Questions raised about UN official on oil-for-food plan (FT-FINANCIAL TIMES) By Claudio Gatti and Mark Turner in New York Published: January 31 2005 22:00)
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Benon Sevan, the United Nations official in charge of the oil-for-
food programme in Iraq, intervened in person to steer lucrative
contracts to an oil trader, Iraqi officials have told the UN´s
Their testimony, consistent with documents that have emerged since
the fall of Saddam Hussein, adds to questions facing Mr Sevan as
investigations into alleged corruption progress. The interim findings
of the UN inquiry, led by Paul Volcker, are due to be published this
The programme began in late-1996 to allow Iraq to buy food and
medicines in short supply because of international sanctions. But
critics say it became a source of illicit funds for the regime.
Documents from Iraq´s state oil marketing organisation (Somo), now in
the possession of the Financial Times and Il Sole 24 Ore, the Italian
business daily, appear to link Mr Sevan to the assigning of contracts
to Africa Middle East Petroleum, a Swiss-based oil trading company.
Oil contracts which could be sold to international traders at a mark-
up of up to 35 cents a barrel were awarded by the regimefor every six-
The Somo documents show that, unusually, AMEP was added to recipients
in the middle of Phase Four (May-November 1998) after a visit to
Baghdad by Mr Sevan. One letter, dated August 10 1998, was from
Saddam Zayn Hassan, Somo´s executive manager, to Iraq´s oil minister.
Translated from Arabic, it mentions AMEP as “the company that Mr
Sevan cited to you during his last trip to Baghdad”.
No evidence of any financial relationship between AMEP and Mr Sevan
has been established but investigators want to know what this letter
means. Mr Sevan would not talk to the media while the investigations
continue, his spokesman said.
AMEP signed its first contract on September 24 1998. In every
subsequent phase except one, Mr Sevan´s name appears in Somo
documents, several times next to that of AMEP. AMEP´s head is Fakhri
Abdelnour, an Egyptian relative of former UN secretary-general
Boutros Boutros-Ghali and one of the oil traders who helped South
Africa bust anti-apartheid sanctions in the 1980s.
Investigators have been told that Mr Abdelnour often mentioned Mr
Sevan when visiting Baghdad´s oil ministry. Mr Abdelnour says he
never received allocations from Mr Sevan and met him only once “on a
casual basis” in the lobby of a hotel in Vienna during an meeting of
the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Parallel inquiries by investigators working for the US Congress are
scrutinising statements by Mr Sevan that he received tens of
thousands of dollars in cash annually from an aunt in Cyprus.
Inquiries by the FT and Il Sole suggest Mr Sevan´s only close
relative in Cyprus was Berjouhi Zeytountsian, an aunt who raised him
after his parents´ death.
Ms Zeytountsian died in June. On March 23, she fell into an elevator
shaft. Police, who declared her death an accident, never had a chance
to interview her. (© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2005. 01/31/05)
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