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Monthly Archives: February 2007

How Old Is This Man?

February 27th, 2007 - 10:27 pm

It turns out that for more than two decades a man who is currently the director of a big UN agency in Geneva has been using two different birth dates, with a nine-year spread between. He has signed some official documents, including UN travel papers and U.S. visa applications, saying he was born in 1945. But since last year, he’s been insisting he was born in 1954. Even at the UN, that’s odd behavior. But what’s priceless is that this happened at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), where the main mission is — what else? — to keep accurate track of information. Here’s my story on the amazing changing birth dates of WIPO Director-General Kamil Idris, who is now either 52 or 61. The picture posted here was released by WIPO last year … How old is this man? Even the auditor wasn’t quite sure.

What gets scary is that this is the same UN — run with the same secrecy and immunities — that’s supposed to be keeping track of things like sanctions programs on rogue regimes (shades of Oil-for-Food), and who gets the nuclear bomb.

In the multi-billion dollar global scam that was the United Nations Oil-for-Food program, there has now been at least a small portion of justice done. On Thursday, a cold rainy day in Manhattan, I joined the throng assembled in Judge Denny Chin’s courtroom to see the sentencing of a South Korean businessman, Tongsun Park. Park got five years in prison and was ordered to forfeit $1.2 million and pay a $15,000 fine for what Judge Chin described as “a very serious crime.”

Park was convicted last summer of conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of Saddam Hussein’s government with the aim of bribing the UN to rig the Oil-for-Food relief program for UN-sanctioned Iraq. But that mouthful does not begin to convey the web of conspiracy and cash that trial witnesses described to the jury, in a tale that included cash in envelopes in Manhattan, cash in shopping bags near Washington, cash picked up in Baghdad, deposited in a Jordanian bank and then delivered in the form of checks to various parties, including one of Kofi Annan’s top advisers and environmental gurus, Maurice Strong – who has denied any wrong-doing. (Here’s a link to my reporter’s notebook blog on Park’s trial).

All told, as summed up by Judge Chin, Saddam’s regime paid Park more than $2.5 million for his efforts in conspiring to bribe a UN official.

Which leaves us with an important mystery. Exactly what — or who — did Saddam and his henchmen think they were getting for their $2.5 million or more in payments to Tongsun Park? No one at the UN has been accused of taking any bribes via Tongsun Park. The theory among such folks as Volcker’s investigators seems to be that despite Park’s efforts in a conspiracy that went on for years, and despite Park’s receipt of millions from Baghdad for his services, somehow no one at the UN ever took the bribes Park was paid to deliver. Digging deeper into this matter is difficult, because Volcker despite his initial promises to release the underlying documents of his investigation has instead turned them over to the UN’s own legal department, which refuses to release them to the public, or the press.

So what to make of this curious scene? — in which Saddam’s government paid Tongsun Park more than $2.5 million to bribe an official (or perhaps several) at the UN; but at the UN itself, no one has been accused of taking any money from Park. By many accounts, while Saddam’s regime was massively corrupt, it did not throw money around without expecting some performance in return. And the period most of interest, 1996-1997, was a time at which Saddam was scrimping for cash — Iraq was under sanctions, but the torrent of Oil-for-Food kickbacks, payoffs and smuggling had not yet seriously begun.

Tongsun Park did not receive one lump sum for efforts. He got a series of payments from Baghdad, spread out over at least two years. That raises the question of why, if Park was somehow failing to actually deliver bribes to the UN, Saddam’s regime would have continued forking over the cash. Witnesses at Park’s trial testified that in 1996, while the UN under Boutros Boutros-Ghali was setting up Oil-for-Food, Park received stacks of Iraqi cash delivered to him in the U.S. But in 1997, which was after Oil-for-Food had begun, but while it was being further shaped during Kofi Annan’s first year as UN Secretary-General, Park on two separate occasions, in July and September of 1997, received two more big payouts from Baghdad.

