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Monthly Archives: June 2007

Coincidence and the Latest in Kofi’s Cash

June 28th, 2007 - 12:49 pm

The Rocky Mountain News is reporting that this spring former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan pocketed a $160,000 speaker’s fee for a one-hour talk at the University of Colorado, hosted and paid for by a student panel.

As it happens, that is an amount remarkably close to the sum allegedly skimmed out of Oil-for-Food relief money by Annan’s handpicked head of the Oil-for-Food program, Benon Sevan (who slipped quietly off to to Cyprus, out of reach of extradition to the U.S., during the Oil-for-Food investigations, while Annan’s office was assuring the press he would be available for questioning in NY). Sevan, indicted in NY this past January, says he’s innocent. But wouldn’t it be a nice gesture for Kofi Annan to donate his fat speaking fee to the Iraqi people bilked out of billions in relief while he was running Oil-for-Food at the helm of the UN?

America already gives more than any other country to bankroll the multi-billion dollar UN activities politely known as “peacekeeping.” But at least Congress in an effort to curb UN abuse had managed to cap U.S. contributions at 25% of the ever-expanding UN peacekeeping budget.

Looks like that cap is on its way out the window. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has just given a thumbs up to Senator Joe Biden’s bid to increase U.S. contributions to 27.1%, retroactive to 2005 and extending through 2008 — a move that would add another billion or so to the already outsized U.S. payola for UN peacekeeping. And that’s on top of the more than $5 billion the U.S. gives annually to the UN for other operations (such as Cash for Kim, inadequate auditing, self-laudatory histories, staff retreats at resort hotels and anti-American envoys to the Middle East).

The UN “peacekeeping” record by now includes failure to prevent genocide (Rwanda, Srebenica, Sudan), camouflage for terrorist bunker-building and arsenal-amassing (UNIFIL in Lebanon), sexual exploitation of the people the peacekeepers are sent to protect (Congo, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Liberia, Kosovo, Haiti, Cambodia, etc.), and a netherworld of money-laundering, kickbacks and fraud involving UN peacekeeping supply contracts. And despite the UN promises of reform, which the UN emits like squid ink every time a new abuse comes to light, there is still no real system of UN accountability in sight.

The issue isn’t just whether the average American taxpayer ought to be paying more than anyone else on the planet for UN peacekeeping, or graft-keeping, or sex-keeping, or whatever we really ought to call these operations. It is also whether Americans really want to be responsible for this kind of behavior — which we are if instead of demanding the UN shape up, we reward UN abuse by shoveling in even more U.S. money.

There is, of course, a way that America could with integrity wield money at the UN in the cause of peace. We could yank all U.S. funding from the UN Human Rights Council, which has become a haven and twisted source of legitimacy for a whole roster of despots who rule by force and fear — source of so many of the conflicts and so much of the misery that the UN is in theory meant to prevent.

Oops — hold the presses! It seems that on Wednesday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee did pass Senator Norm Coleman’s proposal to pull U.S. funding from the Human Rights Council, for now. But by the time the horse trading was done, this penalty included a Biden amendment that would allow a resumption of U.S. funding, should that be deemed in the national interest. Given that our own President has now embraced the fruitcake philosophy that it is in the national interest for Condi Rice to gladhand Iran and ensure the transfer of $25 million in crime-tainted money to North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, the dictators cruising in their Beemers to the Human Rights Council meetings in Geneva shouldn’t be too worried.

As Tony Blair leaves the post of Prime Minister, the rumor is that he may be appointed “Peace Envoy” to the Middle East.

“Peace” — ? We are talking about the region that has been saturated for years in “peace talks” “land for peace” “seeds of peace” the “roadmap to peace” and especially the mother of all peace labels, the “peace process.” Hamas and Hezbollah snatch Israeli soldiers and attack Israeli civilians, Syria and Iran infiltrate weapons and terrorists into Iraq, the Saudis continue to funnel millions into their global network of kill-the-infidel madrassas. And in the midst of this we are invited to ponder along with the UN’s IAEA whether terrorist-spawning Iran — where terror trainees routinely chant “Death to America! Death to Israel!” — simply wants nuclear energy for “peaceful uses.”

As Joshua Muravchik wrote in Monday’s Wall Street Journal: “A large portion of modern wars erupted because aggressive tyrannies believed that their democratic opponents were soft and weak.”

