April 20, 2004
At least three senior United
Nations officials are suspected of taking
multimillion-dollar bribes from the Saddam Hussein regime,
U.S. and European intelligence sources tell ABCNEWS.
One year after his fall, U.S. officials say they have
evidence, some in cash, that Saddam diverted to his personal
bank accounts approximately $5 billion from the United
Nations Oil-for-Food program.
In what has been described as the largest humanitarian
aid effort ever undertaken, the U.N. Oil-for-Food program
began in 1996 to help Iraqis who were suffering under
sanctions imposed following the first Gulf War.
The program allowed Iraq to sell limited amounts of oil,
under supposedly tight U.N. supervision, to finance the
purchase of much-needed humanitarian goods.
Most prominent among those accused in the scandal is
Benon Sevan, the Cyprus-born U.N. undersecretary general who
ran the program for six years.
In an interview with ABCNEWS last year, Sevan denied any
"Well, I can tell you there have been no allegations
about me," he said. "Maybe you can try to dig it out." And
in a Feb. 10 statement, Sevan challenged those making the
allegations to "come forward and provide the necessary
documentary evidence" and present it to U.N. investigators.
But documents have surfaced in Baghdad, in the files of
the former Iraqi Oil Ministry, allegedly linking Sevan to a
pay-off scheme in which some 270 prominent foreign officials
received the right to trade in Iraqi oil at cut-rate prices.
"It's almost like having coupons of bonds or shares. You
can sell those coupons to other people who are normal oil
traders," said Claude Hankes-Drielsma, a British adviser to
the Iraq Governing Council.
Investigators say the smoking gun is a letter to former
Iraqi oil minister Amer Mohammed Rasheed, obtained by
ABCNEWS and not yet in the hands of the United Nations.
In the letter, dated Aug. 10, 1998, an Iraqi oil
executive mentions a request by a Panama-based company,
African Middle East Petroleum Co., to buy Iraqi oil — along
with a suggestion that Sevan had a role in the deal. "Mr.
Muwafaq Ayoub of the Iraqi mission in New York informed us
by telephone that the abovementioned company is the company
that Mr. Sevan cited to you during his last trip to
Baghdad," the executive wrote in Arabic.
A handwritten note indicated that permission for the oil
purchase was granted by "the Vice President of the Republic"
on Aug. 15, 1998.
The second page of the letter contains a table titled
"Quantity of Oil Allocated and Given to Mr. Benon Sevan."
The table lists a total of 7.3 million barrels of oil as the
"quantity executed" — an amount that, if true, would have
generated an illegal profit of as much as $3.5 million.
"Somebody who is running the Oil-for-Food program for the
United Nations should not be receiving any benefit of any
kind from a rogue dictator who was perpetuating terror in
his country," said Hankes-Drielsma.
Full Investigation Announced
The United Nations, at first, dismissed the allegations
about Sevan, but this week, Secretary General Kofi Annan
said there would be a full investigation led by the former
chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, Paul Volcker.
"We are going to investigate these allegations very
seriously," Annan said during a press conference.
In addition, Congress is scheduled to begin hearings into
the bribery scandal this week.
As for Sevan, when news of the scandal first broke
earlier this year, he took a long vacation to Australia.
He declined to answer questions when ABCNEWS found him
last week staying at a luxury casino resort.
A U.N. spokesman says Sevan, who makes $186,000 a year,
has submitted his retirement papers, effective May 21. The
spokesman said Sevan would remain on full salary through the
course of the U.N. investigation, which is expected to last
at least three months.
Oil Contracts for Political
The inquiries into the United Nations Oil-for-Food
program result from the release in January of a list of 270
individuals, companies and institutions that allegedly
received lucrative oil contracts from Saddam Hussein's
former regime in return for political support.
The list was published by an Iraqi independent newspaper
which claimed the document was discovered in the files of
the former Iraqi Oil Ministry in Baghdad.
Oil vouchers were allegedly given either as gifts or as
payment for goods imported into Iraq in violation of the
The following are the names of some of those listed as
receiving Iraqi oil contracts (amounts are in millions of
barrels of oil):
The Companies of the Russian Communist Party: 137 million
The Companies of the Liberal Democratic Party: 79.8 million
The Russian Committee for Solidarity with Iraq: 6.5 million
and 12.5 million (two separate contracts)
Head of the Russian Presidential Cabinet: 90 million
The Russian Orthodox Church: 5 million
Charles Pasqua, former minister of interior: 12 million
Trafigura (Patrick Maugein), businessman: 25 million
Ibex: 47.2 million
Bernard Merimee, former French ambassador to the United
Nations: 3 million
Michel Grimard, founder of the French-Iraqi Export Club:
Firas Mostafa Tlass, son of Syria's defense minister: 6
Zeynel Abidin Erdem: more than 27 million
Lotfy Doghan: more than 11 million
Megawati Sukarnoputri: 11 million
Ali Ballout, Lebanese journalist: 8.8 million
The Socialist Party: 22 million
Kostunica's Party: 6 million
Arthur Millholland, president and CEO of Oilexco: 9.5
Father Benjamin, a French Catholic priest who arranged a
meeting between the pope and Tariq Aziz: 4.5 million
Roberto Frimigoni: 24.5 million
Samir Vincent: 7 million
Shakir Alkhalaji: 10.5 million
George Galloway, member of Parliament: 19 million
Mujaheddin Khalq: 36.5 million
Tokyo Saxwale: 4 million
Shaker bin Zaid: 6.5 million
The Jordanian Ministry of Energy: 5 million
Fawaz Zureikat: 6 million
Toujan Al Faisal, former member of Parliament: 3 million
The son of President Lahoud: 5.5 million
Khaled Abdel Nasser: 16.5 million
Emad Al Galda, businessman and Parliament member: 14 million
The Palestinian Liberation Organization: 4 million
Abu Al Abbas: 11.5 million
Hamad bin Ali Al Thany: 14 million
Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem: 1 million
Foreign minister of Chad: 3 million
The October 8th Movement: 4.5 million
The minister of the Forests of Myanmar: 5 million
The Social Democratic Party: 8.5 million
The Communist Party: 6 million
The Socialist Party: 2 million
The FTD oil company: 2 million