I stand corrected. When I suggested that at the UN wrong-doing carries no penalties, I should have qualified that. While the UN-appointed inquiry led by Paul Volcker managed to conduct a $35 million investigation into the multi-billion dollar UN Oil-for-Food scams without leading to the in-house punishment, let alone the public prosecution, of a single one of the hundreds of UN international staffers involved in running the program, the US Attorney of the Southern District of New York in exploring a few of the UN’s back alleys has had somewhat different results.
Today prosecutors announced the indictment of a UN staffer, Sanjaya Bahel, saying Bahel used his influence to swing millions worth of UN contracts to Indian companies in exchange for valuable New York real estate. Bahel denies any wrong-doing. He is a citizen of India; serving currently — or at least until today — as the head of the UN postal administration and from 1998-2003 was head of commodity procurement within the UN Procurement Department (which helps the UN spend your tax dollars).
This follows the indictment on July 26 of 44 members of an alleged international narcotics-trafficking organization, which prosecutors say smuggled more than 25 tons of the leafy stimulant called khat into the U.S. — a quantity worth more than $10 million, and the biggest khat bust in U.S. history. Prosecutors charged that one of the “leaders/organizers” of these activities was a Somali named Osman Osman, “who was employed at the United Nations” and “used the United Nations diplomatic pouch to smuggle khat into the United States.” Osman has pleaded not guilty.
That follows the conviction in New York’s Southern District on July 13 of South Korean businessman Tongsun Park, on charges of conspiracy to launder money and act as an unregistered agent of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in Saddam’s efforts to corrupt the Oil-for-Food program from the start.
That follows the indictment last September, in New York’s Southern District, of the head of the UN General Assembly budget oversight committee, a Russian named Vladimir Kuznetsov, whom prosecutors have charged with money-laundering involving “hundreds of thousands of dollars in criminal proceeds obtained by a co-conspirator (“CC-1″) who served as a procurement officer at the United Nations from at least mid-1985 through June 2005.” Kuznetsov has pleaded not guilty.
That follows the guilty plea in the Southern District in August of last year of Alexander Yakovlev, a Russian and former UN procurement official who appears to be the co-conspirator described as CC-1 in the Kuznetsov indictment above. Yakovlev pled guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering.
Is this all a sign of a thorough cleanup at the UN? Or a mere sample of what lies beneath the surface? For the $5.3 billion or so the U.S. is now spending every year on the UN, not to mention the trust Americans still place in the organization, we deserve much clearer insights and answers than UN “transparency” allows.