Peering Into the Caverns of Another Oil-for-Food Indictment (Hey, Is that the UN Down There?)
In the continuing fallout of the United Nations Oil-for-Food program in Iraq, we've just seen another Oil-for-Food-related indictment. This one was unsealed Wednesday in East Michigan federal court -- where an Iraq-born naturalized U.S. citizen, Muthanna al-Hanooti, was charged with conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, accepting an illicit allocation of 2 million barrels of Oil-for-Food oil from UN-sanctioned Iraq, and denying to the FBI that he had done so. (Al-Hanooti pleaded not guilty).
This follows such Oil-for-Food-related highlights as the guilty plea in 2005 by Iraq-born U.S. citizen Samir Vincent of conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of Iraq; the conviction of South Korean businessman Tongsun Park in 2006 of conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of Iraq; the guilty pleas in 2007 of Texas oilman Oscar Wyatt (conspiracy to defraud the Oil-for-Food program) and David Chalmers (conspiracy to commit wire fraud); and the indictment in 2007 of the former head of the Oil-for-Food Program, Benon Sevan (who has been living since 2005 out of reach of U.S. extradition, on Cyprus, and says he is not guilty).
The Al-Hanooti case comes with the colorful feature that information in the indictment implies that in October, 2002, as debate grew hot over toppling Saddam, Al-Hanooti arranged and paid for a trip to Iraq by three House Democrats -- David Bonior, Jim McDermott and Mike Thompson. (A Justice Department spokesman says there is no evidence "that any of them were aware of the involvement of the Iraqi Intelligence Service"). As background-- not in the indictment -- there is the additional frill, as noted on Little Green Footballs, and by the Investigative Project on Terrorism, that Al-Hanooti is a former head of the Michigan branch of CAIR (CAIR being one of the the unindicted co-conspirators named in court papers of the Holy Land Foundation case, involving a Texas-based charity's alleged funding of Hamas -- which resulted last year in a mistrial last fall, and is expected to go to trial again later this year).
The labyrinth of curious connections here is vast. But the allegations about Al-Hanooti track back to a UN program designed and run in such a way that federal agents have been tied up for years trying to track down even a modest portion of the damage. And lest anyone think the UN's ties to the maze mentioned above ended in 2003 with the overthrow of Saddam and the shutdown of Oil-for-Food, here's an item to ponder. It involves a Michigan-based charity, Life for Relief and Development, which according to the Al-Hanooti indictment opened an office in Baghdad in the late 1990s. The indictment states that: "From approximately 1994 through 1999, 2001 through 2002, and 2005 through mid-2006, defendant AL-HANOOTI was employed by Life for Relief and Developmemt (LRD) as its public relations coordinator responsible for, among other things, LRD's lobbying efforts."
On the current web site of Life for Relief and Development, with its featured appeal for donations for Gaza, you can read about LRD's projects in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, the Palestinian Territories, and Iraq. And on that same LRD web site, you can read LRD's list of "partners." Among them are three major UN agencies, all of them formerly major players in Oil-for-Food: UNICEF, UN Habitat, and the UN's flagship agency, the UN Development Program, or UNDP (epicenter of the UN's North Korea Cash-for-Kim scandal -- in which, among other things, the UNDP in contravention of the UN's own rules not only funneled cash to Kim Jong Il's regime but also -- Oops! -- transferred money on behalf of other UN agencies to North Korean front companies in Macau tied to Pyongyang's traffic in weapons, including ballistic missiles).
Maybe it's just a small world. But one might at least ask the question: Can anyone at these UN agencies enlighten us further about the activities of Muthanna Al-Hanouti?