Do we want peace? You bet. But it won’t come by way of sending another “peace” envoy whose title alone implies that we will do nothing but jaw-jaw in response to acts of war. Tony Blair carries one credential that may not earn him much in the West these days, but might still command respect amid the wars of the Middle East: He backed the war that toppled Saddam Hussein. That caused consternation enough among the despots of the Islamic world to make room in the immediate aftermath for Qaddafi to surrender his nuclear program, for the Lebanese to try to kick out their Syrian overlords, and for Iran to keep its mitts briefly off Iraq — before all concerned concluded that the U.S. and Britain had no more stomach for leading coalitions to overthrow Middle Eastern dictators and drag them out of spider-holes, and the “war process,” to which we responded with the “peace process,” kicked back into gear.

Labels may not be remotely enough to change the equation in the Middle East, but language does have its uses — and it is high time we scrapped the peace cliches that imply there is no cost to waging war against the free world. If Tony Blair is to be dispatched to tread the diplomatic routes of the region, let’s arm him (whether he likes it or not) with a title that might at least suggest there are limits to the threats and attacks that we will tolerate. Call him Tony Blair, “War Envoy” to the Middle East.

What I Saw Monday Night in Geneva

June 20th, 2007 - 3:28 pm

It’s a Mercedes! It’s a BMW! It’s the parking lot outside the UN Human Rights Council!


I see that Victor Davis Hanson is blogging about the miseries of modern air travel. I’ll chime in to say that I’ve just been in Paris to cover a meeting of Iranian dissidents (more on that below) and the trip from New York felt longer than the three-day meeting itself. What was supposed to be an 8 hour 10 minute route, with a quick connection in Zurich, turned into a 19 hour extravaganza — plus the two-hour advance check-in time to wait in the snaking line (airlines operate as if perpetually surprised that customers would show up at all; in delicatessens, by contrast, they at least let you take a number and browse during rush hours) and then go to security and start hopping around on one foot while shucking gear into those little tubs (where are the ergonomists of America? surely there’s a better way). All-in-all, including a hopelessly missed connection, and further delays, the trip was about 24-hours door-to-door.

But the enduring memory — and in the event it did seem to last forever — was the delay at JFK after we had boarded the plane and left the gate for an early evening takeoff. A 10 minute delay became an hour. Then that turned into another hour. Then the pilot announced he was waiting to hear from the control tower, and had no idea when we would go. He turned off the seatbelt sign and the crew — hallelujah — began passing out snack packets of Soletti Happy Mix. The plane was still sitting on the apron. There was no bad weather. There was no mechanical problem. There was just an amazing airplane jam at JFK. Another hour went by. The plane rolled into a queue that stretched as far as we could see. Another hour went by. Finally, a bit after 10 PM, we took off. Crew members said this has become routine at JFK. One steward said that out of 17 flights he had worked in previous weeks, only one had made the trip on time — the problem being that JFK just can’t deal with the traffic.

Iranians for Regime Change, and a Note on North Korea

In Paris, the news was all about the French legislative elections (and the Hamas coup in Gaza), but my main interest — along with a few other items — was in the 200 or so Iranian-born exiled dissidents meeting in a nondescript basement conference hall to launch a movement they are calling Solidarity Iran. I filed an article about it last night, and have already heard from other Iranian dissidents, saying this group can’t get anywhere, is full of has-beens, some of whom helped bring the Islamic Republic to power in the first place, and isn’t worth listening to. Possibly, but even if they get nothing else right, these folks have an aim that our own government seems to have dropped — they want an end to the Islamic regime in Tehran. Not negotiations, not Condi Rice meeting with bagmen for the mullahs, not a Libya solution focused on the nuclear program while giving the tyrants a pass. The Iranian exiles in that Paris basement had plenty to say about why the only real answer in Iran is to bring down the regime. That’s a message worth paying attention to. If Jimmy Carter himself were to utter it, I’d listen.

The same message applies to North Korea. We have now allowed Kim Jong Il to extort help in his money laundering from what is arguably the most powerful institution on earth after the U.S. mililtary: the Federal Reserve. We will pay dearly for that.

