No, I’m not talking here about Scooter Libby, but about another case that ought to be of far more concern to those who object to dirty schemes and secrecy in high places — the case of a man who until recently was the highest-ranking Russian diplomat at the UN, Vladimir Kuznetsov.
Kuznetsov was found guilty Wednesday in Manhattan federal court of conspiring to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks obtained by yet another Russian who also worked at the UN, in the procurement department, Alexander Yakovlev — who pled guilty in 2005 to wire fraud and money laundering, and testified as a government witness at Kuznetsov’s trial. What’s especially rich in all this is that Kuznetsov worked as chairman of the UN’s budget oversight committee, which is supposed to keep an eye on how the UN spends billions of your tax dollars.
I’ve been down at the courthouse much of the past week, following the trial, and will have more to say about it. But one immediate observation: This case is a terrific argument in favor of a lot more UN transparency than anything the UN — despite all its promises — has so far delivered. It was not the UN, neither was it Paul Volcker’s UN-authorized investigation into Oil-for-Food, that first brought to light Yakovlev’s offshore dealings, which led to the unearthing of the kickback-money-laundering scheme. It was the media (in fact, it was a story on Fox News, June 20, 2005, which I wrote together with Fox News executive editor George Russell). Prior to that, the UN procurement department had been assuring us all was well, and Volcker had issued an interim report that rather weirdly depicted Yakovlev as a guardian of UN integrity. All of which suggests that if the UN were to make available to the public the full archives of its procurement department (which it most certainly does not), and of Volcker’s inquiry (which Volcker never released, and last December turned over to the UN’s secretive legal department), there is a distinct likelihood that yet more might come to light. If honesty at the UN is good policy, what’s to be afraid of?