Thursday, March 18, 2004

Benon Sevan

The UN has begun an investigation in to claims that "a prominent U.N. official took kickbacks from the multibillion-dollar Iraqi oil-for-food program that ended last year."

The United Nations has begun an internal investigation into accusations that a prominent U.N. official took kickbacks from the multibillion-dollar Iraqi oil-for-food program that ended last year.

The accusations have also prompted U.S. congressional concern. The General Accounting Office, which has been examining Iraq's finances since May, is preparing to brief staffers of the House International Relations Committee tomorrow afternoon.

"There are important implications here in how the U.N. operates that are vitally important to the oversight committees of the House and Senate," said committee spokesman Sam Stratman.

Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, "wants to pull together information about the extent of this problem to determine the options the committee has for proceeding," he said.

Benon Sevan, the executive director of the Office of the Iraq Program at the United Nations, is accused by some Iraqi officials of accepting oil vouchers from Saddam Hussein's regime. The charges are based on papers found in the Ministry of Oil listing kickbacks and bribes.

Some 270 people, organizations and corporations were subsequently accused of taking bribes by an Iraqi newspaper, though the claims have not been authenticated. Nonetheless, the inclusion of Mr. Sevan in the list has fueled long-held suspicions about the U.N. program, which sold more than $60 billion worth of oil in 6 years.

According to reports published in Iraq, Mr. Sevan, a native of Cyprus, received a voucher for 1.8 million barrels of Iraqi oil. At today┬┤s prices, the oil would be worth more than $67 million. Presumably the bearer of the voucher could claim the oil, or consign it to a middleman and pocket the proceeds when it was sold.

Mr. Sevan, currently on vacation and about to retire, has denied all accusations through a U.N. spokesman.


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