Almost five years after Kofi Annan lauded the UN Oil-for-Food program while declaring it over and done with, the vast ensuing scandal continues to ooze and bubble through the U.S. courts. With the criminal proscutions of recent years winding down, the Government of Iraq has just filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court againt dozens of private players, from a number of countries, for alleged corruption under Oil-for-Food.
For private players now doing business with other UN relief programs that benefit corrupt tyrants — say, Kim Jong Il, in North Korea — this lawsuit might just raise some colorful questions about the wisdom of assuming that because the UN enables it, it must be all right. On the contrary, unless the Secretary-General deigns to waive immunity, the UN and its staff don’t have to worry about being hauled into court. With its privileges and immunities, the UN deflects legal remedies like water off a greased pig’s back.
So, the incentives are for the UN to run rotten programs (because it can), while private players (or at least those who operate in countries with genuine rule of law) get stuck holding the bag. So, while we wait for more details of this Iraqi lawsuit to emerge, I start to wonder: What might happen if Kim Jong Il were to fall, and some of those currently hungry and oppressed North Koreans were to start combing through the leftover Pyongyang records? What would they conclude about how much UN aid actually went to the North Korean people, and how much helped sustain and pamper the regime of Kim Jong Il — and who among the private contractors recruited for these projects did handsomely out of the deal? And what might those North Koreans try to do about it?