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The Rosett Report

From Cyprus, Benon Sevan Weighs In

April 13th, 2008 - 2:37 pm

Yes, you read that right. None other than former UN Oil-for-Food chief Benon Sevan is at least virtually back in action, piping up online even though he’s still living as a fugitive from U.S. law, on Cyprus. Writing in the Yerevan-based Armenian AZG Daily, Sevan (an Armenian Cypriot) has tossed his hat back into the public ring — scolding UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon for ending the tenure on Cyprus of UN Special Representative Michael Moller. Here’s a link to Sevan’s article, and just in case that vanishes from the web, here’s a saved copy.

You remember Benon Sevan. A longtime UN staffer, he was hand-picked by Kofi Annan in 1997 to head the UN Oil-for-Food program, which he did until it ended in 2003. Before the conclusion of the ensuing UN investigation, while Annan’s office was assuring the press that Sevan was cooperating, he quietly slipped out of New York and returned to his native Cyprus, beyond reach of U.S. extradition. In January, 2007, Sevan was indicted in the Southern District of New York on charges of bribery and conspiracy to defraud the UN Oil-for-Food program, with U.S. federal prosecutors alleging Sevan had received about $160,000 in illicit commissions on UN-overseen Iraqi oil deals channeled via a Panamanian company of an alleged co-conspirator based in Switzerland (who happened to be an in-law of former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali). From Cyprus, Sevan has denied any wrong-doing. I last saw him when I paid a surprise call on him in Nicosia, Cyprus, in 2006 — which I wrote up for the Wall Street Journal. Sevan insisted, “I am not running away.” But he doesn’t seem to have done much traveling off Cyprus either.

Why would Sevan now choose to weigh in on the departure from Cyprus of Kofi Annan-appointee and UN special rep, Michael Moller? Maybe, as Sevan insisted when I spoke with him two years ago on Cyprus, he just has the best interests of the UN at heart. But there has been a certain amount of scuttlebut over the past few years from sources afraid to be named — but enough separate sources by now so that I credit this as broadly accurate — that Moller and Sevan, old buddies from Sevan’s UN days, have spent a certain amount of time together — dining out at the Nicosia Hilton, and generally keeping in touch. Is it possible there’s been a certain amount of UN hand-holding that Sevan might now miss?

For now, I’ll leave it with a few more questions: Does Ban Ki-Moon think it’s a good idea for UN staff to go on rubbing elbows with Benon Sevan on Cyprus? If Benon Sevan is so eager to be heard, why not come back to New York, and face the charges? And why have both Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon appeared so profoundly indifferent to whether he does or not?

P.S. – While we’re on the subject, when might the UN deign to tell us whether Sevan’s costs of moving back to Cyprus in 2005 — airfare and household freight — were paid, during the UN investigations, out of the UN budget?

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