Hill investigators wary of U.N. scam report (WASHINGTON TIMES) By Betsy Pisik 02/03/05)
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Congressional staffers investigating the U.N. oil-for-food scandal
say they are worried that the interim Volcker report expected today
will leave unanswered key questions, such as the role of the U.N.
official who ran the program.
Parallel to the work of the panel headed by former Federal Reserve
Chairman Paul Volcker, Congress last month created a subcommittee on
investigations, in large part to keep an eye on the United Nations.
However, the Associated Press reported last night that a source close
to the probe said Mr. Volcker will be sharply critical of U.N.
management in key areas and will target Benon Sevan, the U.N.
official who ran the program.
The source said the Volcker report will focus on the administration,
financial transactions and internal auditing of the multibillion-
dollar program, all of which were "tainted badly."
In an advance copy of an op-ed article in today´s Wall Street
Journal, Mr. Volcker said, "The findings do not make for pleasant
reading," according to AP.
Staffers said earlier this week that they have a growing list of
questions regarding the seven-year, $64 billion humanitarian program
for Iraq, and they hope that today´s interim report will answer some
But some said they were not optimistic that the report would
illuminate the role of Mr. Sevan, who is accused of accepting oil
vouchers from the former regime, or the role of contractors
responsible for inspecting imports and exports and providing letters
Expectations also are lowered, according to a Democratic staffer, by
the fact that the Volcker panel has no subpoena power and no way to
compel corporations or governments to cooperate.
"I hope it´s not going to be a situation where he tells us what we
already know," said one staffer. "The more troubling thing would be
if he just doesn´t address certain issues that he doesn´t have
answers for, because he couldn´t get U.N. people to answer his
There is concern that Mr. Volcker will put much of the blame for oil
surcharges and contract kickbacks on the U.N. Security Council, where
the United States actively vetted every transaction.
Side deals appear to have generated at least $6.5 billion for former
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and oil smuggling might have brought him
twice that much.
"If [Mr. Volcker] points a finger at the U.S. and the Council, that´s
something we´ll look into, we´ll deal with it," said one Republican
staffer. "But that is not where he should be concentrating."
Mr. Volcker, who heads a 60-member Independent Inquiry Commission,
downplayed expectations for today´s interim report in a Jan. 6
interview with the New York Times, saying there would be no "flaming
red flags." The remark was repeated across Capitol Hill this week,
often with incredulity.
"How can he say that?" asked one House staffer, who spoke on the
condition of anonymity. "If you read those [U.N. Office of Internal
Oversight Services] reports, it´s just a forest of red flags out
Last month, the Volcker panel released 58 internal audits undertaken
by the U.N. Inspector General´s Office outlining count after count of
mismanagement and petty theft, but no large-scale corruption.
The oil-for-food program is seen by many on Capitol Hill as a
microcosm of the things they distrust about the United Nations.
"The U.N. is operating without any sense of accountability," one
Republican staffer said. "It´s almost a turkey shoot, the daily grind
"It´s a target-rich environment," he added, explaining why the House
International Relations subcommittee on international oversight and
investigations was created in January.
The subcommittee, headed by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California
Republican, will have a budget of about $400,000 and a full-time
staff of four or five, according to sources.
The senior members of the IIC are Mr. Volcker, Swiss money-laundering
expert Mark Pieth and South African jurist Richard Goldstone, the
first prosecutor for the U.N. war-crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the
The panel keeps offices near the United Nations and in other
countries and has a staff of 60. The $30 million enterprise was
funded by the United Nations with money originally earmarked for the
administration of the oil-for-food program.
Today´s report will be followed by at least one more, which is
expected in the spring. (Copyright 2005 News World Communications,
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