Withhold U.S. Funds from the U.N.
The Oil-for-Food fraud has become an issue of well-founded, serious concern on Capitol Hill. Three congressional committees--the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House International Relations Committee, and the House Subcommittee on National Security--have already held hearings into the Oil-for-Food scandal.
The most effective way to ensure that the United Nations fully cooperates with its own commission of inquiry, and with investigators in Washington and Baghdad, is to threaten to reduce U.S. funding for the U.N., specifically the United States' assessed contribution. In particular, the U.S. should target funds going to the U.N. Secretariat, the political arm of the U.N. system, that had responsibility for overseeing the Oil-for-Food program.
Congress should threaten to withhold a portion of U.S. funds for the U.N. unless it is completely satisfied that the U.N. is fully cooperating with the various Oil-for-Food inquiries and is undertaking effective measures to reform itself. Senator John Ensign (R-NV) and Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ) have introduced bills (S. 2389 and H.R. 4284, respectively) that would move in the right direction and enjoy bipartisan support.4
Adoption of Senate Amendment 3440 (sponsored by Senator Ensign) to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2005 (S. 2400) was another important step. Specifically, Amendment 3440:
- Requires key departments within the Administration to take steps to ensure that all documents needed to conduct investigations are collected and safely secured;
- Requires the Department of Defense to secure documents in the hands of the (now-dissolved) Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA);
- Requires heads of U.S. executive agencies to provide prompt access to documents and information to congressional committees with relevant jurisdiction;
- Directs the Secretary of State to use American power at the U.N. to provide the U.S. with audits and vital documents related to the Oil-for-Food program; and
- Requires the Comptroller General to review U.S. oversight of the Oil-for-Food program and underscores that the Comptroller General should have full and complete access to U.N. documents and financial data.
Senate Amendment 3440 was adopted unanimously following bipartisan consultations and modifications. It is critical that the conference committee, which will reconcile the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act, include it in the conference report that will come back to the House and Senate for final approval.
Senator Ensign, Representative Flake, and the other Members of Congress who have contributed to the effort to get to the bottom of the U.N. Oil-for-Food scandal should be commended for their efforts to date and encouraged to continue to apply pressure on both the U.N. and the Administration.
In light of the congressional hearings that have already been held concerning Oil for Food, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House International Relations Committee should report the bills for debate and action by the full Senate and House. In addition, similar language should be included in the Senate and House annual appropriations legislation that provides funding for the United Nations.
Further Areas for Congressional Investigation
There are several key areas that Congress should investigate:
- The lack of power given to the Volcker Commission of Inquiry,
- Leaked U.N. documents and Kofi Annan's role,
- The Benon Sevan letters,
- The role of the Coalition Provisional Authority,
- Security Council debates over the removal of Saddam Hussein,
- Oil for Food and terrorism, and
- United Nations reform.
The U.N. Commission of Inquiry
The U.N. commission of inquiry is already underway, although it is not required to report by a set deadline. There are serious doubts emerging as to whether the commission can do its job effectively. It is operating amid a cloud of secrecy and confusion.
Congress should be seriously concerned about the commission's lack of subpoena power. In addition, it is unclear whether the U.N. is setting aside sufficient funds for the investigation and who will be staffing it. The commission's independence is also in doubt because of questions about whether it will be open to interference from the U.N. Secretariat and Secretary General Annan. Finally, the lack of transparency in the commission's operation is disturbing.
Leaked U.N. Documents and Kofi Annan's Role
Evidence was recently leaked that the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services conducted a detailed audit of the U.N.'s administration of the Oil-for-Food program in 2003, before the liberation of Iraq.5 The report was damning in its conclusions and highly critical of the U.N.'s dealings with the Swiss company Cotecna Inspection SA, which had won a $4.8 million contract to oversee the operations of the Oil-for-Food program. Kofi Annan's son Kojo worked for the company in the mid-1990s and was a consultant to the company until shortly before it won the Oil-for-Food contract. Bizarrely, Cotecna was awarded another contract, worth $9.8 million, almost immediately after the report's publication.
The leaked report is reportedly just one of 55 internal U.N. audits of the Oil-for-Food program. Its existence suggests that Secretary General Annan would have known about the rampant structural problems within the program's administration. At the very least, the leaked report indirectly suggests gross negligence on the part of the U.N.'s top official.
Congress should demand the immediate release of all 55 internal reports and should investigate the extent to which Secretary General Annan deliberately ignored their findings. Congress should also investigate whether Annan's decision to hire Cotecna was influenced by his son's affiliation with the company.
The Benon Sevan Letters
There is also some evidence that Benon Sevan, the former director of the Oil-for-Food program, interfered with congressional investigations. Specifically, Sevan wrote letters on official U.N. stationery warning some of the companies implicated in the scandal that they must first seek U.N. approval before releasing documents to investigators.6
Congress should both demand a full accounting from the U.N. Secretariat of the Sevan letters and express its concern that Sevan may be seeking to block efforts by Congress to establish the truth.
The Former Coalition Provisional Authority
The recently dissolved Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) appointed its own investigation into the U.N.'s handling of the Oil-for-Food program, headed by Claude Hankes-Drielsma, a highly respected British businessman and political adviser, and the leading international accounting firm KPMG. However, the CPA refused to fund the IGC investigation and launched its own inquiry, using the Ernst & Young accounting firm. As a result, the Oil-for-Food investigations in Baghdad are in a state of confusion, wasting precious time and resources, and there are growing concerns that vital documents may be lost or destroyed.7
On his return to Washington, Congress should ask former Ambassador Paul Bremer to clarify his actions in impeding Oil-for-Food investigations in Baghdad. Specifically, Congress should ask why the CPA refused to fund the IGC investigation and then launched its own investigation. The resulting confusion may seriously harm efforts in Iraq to establish the truth regarding Saddam Hussein's abuse of the Oil-for-Food program.
