The Rosett Report

Guilty at the UN -- the Bahel Verdict Comes In

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.