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How Saddam Bribed the UN By: Newt Gingrich
American Enterprise Institute | Friday, April 02, 2004


The UN Oil-for-Food program was supposed to help the Iraqi people acquire the food and medicine they needed while U.N. sanctions against Iraq were in place, sanctions that could have been lifted had Saddam Hussein complied with the resolutions that the UN Security Council adopted following the first Gulf War.

Incredibly, the deposed leader was able to bribe a global network of international power players and turn the Oil-for-Food program into a massive charade. Saddam orchestrated this operation so successfully that over seven years he may have collected up to $10 billion in illegal cash kickbacks while officials at the United Nations apparently turned a blind eye -- thus victimizing the very people Oil-for-Food was intended to help.

The Oil-for-Food program was administered by the United Nations. Records recovered recently in Iraq provide credible indications that the United Nations utterly failed in its responsibility to manage the program. The rapidly approaching test for the United Nations, which claims to have concluded an internal audit but failed to disclose the report, is meeting the standards of honesty, accountability and transparency.

In late January, the Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada was the first to print a list of 270 people and organizations from around the world that apparently benefited from the program by accepting oil shipments or vouchers at below market prices, which allowed them to resell at market prices and realize huge profits. Many of the alleged recipients of Saddam's largess occupy positions at the highest levels of influence in government, business and in the political world. The United Nations itself also appears to have been corrupted by Saddam's payoffs.

The now-infamous Al-Mada list reveals an unimaginable level of corruption on a global scale that allowed the people of Iraq to be betrayed and victimized not only by Saddam but by international predators of opportunity.

Claude Hankes-Drielsma is no stranger to examining large-scale corruption. He led the investigation of the Nobel Prize corruption scandal as well as the South African debt scandal. In his estimation, the oil-for-food scam is likely to emerge as the largest financial scandal in history, involving billions of dollars stolen from the people of Iraq.

Under UN mismanagement and possible malfeasance, not only were people collecting billions of dollars from illegal transactions--they were profiting at the expense of the Iraqi people. As a direct result, Iraq's basic health infrastructures deteriorated to the point where innocent people, including many children, were sickened and died. It has been reported that food delivered to the Iraqi people was often not fit for human consumption and medicines were often expired.

The Iraqi bureaucrats in Saddam's Ministry of Oil kept particularly good records of these transactions, perhaps out of fear that bad record keeping would imply their stealing and lead to near certain death. This tidy ledger lists an intriguing array of international power brokers who received preferential oil contracts:

The Russians by far received the most Iraqi oil--more than 2.5 billion barrels. In all, 46 of the recipients listed are from Russia. The largest recipient was the Russian state, at 1.4 billion barrels. There were also a number of non-end users, including the Communist Party (137 million barrels) and the Liberal Democratic Party (80 million barrels).

The French were the second largest beneficiary of oil at 165 million barrels, including 36 million barrels to Patrick Maugein, chief executive officer of the oil firm SOCO International and close political and financial supporter of President Jacques Chirac. Maugein denied allegations in late January that he illegally benefited from the oil contracts when questioned by a reporter from the French newspaper Le Monde.

Former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua also appears on the list for 12 million barrels.

Additionally, there is a strong indication that all of the financial transactions from the list were directed by the Parisian bank BNP.

In all, recipients from 52 different countries were on the list. Most disturbing are the numerous non-end users, including 19 different political parties.

Who exactly at the United Nations was supposed to be watching over the oil-for-food program? The executive director for the program, Benon V. Sevan, also appears on the list as having received oil export vouchers for 11.5 million barrels. Conveniently, he is currently on extended leave and is due to retire upon his return.

It seems extremely implausible that the United Nations was unaware of what was going on. Worse, it may be revealed that high UN officials were willing participants.

What appears clear is that because Saddam was allowed to game the UN system and collect billions, he was able to continue his brutal regime not in spite of the oil-for-food program but because of it, getting away with the oppression of the Iraqi people by simply paying off whomever he needed in order to keep the deals and the cash coming.

The United Nations must regain credibility in the eyes of the world or it will cease to function. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan must demand a full account of every transaction by initiating a thorough and complete investigation to be conducted by an outside commission to determine what went wrong inside the United Nations for it to have presided over this colossal fraud on the international community.

Anything short of full cooperation and disclosure will only serve to further discredit the United Nations and severely diminish its role in world events.

Moreover, the people of Iraq deserve the truth and they deserve to have their money back. All those involved who are found to have illegally received money through the oil-for-food program, which was intended for the people of Iraq, should face criminal prosecution and be forced to return their ill-gotten gains. This will be a test for the new Iraqi government, which can establish the standards of honesty, accountability and transparency that we should have expected from the United Nations, which under Annan's leadership now faces the biggest challenge in its history.


Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives (1995-99), represented the people of Georgia in the House from 1979-99. He crafted the 1994 GOP campaign position, the "Contract with America," which led to the first Republican congress in forty years. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


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