someone who can squeal on the UN and discredit it.

And their choice? A Pakistani ex-Foreign Office type, for long with the UN in New York.

Serenading Shaukat Fareed, New York Times columnist William Safire, ended his March 29 column with:  “All of us need an embittered whistle-blower. If an ex-UN type named Shaukat Fareed reads this – call me.”

Safire is baying under the wrong tree. Shaukat Fareed is not an ‘ex-UN’. 

“I am unhappy that Safire got all the facts wrong,” Fareed says.   His response carried in the NYT Letter’s column, six days too late, was a tepid one.

 How did Safire pick Fareed’s name from the 15,000 UN employees? Is there something that one is missing here?

“Well, I am the person who originally put the Oil-for-Food structure together. Later it was taken away from me and given to Sevan,” says Fareed, now director, secretariat of the UN chief executives board of coordination, whatever that means!

Pulling rank, the opinionated William Safire, has a reputation of not acknowledging his mistake each time he’s horribly wrong or making false assertions (frequently). Nor will his “Newspaper of Record” tell him to correct them. 

“An opinion may be wrongheaded,” Safire recently fired back at Daniel Okrent, the NYT Public Editor who felt that columnists should carry corrections if they have misstated, “but it is never wrong. A belief or a conviction, no matter how illogical, crackbrained or infuriating, is an idea subject to vigorous dispute but is not an assertion subject to editorial or legal correction.”

No wonder Shaukat Fareed wants the Safire story to be put to bed. Either Safire knows  Fareed well or he is too powerful a man for the UN director to lock horns with.

Leave a comment