The first, for about $1 million, was deposited by an Iraqi in July, 1997 into the Jordanian bank account from which Park the following week delivered a check for $988,885 to Maurice Strong (Strong told investigators he did not know the source of the funds, and that Park was handing over funds to invest in a Strong family company). Then there was a second big Baghdad payout, in which Park himself, according to a witness at his trial, walked into the same Jordanian bank in September, 1997 with a bag containing $700,000 in cash and deposited the bundle. Later that same day, Park drew down almost the entire account to issue a number of checks, including several for businesses in which he had an interest, and one for $30,000 to M. Strong. What became of that check has not been explained.

And so we arrive at this curious moment in the Oil-for-Food saga. Tongsun Park, to whom Baghdad paid more than $2.5 million for his role in a conspiracy to convey bribes to the UN, is now doing five years in prison for his crime. We can be grateful to the U.S. system of justice that this much has been done. But one might have supposed that given all Park’s efforts, worth millions to Baghdad in bagman fees alone, there would have been someone at the UN on the receiving end of this particular connection; perhaps someone dining out well tonight on bribe money skimmed from the people of Iraq via a job of high public trust. But no one, not one person, has been named. It’s a funny world.

War, Weather and Global Cooling

February 17th, 2007 - 1:06 pm

This has been a week in which the pronouncements of politicians on assorted crises worldwide have been sounding like one long bad weather report — the main feature being that nothing said in the capitals corresponds to the realities right outside the window. On Iraq, Congress is busy declaring that the way to win is to surrender. On North Korea, President Bush and Condi Rice have decided that the way to protect us from rogue acts of the totalitarian bomb-building regime of Kim Jong Il is to send aid and comfort to cheating Kim. On Iran, where the regime has been fomenting terror in Iraq, backing Hezbollah’s terrorist bid to take over Lebanon, and racing double-time to build the nuclear bomb, the main game plan seems to consist now of Condi Rice trying to barrel ahead with the creation of a Palestinian state — on the shopworn fallacy that this is the key to balancing and solving the tyranny-and-terror-based problems of the Middle East. What’s gone entirely out of fashion is the idea that America should stand up for its bedrock principles of freedom and human dignity, rather than panicking, and dignifying and rewarding some of the world’s worst thugs.

There is perhaps some small comfort to be found in considering that ’twas ever thus. In politics, the pendelum swings. The question is what will be the cost of correcting the mistakes we are now making out of denial and fear — and what will it now take to persuade America’s natural, democratic allies that we should once again be trusted. That price seems right now to be rising by the day.

For some perspective, or perhaps a cautionary metaphor, check out the weather itself — even beyond the cold snap which has so neatly accompanied the latest eruption of the global warming debate. As today’s prophets of global warming try to terrify us into re-engineering the economy of the planet, we can be glad that in a similar panic 30 years ago over — yes — global cooling, we did not in fear act upon such absurd proposals of the hour as trying to divert the arctic rivers, or melt the arctic ice cap by covering it in soot. I’m not making that up. A friend sent round an article from Newsweek, 1975; read all about the The Cooling World.

In place of the 1994 “Agreed Framework” nuclear freeze deal with North Korea, in which we sent Kim Jong Il aid, while he cheated, we now have the 2007 “Joint Agreement,” in which the U.S. has promised more aid, while … (does anyone not know how this goes?). It’s time for a sequel to that marvelous video clip on Youtube. It’s short, and worth every second: The David Zucker Albright Ad. Or, why wait for the sequel? Just take the original, and for the word “Democrats,” substitute “Republicans.”

Nuclear Blackmail Pays

February 13th, 2007 - 6:45 pm

In Pyongyang, Kim Jong Il should be celebrating. In Tehran, Ahmadinejad should be be gloating. Worldwide, tinpot tyrants must be taking notes. The message delivered to the world by Condi Rice’s State Department, with the “joint agreement” just reached at the six-way talks in Beijing is that — yes, indeed — nuclear blackmail pays. Having cheated on the Clinton “Agreed Framework” nuclear freeze, trashed the nonproliferation treaty, and tested an intercontinental missile and a nuclear bomb, Kim is now about to rake in his latest pay-off from the U.S. — which is offering a heap of rewards in exchange for the same hollow promises with which Kim suckered us last time.

