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Monthly Archives: November 2007

A UN Watchdog Blog That’s Worth Watching

November 29th, 2007 - 11:35 pm

Tracking the UN can be like entering a bizarre alternative dimension — what former Ambassador John Bolton has called a “bubble,” or a time warp, on the East River. The UN, for its high inner circles, is a place so privileged that within its walls even its own rules don’t really apply. It is a sort of expanding neo-colonial empire of often murky projects and self-serving enthusiasms, operating across borders, with diplomatic immunity and almost no public accountability.

That seems to go double these days for the UN’s flagship agency, the UN Development Program (or UNDP), the star UN office of the North Korea Cash-for-Kim scandal, the global outfit that disburses more than $5 billion per year, some of that in cahoots with governments such as those of Burma, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, etc. … but somehow can’t bring itself to disclose just how all this money really gets spent.

Now, along comes a blog site dedicated to keeping an eye on the UNDP. I can’t vouch for everything that’s on it, but I’ve been reading it with interest, including the announcement Wednesday that it will be featuring a lineup of internal UNDP procurement documents, showing some of the ways in which your tax dollars get spent. Worth checking out: UNDP Watch

Wyatt Update

November 27th, 2007 - 9:22 pm

In a packed New York courtroom, Oscar Wyatt was sentenced Tuesday afternoon to serve 12 months and a day in prison, and forfeit just over $11 million.

“Breathtakingly Immoral”

November 27th, 2007 - 2:15 am

Having pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy to defraud the United Nations Oil-for-Food program, Texas tycoon Oscar Wyatt is due for sentencing today in New York federal court. In a 38-page sentencing memo submitted to the court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York lays out the realities of Oil-for-Food in terms more honest, direct and eloquent than anything uttered at any stage by any of the U.N. officials who dined well for years off the running of this program (for which the UN collected percentage fees — in effect, a commission — of $1.4 billion, plus another $500 million for weapons inspections which for four of the program’s seven years did not take place).

The memo notes that Oil-for-Food was supposed to prevent Saddam Hussein’s regime from turning Iraq’s oil wealth to its own uses, and spells out why:


“Saddam Hussein was a dictator who came to power in a vicious military coup; without provocation, Saddam Hussein’s armies invaded and conquered Kuwait, and then fired missiles into civilian areas of Israeli cities; Saddam Hussein’s armed forces used chemical weapons during March of 1988 to murder Iraqi civilians in their own homes; and Saddam Hussein’s armies invaded Iran on September 22, 1980 — the resulting Iran-Iraq war lasted approximately eight years and cost, on most published estimates, about a million lives.”


Making the connection to the Wyatt case, the memo continues:


“The list could go on, but the essential point is only this: In exploiting the OFFP [Oil-for-Food Program] as he did, Oscar Wyatt was making a choice that was, simply put, breathtakingly immoral. Wyatt helped to divert oil wealth that should have been used for the benefit of the hungry and sick of Iraq into the hands of their oppressor — a dictator whose regime was known for its persistent violence toward its neighbors; its casual murderousness toward its own people; and its hostility toward the United States.”

Given the terms of Wyatt’s plea deal, the prosecutors in keeping with U.S. sentencing guidelines conclude that in the government’s view, an appropriate sentence would be 18-24 months, plus a forfeiture of $11,023,245.91. For private players who exploited Oil-for-Food from within the reach of U.S. jurisdiction, justice is being meted out. Another Texas oilman, David Chalmers, who pleaded guilty in August to wire fraud involving illicit kickbacks to Saddam’s regime, is due for sentencing Dec. 13. South Korean businessman Tongsun Park, found guilty at jury trial last year of conspiracy to launder money and act as an unregistered agent of Saddam’s Iraq, is now serving a five-year sentence. The list goes on…though

But at the UN, which ran this program, not a single employee has been prosecuted, or even fired, for the way Oil-for-Food was run — indeed, some have since been promoted. And then there’s the UN retiree, Benon Sevan, who was picked by Kofi Annan to run the program for more than six years — from October, 1997 until it ended post-Saddam in November, 2003. Sevan was indicted in the U.S. this past January on Oil-for-Food-related charges of bribery and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, following findings in August, 2005 by the UN’s own inquiry that he had illicitly benefited from the program. But by then Sevan had already slipped out of New York, in early 2005, while Annan’s Secretariat was assuring the press that he was available to cooperate with investigators. Sevan remains a fugitive from U.S. law on his native Cyprus, protesting his innocence, on full UN pension.

Kofi Annan, to whom, as Secretary-General, the UN Security Council assigned prime administrative responsibility plus that $1.4 billion budget for running Oil-for-Food, had by early 2006 spun UN trangressions under this program into the phrase “If there was a scandal.” He is now reportedly living well in Geneva, has an office right down the road from the palatial UN complex there, was recently made an honorary knight in Britain, and seems to be collecting and handing out a lot of prizes.