Congressional investigators should also examine whether the United Nations or Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. envoy to Iraq, have unduly influenced the Oil-for-Food investigations in Baghdad.
Security Council Debates over the Removal of Saddam Hussein
The heated U.N. Security Council debates before the U.S.-led war to liberate Iraq cannot remain separated from the Oil-for-Food program and the fact that influential politicians, major companies, and political parties from key Security Council member countries may have benefited financially from the program.
The Al Mada list of 270 individuals, political entities, and businesses across the world that allegedly received oil vouchers from Saddam Hussein's regime included no fewer than 46 Russian and 11 French names. The Russian government alone allegedly received an astonishing $1.36 billion in oil vouchers.
The list of Russian entities accused of accepting bribes from Saddam goes to the heart of the Russian financial and political establishment and includes the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Russian Communist Party, Lukoil, Yukos, Gasprom, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the chief of the President's Bureau. The list of French names includes former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua.
The close ties between Russian and French 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 triangular working relationships among Paris, Moscow, 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.8
Without a shred of evidence, European and domestic critics have frequently derided the Bush Administration's decision to go to war in Iraq as an "oil grab" driven by U.S. corporations such as Halliburton. They ignore the reality that the leading opponents of war at the U.N. Security Council--Russia and France--had vast oil interests in Iraq, protected by the Saddam Hussein regime. The Oil-for-Food program and its elaborate system of kickbacks and bribery was also a major source of revenue for many European politicians and business concerns, especially in Moscow.
Congressional hearings on the financial, political, and military links among Moscow, Paris, and Baghdad will help to shed light on the tempestuous Security Council debates that preceded the war with Iraq and on the motives of key Security Council members in opposing regime change in Baghdad. The full disclosure of the Russian and French roles in trying to prevent Saddam Hussein's removal from power will have major implications for the future of U.S.-Russian and U.S.-French relations and should result in a more informed assessment of the long-term viability of political, intelligence, and military cooperation with the two countries.
Hearings would also shed light on the extent of strategic cooperation between Paris and Moscow in the Security Council and the long-term threat that the emergence of a Franco-Russian-German axis at the United Nations could pose to U.S. interests.
Oil for Food and Terrorism
In addition to propping up Saddam's regime and buying influence abroad, some Oil-for-Food revenues may have been diverted to funding terrorism. At least two shadowy entities--Asat Trust and al-Taqwa, which have been linked to al-Qaeda, Hamas, and other Islamic extremist organizations--profited from the Oil-for-Food program.9 Asat Trust, a firm that the U.S. and the U.N. later designated as a financial collaborator of al-Qaeda, was the legal representative of the Galp International Trading Establishment, a Liechtenstein-based subsidiary of Portugal's major oil company and one of Iraq's trading partners under the Oil-for-Food program after 1997.
Al-Taqwa (awe of God) was a group of financial institutions set up in the 1980s by prominent members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an anti-Western Islamic organization founded in Egypt in 1928. According to a White House press release, al-Taqwa and its affiliates "raise, manage, invest, and distribute funds for al-Qaeda; provide terrorist supporters with internet service and secure telephone communications; and arrange for the shipment of weapons."10 A former FBI counterterrorism specialist also charges that al-Taqwa was used by the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and several North African terrorist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.11 According to a senior government official, "Al-Taqwa was the recipient of illicit funds from Iraq's Oil for Food program," and the money flowed "through al-Taqwa to al-Qaeda."12
Another reported recipient of Oil-for-Food largesse was Delta Services, a now-defunct subsidiary of Delta Oil, a Saudi oil company that had close relations with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Delta Oil was one of the prime movers pushing for the building of a pipeline from oil-rich Central Asia across Afghanistan to Pakistan. This scheme collapsed after al-Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in East Africa in August 1998, provoking an American cruise missile strike on al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.
Another target of retaliation for the embassy bombings was the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan. Osama Bin Laden was suspected of owning at least part of the plant, although this has never been proven. However, according to Clinton Administration officials, the plant manager lived in a villa owned by bin Laden, and U.S. intelligence intercepted phone calls from the plant to the Iraqi official who ran Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons program. Before being destroyed, the Al Shifa plant also received a contract for $199,000 under the Oil-for-Food program.13
Although much remains unknown about the precise flow of money from the Oil-for-Food program, there is a disturbing pattern emerging that connects the U.N.-administered program to a number of entities that are known to support or are suspected of supporting terrorism.
United Nations Reform
A congressional investigation into the Oil-for-Food scandal should seek fundamental and lasting reform of the United Nations. No other issue has as much power to shape the future of the United Nations in such a positive way. The Oil-for-Food investigations should not be interpreted as a campaign to damage the reputation of the U.N., but as a concerted effort to ensure that the U.N. is made more accountable, transparent, and effective.
The Oil-for-Food scandal reinforces the need for the Security Council to impose a code of conduct on U.N. employees. The pervasive "anything goes" approach at the U.N. is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. A thorough external audit of the U.N. is needed. The U.N. must provide accountability, transparency, and value for money to the U.S. taxpayer.14