And Yes, In the Oil-for-Food Sludge, Another Mercedes Bobs to the Surface

Just when you thought you’d heard it all, the same United Nations Oil-for-Food scandal which led to investigations that outed Kojo Annan’s tax-free and duty-free Mercedes (bought in Europe and shipped to Ghana under false use of Kofi Annan’s UN Secretary-General status) has now led to allegations in India about another Mercedes, this one allegedly connected to kickbacks via a New Delhi connection with UN relief activities in Iraq. Here’s a link to the story, complete with photos of the alleged documentation, found in a pen drive.


And of course we have recently heard the proposal from a former member of Paul Volcker’s inquiry into Oil-for-Food, Richard Goldstone, to set up a UN Oil-for-Food program in Sudan. Goldstone’s assumption, I guess, is that based on the lessons of Oil-for-Food, this could now be well run. Not a chance. But I suppose it could be more efficiently run. Instead of pretending to manage a relief program, the UN could cut the middlemen, ship luxury cars in bulk to whomever, and oversee the direct deposit of kickbacks into private accounts. If it’s too much for the UN to handle, maybe the Fed can help out?

Contracts for Fraud

June 14th, 2007 - 7:06 pm

The guilty verdict June 7 in the federal fraud and corruption case of former UN procurement official Sanjaya Bahel was a small step in the direction of justice done at the UN. But what about the stampeding in the wrong direction that went on for years, as UN officials apparently strove to ignore Bahel’s crooked schemes. What was going on at the UN, around and above Bahel, while he was steering contracts to friends in exchange for such stuff as luxury travel and living arrangements? UN officials twice exonerated him on the basis of much the same evidence that persuaded a jury to convict after less than half a day of deliberations. Fox’s George Russell and I take stock of some very big loose ends.

If you thought you were hallucinating that news story today about the Bush administration enlisting, in partnership, the help of Russia and the U.S. Federal Reserve to arrange the transfer of $25 million in allegedly crime-tainted funds from accounts at Macau’s Banco Delta Asia to North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, brace yourself — it’s real.

For a response so sane that Condi Rice and her Six-Party Talks envoy Chris Hill ought to be required to copy it out 500 times before supper, I recommend the press release and attached letter just put out by the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s ranking Republican, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She has brought together a group of House Republicans who are asking the Government Accountability Office to check whether our own administration, in its rush to curry Kim, is about to violate America’s own money-laundering and counterfeit laws. A good question. Read all about it.

With the Sopranos going off the air, it’s time someone launched a series based on life at the United Nations. Don’t worry about all that tedious diplomacy — between the cash, real estate, travel, fine dining and family drama there’s more than enough material for a long run of lively seasons. Here’s just a taste:

We now have the verdict, just in, at the Sanjaya Bahel bribery trial in New York’s Southern District — another UN official: Guilty. Over the past three weeks the jury has heard details of how Bahel while running the UN commodity procurement section helped a friend get $100 million worth of UN contracts. In exchange, Bahel got bargain rates on a big, fancy apartment near the UN, cash, travel and a laptop.

This follows the conviction in March of the former head of the UN General Assembly budget oversight committee, Vladimir Kuznetsov, who was found to have been laundering kickbacks obtained by another UN procurement officer, Alexander Yakovlev — who pled guilty in 2005. In a sentimental touch, both these UN officials named their offshore front companies after their children.

The Kuznetsov conviction came hard on the heels of the indictment this past January of the former head of the UN Oil-for-Food program, Benon Sevan, who despite Kofi Annan’s assurances managed to slip out of New York during the investigations and has been residing, safe from extradition, in a penthouse apartment on Cyprus. Sevan maintains that he is innocent. According to the UN’s own investigation, Sevan used money from Saddam Hussein’s oil deals, picked up in cash from Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s brother-in-law in Switzerland, to bankroll his Manhattan restaurant bills and meet the mortgage payments on a second home in the Hamptons.

Last summer brought the conviction of South Korean businessman Tongsun Park, for conspiring to bribe UN officials on behalf of Saddam’s Iraq to rig Oil-for-Food from the beginning. In that case, court testimony included tales of stacks of cash stuffed into underwear, socks, briefcases and shopping bags — plus a Christmas trip with some of that cash to Las Vegas. Plus, of course, the $988,885 check bankrolled by Baghdad and delivered in 1997 by Park to UN eminence Maurice Strong (mentioned in post below, on UN carbon and corruption offsets), who has not been accused of any wrong-doing and says he is innocent. Maurice Strong turned out, in violation of UN rules, to have been quietly employing his own stepdaughter in his UN office. But since, unlike Paul Wolfowitz, Strong is definitely not an American neo-conservative, apparently that was of no deep interest to the ethicists of the UN system.