You might suppose that with inquiries underway into the scandals surrounding the UN Development Program activities in tyrannies such as Burma and North Korea, the UNDP would be at pains to preserve its records for investigators. After all, when the UNDP Cash-for-Kim scandal broke in January, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon promised to get to the bottom of it, and the UNDP’s number two man, Ad Melkert, promised full transparency, saying “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Guess again. Shades of the grand shredding that went on three years ago in Kofi Annan’s executive suite as the UN’s Oil-for-Food inquiry revved up, it turns out the UNDP, flagship agency of the UN, has been quietly arranging to scrap computer equipment that might just contain some awfully interesting records. Internal UNDP documents show that in September the UNDP approved an arrangement to dispose of a batch of used computer equipment, including 11 servers, 4 scanners and 6 printers – all on grounds that the items were bought “in or before 1999,” could not be sold on the used market, and “it would take a lot of our resources to donate this equipment.” See item #2 in this UNDP document, and check out this “Headquarters Request for Asset Disposal…” .

We don’t know what’s on these 11 servers, or what has flowed through the 6 printers over the years. Nor do we know what else, if anything, the UNDP in the name of housecleaning might be flushing down the Memory Hole. But surely it’s worth finding out? If this equipment holds any records whatsoever, it is highly relevant to any serious inquiry that these servers could have been used starting as early as the 1990s, and onward, which for the UNDP was a busy time in Pyongyang. For instance, that would cover at least part of the time frame in which the UNDP was shoveling money to its Pyongyang office via Macau’s Banco Delta Asia – a bank later designated by the U.S. Treasury as “willing to turn a blind eye to illicit activity, notably by its North Korean-related clients,” as detailed in March, 2007 by Treasury’s Stuart Levey, Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

Even if these servers and related equipment had nothing directly to do with North Korea, it is worth keeping in mind that the UNDP runs a global network — in which many projects interconnect. Is it possible these aging computer servers might have been involved in any of the exchanges involving counterfeit U.S. $100 bills in the UNDP’s Pyongyang office safe? Or do they perhaps document any portion of the flow of resources, via the UNDP, to Kim Jong Il’s regime?

Or did these servers perhaps have some relevance to the period in which Kofi Annan’s special adviser and envoy to the Korean peninsula, Maurice Strong, was visiting Pyongyang and arranging energy-related projects with North Korea via his Kofi-Annan-approved backshop, the Costa Rica-based University for Peace?

It is of course possible that this computer equipment contains nothing but acres of tedious UN bureaucratese, and the UNDP is just trying to clear up some clutter. But is that a sure bet? There was something seriously wrong enough with the UNDP operation in North Korea that after Cash-for-Kim spilled into the media in January, the UNDP in March made the extraordinary move of closing down its Pyongyang office. Even more curious, North Korea — while wide open to UN aid — has refused to allow UN auditors in to investigate operations of the UNDP’s former operations in Pyongyang (or so the UN tells us). And somehow the UNDP has been unable to ship some of its office files out of North Korea so auditors can review them in New York. Instead, we are told by the UNDP that these files are now sitting safe and sound (and unaudited) in the offices of the UN’s World Food Program in Pyongyang.

Somehow, the UNDP seems incapable of extracting its own files from within the borders of North Korea, a UN aid client. That is especially weird, because there was apparently no problem about shipping (at exorbitant cost) U.S.-bashing books into North Korea, courtesy of the UNDP, even after the UNDP had closed its office in Pyongyang.

About the same time, the UNDP fired a whistleblower, former chief of its operations in North Korea, Tony Shkurtaj. He appealed to the UN Ethics Office, which determined that he had a legitimate grievance and deserved whistleblower protection. The UNDP rejected that finding, by way of rejecting any jurisdiction by the UN Ethics Office (which was supposed to have been one of Kofi Annan’s landmark reforms). Ban Ki-moon, who had initially promised a system-wide audit, and has been reneging all year on that promise, signed right on to the notion that the UNDP could blithely ignore the Ethics Office of the UN Secretariat. And the UNDP, in the grand UN tradition of Conflicts-of-Interest-R-Us, then announced it would hold its own inquiry into allegations of UNDP abuse.

Which brings us back to that UNDP computer equipment slated for quiet disposal. With UN auditors apparently barred from visiting North Korea to look into the UNDP’s former operations there, one might naturally hope the UN — and the UNDP management in particular — would be eager to preserve anything that might help provide a record of UNDP communications and office records going back to the 1990s.