While U.S. envoy Christopher Hill was negotiating this debacle, I spent some time reporting an article for The Weekly Standard, compiling a list of Kim Jong Il’s main sources of income over the past decade — as a rough guide to what North Korea’s promises are worth: Cash for Kim. Given the lies, murk and propaganda of the government of North Korea, there was no way to produce exact numbers and neatly reconciled accounts. But what’s clear is that Kim’s regime, while inflicting Stalinesque conditions on its own people, and threatening the rest of us, has been raking in billions via aid and alleged global criminal rackets (some of them much closer to the U.S. than you might think). These include counterfeiting U.S. dollars, selling illicit drugs, peddling counterfeit cigarettes and cleaning up on what amounts to North Korean slave labor. To that list, we can now add another $200 – $400 million worth of fuel with which the the U.S. now hopes to appease Kim — the latest pay-off in his nuclear blackmail racket.

This deal is no achievement, and it won’t buy peace. It is tribute paid to a murderous tyrant, it is a complete betrayal of what America stands for. And it won’t work.

Compliments to this marvelous bit of “nuke boost” artwork from Cox & Forkum, who get it – unlike the diplomats who get paid to protect our interests, and are instead delivering support to Kim.

It wouldn’t be unilateralism if the UN Secretariat actually gave a hoot about seeing justice done. But in the case of Benon Sevan, it’s tempting to conclude that the only folks who care about extensively documented allegations of corruption in the top tiers of the UN are a handful of U.S. congressmen, the Feds and maybe a couple of journalists.

Alleged by the UN’s own “independent inquiry” to have taken pay-offs on Oil-for-Food deals, and indicted last month in the U.S. on the same grounds, the former head of the UN’s Oil-for-Food program, Benon Sevan is still at large on Cyprus. There, as a Cypriot citizen, Sevan — who denies any wrong-doing — is safe from U.S. extradition. He has been back there for almost two years now, on full UN pension, and has never had to face questions in court. The Cypriot authorities have shown no sign of opening an investigation.

But at least two members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Chairman Tom Lantos (Democrat) and Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Republican), think it’s still worth asking that justice be done. They’ve just sent a joint letter to the Ambassador of Cyprus to the U.S., Andreas Kakouris, reminding him of Sevan’s indictment, and noting that “The accession of Cyprus to the European Union was welcomed by many as heralding a new era of international cooperation by your country.” In that context, they hope the government of Cyprus “will undertake robust efforts to investigate, locate, and extradite Mr. Sevan, so that he may be fairly tried for his alleged violations of United States law and international confidence.” You can read the full letter here.

(It would not be hard to locate Sevan, who has been living openly in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia; as for the investigating, there are stacks of documents already, including the reports of Volcker’s inquiry; records of Sen. Norm Coleman’s subcommittee; and it is quite possible that U.S. prosecutors would be helpful as well).

I would like to link to a lot more open letters like the one just sent by Ros-Lehtinen and Lantos, all urgently asking that Sevan face justice, but written by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan; current UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon; President Bush; and the assorted eminences of the European Union. But I can’t do that, for the glaring reason that they haven’t written any such letters. … UN integrity? Big shrug.

Global Warming = Central Planning

February 12th, 2007 - 7:12 pm

Thank you, Vaclav Klaus. In the sanest statement on global warming to issue from officialdom anywhere on the planet, Czech President Vaclav Klaus has called this latest sky-is-falling movement what it really is: “A new incarnation of modern leftism.”

My translation: When you hear “Global Warming,” think “Central Planning.”