Much of the above has come to light via scrutiny from the media and assorted investigations focused chiefly on UN headquarters in New York. The UN also has major offices in places including, to name just a few: Nairobi, Geneva, Vienna, Copenhagen, Bangkok, Addis Ababa and Beirut. Just imagine the possibilities.

While President Bush has been struggling at the G-8 summit to fend off the climate-change hysterics of Angela Merkel, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been helpfully reminding us that the UN would love to offer its services as the command center for a grand plan to control the weather of the entire planet.

He’s got to be kidding. This is the same UN you shouldn’t leave alone with your kid’s piggybank. This is the UN that won’t account for its own money (well, actually, it won’t account for your money), covered up graft during seven years of Oil-for-Food, didn’t notice the bribe shop in its own procurement department, had a now-convicted money-launderer as head of the budget oversight committee, and has yet to explain why UN Development Program officials were storing counterfeit $100 bills in their Pyongyang office safe.

But the UN has spotted a way to squeeze money out of traffic in hype and hot air. Having laid the groundwork — courtesy of Maurice Strong and his pals — for the usual arrangements of penalizing the U.S. while rewarding dictators, the UN is now positioning itself to preside as a global clearing house for trade in carbon dioxide emission offsets.

Hey, why stop there? There’s more to the world climate than just the weather — there’s also a financial environment, political environment, and even a moral ethos, in which carbon dioxide is the least of the vapors. How about a UN program to trade corruption offsets? Despotism offsets? If Ban really wants to help out, here’s a modest proposal, in my column today in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

There’s plenty to say about quack policy prescriptions surrounding the global warming debate, the latest UN cover-ups, and the verdict expected shortly in the bribery trial in NY federal court of UN procurement officer Sanjaya Bahel — and I expect to get to at least some of that soon. But right now I can’t get the story of the Laotian coup plot out of my mind (see post below, on the arrest in the U.S. of a group allegedly conspiring to amass an arsenal to overthrow the brutal communist government of Laos).

Most of those arrested, including the alleged ringleader, Vang Pao, were Hmong, a Laotian ethnic minority whose members allied themselves with the U.S. during the Vietnam war. A reader writes in (see second comment, with link in post below), to say that in Laos, the Hmong to this day have continued their resistance to the ruinous communist regime that has ruled their country since 1975 — a holdover of the totalitarian horrors of the last century.

I met some of the Hmong resistance fighters along the Thai-Lao border in 1990, back when I was covering Asia for the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal. The Hmong, outmatched by the communist regime entrenched in Vientiane, were still fighting for the liberation of their country. At the time, they had taken fresh hope from the wave of democratization sweeping East Asia, the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, and the buckling of the communist system in the Soviet Union. They hoped Laos might be next. But for them, it was a lonely fight. They were asking help from an America that according to our State Department had no interest in even listening. Laos had already become, as I wrote back then, “The Forgotten Domino.”

Today, almost all our attention, resources and sacrifices are devoted to dealing with the pathologies of the Middle East. No foreign government will ride to the rescue of Laos. The arrested Vang Pao, a former general of the Royal Lao Army, has been living in exile in the U.S. since 1975, watching his country sink into the shadows. Now 77 years old, he apparently — or allegedly — decided that before his life was over he had to make one more try to free his people, and his country. One can understand the need for America to uphold its laws, one can ponder the grand necessities of geopolitics and the smooth statements of our diplomats, who consider the regime of Laos a friendly power, or at least friendly enough. But in an era in which the word “tragedy” gets slapped onto everything from weather to celebrity news, the story of Laos, and the Hmong, including this latest chapter, is a true and haunting tragedy.

Update: The New York Sun has a terrific editorial on this today, and they get to the real point. Our President has just been speaking in Prague about the importance of the fight for freedom, while Vang Pao and his alleged co-conspirators — who have risked their lives in this cause — have just been arrested in California for what sounds like a last ditch attempt to liberate a country that has been abandoned by the free world. This is not simply a tragedy. There is a screw loose in American politics.