But here we are, with the UNDP, while conducting its own inquiry into itself, arranging to scrap the servers of those years in which millions in hard cash were allegedly flowing through the UNDP — against UN rules — to Kim Jong Il, while counterfeit U.S. banknotes — against UN rules (and U.S. sovereign interests) –were reposing in the UNDP Pyongyang office safe.

If the UNDP’s problem is storage space, I’d guess there are any number of media outlets, not to mention congressional offices, that might be willing to clear some shelf space for those old UNDP servers. And if the problem really is, as the UNDP internal document says (linked above), that it would take a lot of UN resources to donate this equipment, surely there are a couple of tech-wizard bloggers out there who might be willing to help the UNDP warehouse its old servers? — and save what might be irreplaceable but evidently inconvenient UNDP archives from imminent destruction.

Or, if the UNDP has any reason to suggest that the equipment has been destroyed already, would Mr. Dervis like to explain to us why, with so many questions still unanswered, the UNDP found it so urgent to dispose of these items?

A Warning from Garry Kasparov

November 24th, 2007 - 7:50 pm

The AFP reports that Garry Kasparov — a champion not only of the chessboard, but of democracy — has just been jailed in Moscow for organizing a peaceful demonstration.

Kasparov is no fool; and in a dangerous game, this is no accident. We can be sure he knew this arrest was likely. In peacefully opposing Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, Kasparov is putting himself on the line to send a warning about the despotic clouds gathering thick over Russia. Are we listening?

Giving Thanks

November 22nd, 2007 - 11:31 am

A happy Thanksgiving to all — especially to those who are away from home and family, fighting on the frontlines to defend America’s freedoms.

This is a good day for some lines more enduring than the daily news. Here’s my choice for this year — we all know it, but worth reading again, and reading aloud, first spoken seven score and four years ago.

Just as Ban Ki-moon is warming up to climate change as “the defining challenge of our age,” with the UN describing as absolute and unequivocal the “dire report” of the UN’s IPCC (picked for the Nobel prize courtesy of the Norwegian parliament, whose wisdom, we must infer, is similarly absolute), along comes the news that — whoops! — the UN in its earlier apocalyptic warnings about another issue has, in the words of the Washington Post, “long over-estimated both the size and course” — in that case of the AIDS epidemic.

According to today’s Washington Post, while AIDS remains a devastating crisis in the worst-affected parts of sub-Saharan Africa, UN top AIDS scientists are now having to admit that they went wildly overboard in their assertions that AIDS was an ever-expanding global epidemic. Contrary to years of dire reports from the UN, some as recent as last year, it now seems the spread of AIDS has been slowing for nearly a decade. The global total of people infected, estimated last year by the UN at nearly 40 million and climbing, is about to be revised down to 33 million. Reports the Post, “The far-reaching revisions amount to at least a partial acknowledgment of criticisms long leveled by outside researchers who disputed the U.N. portrayal of an ever-expanding global epidemic.”

The Post quotes an AIDS expert, Helen Epstein, saying “There was a tendency toward alarmism, and that fit perhaps a certain fundraising agenda.”

Could there possibly be a certain parallel here between past UN alarmism over a wildfire global AIDS pandemic, and Ban Ki-moon’s latest pronouncement that to stop the imminent, irreversible, dire, apocalyptic, overwhelming, total, unquestionable and abruptly looming climate catastrophe (he went and saw a melting glacier for himself — who are we to question what that means?), there must now be a titanic planet-wide wealth transfer, with the UN as fee-collecting broker and middleman? At the imminent UN climate conference next month by the warm beaches of Bali, where UN staffers will collect their per diems while UN eminences plan ways to chill our economy, will anyone dare to bring that up?

Is the UN Sanctioning the U.S.?

November 19th, 2007 - 11:43 pm

In the continuing drumroll of penalties for American sanctions violators under the UN’s 1996-2003 Oil-for-Food Program, Chevron Corp. agreed last week to pay $30 million to settle charges related to illicit kickbacks on Iraqi oil deals. This comes as the latest news in a federal investigation into Oil-for-Food which according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York has so far produced guilty pleas by six individuals and two entities, plus one jury trial conviction, plus agreements reached with the Southern District by two entities (including Chevron). At least five more cases are pending (including that of Kofi Annan’s handpicked former director of Oil-for-Food, Benon Sevan, indicted in the U.S. in January, who says he is innocent, and has been living as a fugitive from U.S. law, on Cyprus). This federal investigation has also produced more than $47.5 million in forfeitures to date, which the Southern District Attorney’s Office has said it will seek to return to the people of Iraq.

