Loose Canons

All the Little Volckers

Paul Volcker’s "independent inquiry" into the Oil for Food scandal is but another U.N. scandal.

By 2.6.05

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As Judge Robert Bork can tell you, having your last name turned into a verb is never a good thing. Still worse is when your name is taken, robbed of its capitalization, and used to describe others such as you. Vidkun Quisling was Norway's most infamous Nazi collaborator. When Churchill spoke of "These vile Quislings in our midst," he made the name synonymous with "traitor." Now that the interim report of the U.N.'s so-called "Independent Inquiry Committee" on the Oil for Food program is out, it's quite apparent that all the little volckers of the U.N. are doing their best to divert any serious investigation of the largest rip-off in history.

The report, released last Thursday, admits what is no longer deniable and ignores everything else. In January 2004, the Al Mada newspaper in Baghdad released a list of people, companies and nations that had been bribed by Saddam's regime through the Oil for Food scam. Among them was the name of Benon Sevan, the U.N. bureaucrat who headed up the program. The February 3 report says that Sevan asked Iraq for oil allocations for AMEP, a company run by his pal Fakhry Abdelnour. AMEP got its allocations (totaling about $1.5 million) and some part of the money resulting from the sale of the oil (thought to be at least $160,000) found its way into Sevan's pockets. But why?

The Iraqis weren't passing out oil allocations worth millions just to see if they could. Every bribe Saddam's regime paid was for a purpose. The regime obviously wanted Sevan to do (or not do) something in return for the bribe. But what? In the thoroughly volckered report, there's no mention of the motive for the bribe, or the service Sevan did in return for it. Or even that the "Independent Inquiry" is looking into it. The report says that Sevan's actions "were ethically improper and seriously undermined the integrity of the United Nations." Saying Sevan has ethical problems is like saying the Gambino family has legal issues. Sevan -- who is apparently as crooked as a dog's hind leg -- may be a sacrificial lamb. The U.N. investigators have no interest in digging into the reason for the bribe or what Sevan did because it might just lead them to the heart of the corruption.

The report also criticizes the fact that Sevan was able to ignore the requests of the U.N.'s internal audit department -- the Office of Internal Oversight Services -- and run the program without encumbering it with those terribly inconvenient things called checks and balances. But that, too, is old news. Weeks ago, congressional investigators released some of the U.N.'s internal audit reports that they had spent a year fighting to get. In one, dated July 28, 2003, OIOS reported to Sevan, and to the entire U.N. hierarchy, that Sevan had ignored their requests and had not put in place the audit and oversight mechanisms that were essential to running a multi-billion dollar program such as Oil for Food: "Appropriate procedures and internal controls had not been established to reduce or eliminate" the high-risk parts of the program. Once again, the volckered report admits only what is old news, and does nothing further.

Stack that July 2003 report up against the U.N.'s statements when the Oil for Food scam began to attract media attention. On February 18, 2004 - seven months after the internal audit report showed that Sevan had prevented proper oversight of the program - Shashi Tharoor, the U.N.'s Undersecretary General for Communications and Public Information, wrote the following in a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

The [Oil for Food] program itself was managed strictly within the mandate given to [the U.N.] by the Security Council and was subject to nearly 100 different audits, external and internal, between 1998 and 2003 and, as the secretary general has said, this produced no evidence of any wrongdoing by any U.N. official.

That was nonsense when it was written, and it's nonsense now. Last week's report recounts the findings of the July 2003 report, and does nothing more than repeat its recommendations. But -- again -- it fails to pursue the motives and consequences: why did the U.N. hierarchy let the mess in Oil for Food continue? That report was addressed to Sevan and to Deputy Secretary General Frechette, C. Elfverson, director of the U.N.'s program oversight office, the U.N. Board of Auditors and others. Why did they all ignore it and leave Sevan to go his merrily corrupt way? Don't ask Mr. Volcker.

IT'S NOT EASY TO THINK ILL of an eminence such as Paul Volcker. But why would a man such as he put himself in the position of a shill for Kofi Annan and his corrupt crew? The unfortunate answer came to light a couple of weeks ago in a memo by Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation.

As Gardiner reports Paul Volcker was, at the time he was appointed to head the "Independent Inquiry," a director of the United Nations Association of the United States of America, "UNA-USA," as well as the Business Council for the United Nations. UNA-USA is a lobbying group that promotes the U.N. to Congress and the media. The Business Council does the same among the business community. This is an obvious conflict of interest that completely disqualifies Volcker from running an independent investigation. It also renders any report of his investigation at best unreliable, and at worst worthless.

If there's any doubt about the latter, consider this. According to Gardiner's report, one of the chief donors to UNA-USA and the Business Council for the United Nations was BNP Paribas, the French bank through which most of the Oil-for-Food-for-Bribes-for-Weapons program funding flowed. BNP donated more than $100,000 to UNA-USA and the Business Council in 2002 and 2003, Gardiner reported.

There are plenty of vile quislings running around in the U.N., appeasing terrorists and bashing democracies. And all the little volckers running around behind them make their goals so much easier to achieve.

TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the U.N. and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery Publishing).

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.