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.