The Rosett Report

Cash-for-Sevan! Oil-for-Food Rises From the UN Sludge

Even in the endless UN hit parade of cash, corruption and cover-ups, this one’s a show-stopper. Just when you thought Oil-for-Food was history, the AP reports that “The U.N.’s highest internal judicial body has ordered the United Nations to pay legal fees to the former chief of its oil-for-food program.”

That former Oil-for-Food chief is Benon Sevan. He was indicted in 2007 in the Southern District of New York, charged with bribery and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with the same UN Oil-for-Food food program that he ran from 1997-2003. Sevan was also accused in an August, 2005 report from the UN-authorized Oil-for-Food inquiry, run by former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, of having profited “corruptly” — to the tune of some $147,000 in cash — from oil deals obtained via the UN program. Months before that, Norm Coleman’s Senate subcommittee investigation into Oil-for-Food had made similar allegations, with Coleman stating at a Feb. 14, 2005 hearing: “As a former prosecutor, I believe that clear and direct evidence establishes probable casue that Benon Sevan broke the law.”

But Sevan, who says he is innocent, has never faced justice. Despite assurances during the Oil-for-Food scandal from former Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Sevan would cooperate fully with investigators in New York, Sevan skipped town months before the Volcker committee weighed in with its final report. Since early 2005, Sevan has been living beyond reach of U.S. extradition, on his native Cyprus. I last saw him smoking a cigar in his penthouse apartment in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia, when I dropped by there in 2006.

But now, the Sevan saga rises from the grave. During the Oil-for-Food investigations, which began in 2004, Kofi Annan initially decided — despite disturbing documents already unearthed by then in Baghdad — that the UN would pay Sevan’s legal fees. When a Volcker interim report in February, 2005, reached preliminary findings alleging that Sevan had created a “grave a continuing conflict of interest,” Annan reversed his decision to cover Sevan’s legal expenses. Sevan protested, and from Cyprus demanded reimbursement, appealing to the UN’s internal “judiciary.” It now turns out, according to the AP story, that in a judgment reached quietly last November, the UN’s version of an internal court, the UN Administrative Tribunal, decided the UN should pay Sevan’s legal fees through February, 2005:

Reports the AP: “The judgment said Sevan and his lawyers were seeking $880,300, plus interest.”

This is beyond the dreams of Kafka. We have a former senior UN official, alleged by both U.S. federal prosecutors and a UN-authorized inquiry to have taken bribes from a UN-sanctioned regime, via a UN program he was entrusted to run — and when he leaves town and evades the charges, what does the UN finally do? Here’s the story again. This is justice, UN-style. Before the Obama adminstration further enlists the UN as an anchor of U.S. foreign policy, does anyone in Washington plan to do anything about it?