In an interview with a Czech financial newspaper, Hospodarske Noviny, picked up in translation by the Drudge Report, Klaus calls global warning a “false myth,” and explains — correctly — that the UN’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which issued the latest alarmist report, is “not a scientific institution” but “a sort of non-government organization of green flavor.”

Klaus has top credentials for sniffing out central planning schemes, of any flavor. He knows them all too well from Czechoslovakia’s decades behind the Soviet Iron Curtain, when the tint was red. It needs saying again and again. The drumbeat over global warming comes from the UN (here’s a link, again, to some background on the godfather of this movement, Maurice Strong). It is accompanied at every turn by schemes to transfer wealth, with the UN and its affiliates positioning themselves as toll collectors and traffic cops — promising somewhere down the line to reform the weather, but putting a hand out now for the money. And Klaus has it right. The way to clean up the planet is to cultivate private property rights, not central planning camouflaged as new-age environmentalism. Where are the American politicians with the courage to speak up like Klaus?

(Feb 13 update: The translation of Klaus’s interview from Czech was done by Harvard physicist Lubos Motl, whose comment I’ve just posted. That text, which Drudge picked can be found here, on Motl’s web site. -Ed.)

In the nuclear showdown with Iran, surely one of the most effective tools America has for wooing Iranian hearts and minds is broadcasting on radio and TV — right?

Turns out some of our broadcasts have been doing Ahmadinejad’s work for him. After a Senate subcommittee hearing last summer in which an escaped Iranian dissident testified that the U.S. itself has been beaming anti-American propaganda into Iran, Sen. Tom Coburn began looking into the problem. Today, in a polite but searing letter, addressed to President Bush, Coburn spelled out his concerns that American broadcasts into Iran, via Radio Farda and Voice of America, freighted with content that sounds like the propaganda of Tehran itself, “may actually be harming American interests rather than helping.”

Coburn appended a draft study prepared by National Security Council staff and the Iran (interagency) Steering Group. This paper cites examples such as a VOA news broadcast last year in which guests discussed Iran’s nuclear program. One of these guests, introduced as an expert, but with no description of his affiliations, was “a Mr. Nakhai,” who claimed Iran had endured more than its share of IAEA inspections. His views went unchallenged. The study notes, “As it turns out, Mr. Nakhai was an adviser to the Iranian regime and defender of its nuclear policy.”

Coburn in his letter adds that “Other language services at the Broadcasting Board of Governors have similar problems.” He cites, for instance, reports that last year America’s Arabic broadcasting service, Al Hurra, “provided uninterrupted coverage of speeches delivered by two terrorist leaders, Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah on December 7 and Ismail Haniya of Hamas on December 19.”

Here’s Coburn’s letter. Here’s the draft study. And here’s a translated transcript, also appended to the letter, of a VOA Persian TV program, analyzing Bush’s recent State of the Union address — scroll down to see the highlighted sections in which guests speaking to an Iranian audience blame — guess who — not the terror-sponsoring Iranian regime, but the U.S., for violence in Iraq.

Fixing this sounds like a great idea. If Washington wants to waste tax dollars, how about doing it on something less damaging to national security? And if it can’t be fixed, how about leaving the communication to the blogosphere.

The Long Strange Trail of Maurice Strong

February 7th, 2007 - 9:48 pm

He’s the godfather of the environmental movement, a shadowy presence for years in the UN executive suite, a spinner of webs within webs. In many ways, his tale sums up what today’s UN has become. The piece linked here, which I’ve written together with George Russell, executive editor of Fox News, takes a look at The Curious Career of Maurice Strong.

The UN Development Program teams up with Jimmy Carter.

That would be the UNDP now embroiled in the UN’s dollars for dictators scandal in North Korea, and Jimmy Carter, author and America’s self-appointed President-for-Life. Neither one has yet explained in full some intriguing flows of cash; in the UNDP’s case to Kim Jong Il; in the case of the Carter Center, from Middle Eastern tycoons. Now they are getting together to promote good governance in Latin America and the Caribbean. Read all about it, here. And somebody, please, warn our neighbors down south.