So far, so good. Justice is being served. But these are all cases involving people (and entities) who in their unwisdom became involved in UN sanctions busting while operating in the U.S. What about the sanctions busters spread around the rest of the planet, who according to the UN’s own reports on Oil-for-Food shared in Saddam’s graft schemes involving kickbacks on oil deals, or signed on to oddly overpriced UN-approved contracts for Saddam to buy relief supplies? What about illicit, sanctions-busting deals done by contractors under Oil-for-Food who were operating out of places such as Russia, China, Spain, Vietnam, Syria, Belarus, Pakistan, Indonesia, Dubai and Cyprus? (To name just a sampling).

From such places, UN member states all, we’re not hearing about investigations, let alone guilty pleas, convictions and penalties. There haven’t been any.

In other words, it is only in a relatively small number of UN member states that UN sanctions are actually enforced in any serious way by the authorities. And when sanctions are enforced by only a few of the UN’s 192 member states, that tends to be about as effective as plugging just a couple of holes in a big sieve. Countries that dutifully observe the sanctions pay a cost, and their resident sanctions busters risk high penalties. Perversely, UN member states that most abuse and violate UN sanctions stand to enjoy fat profits, at little or no risk.

Bottom line: At a UN which relies on sanctions to contain or punish rogue states, and relies on member states to police themselves (which is what the UN does), the most diligently rule-abiding countries end up, in effect, operating under sanctions themselves. Meanwhile, with no penalty from the UN, the rule-breaking countries rake in the loot.

The same principle applies when it comes to UN proposals that seek to put Turtle Bay in control of global energy use (a.k.a. carbon emissions). And it’s worth keeping in mind as the Bush administration looks to UN sanctions to try to stop Iran’s race for the nuclear bomb. When there’s big money and global greed involved, not only are UN strictures a recipe for failure and fraud, but also, in effect, for UN sanctions on law-abiding America.

UN beachside conferencing goes way beyond plans for a December blowout on Bali, and the UN agenda goes way beyond taxing us in the name of controlling the weather. Live, right now, the UN is continuing its grab to control the internet, with a Nov. 12-15 conference in Rio de Janeiro (beach facilities shown in accompanying photo).

Big on the agenda is the UN-based campaign to take away control of the internet from the U.S. The aim, now that U.S. freedoms and resulting creativity (not Al Gore, his own claims notwithstanding) have brought mankind this marvelous gift of the internet, is to confiscate management of the World Wide Web and turn it over to the same grand conclave of UN potentates whose members include the web-censoring likes of dissident-jailing China, monk-murdering Burma, terrorist-sponsoring bomb-making Iran, and 2008 members-elect of the Security Council, Libya and Vietnam.

This current pow-wow in Brazil is the work of the UN-based Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which — with a secretariat now entrenched in an office at the UN’s palatial (BMW-rich) complex in Geneva — has been following up on the UN’s second World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). That internet summit, as you might recall, was held in November, 2005 in internet-censoring Tunisia — initial sponsor in 1998 of this UN bid to cash in on the web.

The current Rio proceedings, bankrolled by yet another of those murky special UN extra-budgetary trust funds, boasting more than 1,000 participants, and complete with a UN media team, are being broadcast live at this link. I tuned in Sunday afternoon long enough to hear one of the speakers, Mr. Fernandez Gonzalez, declaring — a familiar theme at UN conclaves — that the market model of development is a “disaster,” that what’s needed is an internet managed under the UN tent as yet another global redistribution scheme, etc etc etc. That would be the same despot-packed, unreformed, opaque and unaccountable UN that won’t disclose details of its own getting and spending, and has failed abysmally to reform its own dysfunctional and unjust internal “justice” system, while operating across borders, outside any normal system of law.

Coming up next on the UN IGF internet-grab agenda, complete with per diems for the UN support staff and power plays for the despotic governments of the planet: a 2008 meeting in India, 2009 in Egypt… and beyond. Enjoy the freedom of the internet while we’ve still got it.

Of course you do. Kofi Annan’s former deputy, former chief of staff, former head of the UN Development Program; now Lord Malloch Brown. He was the British UN bureaucrat who, while doing what he described as “God’s work” at the UN, lived as a tenant on the Katonah, NY estate of tycoon George Soros, paying UN-subsidized rent of about $10,000 per month.

When Kofi Annan left the UN at the end of 2006, so did Malloch Brown — in swift succession receiving a British Knighthood, enjoying a brief affiliation with Yale University, and going to work for George Soros’s ventures.

Then, this past summer, in the U.K., Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, and in a search for foreign policy expertise dipped into Kofi Annan’s old handpicked pool of UN talent, and dredged up Malloch Brown… who not only got himself a Lordship, but a “grace and favour” taxpayer-funded apartment in London, valued by the U.K. Treasury as worth more than the digs above 10 Downing Street. Read all about it in this week’s cover story of The Spectator, in which the Spectator’s James Forsyth and I take a look at “Labour’s Lord of the Perks.”