Roger L. Simon

What's in Volcker's Box?

No, our friends at a UN sponsored website have not intimidated me about writing about the Oil-for-Food program – and they certainly haven’t intimidated Claudia whose latest article spells out better than I could the reason people like she and I are morally outraged at the behavior of our supposedly most idealistic international organization:

As evidence continues to bubble out of the great sinkhole that was once Oil-for-Food, there will no doubt be more scandal to come. It may be worth taking a moment to reflect on just how far the U.N. strayed in this program from its widely advertised humanitarian brief. The program, which ran from 1996-2003, was supposed to allow U.N.-sanctioned Saddam to export Iraq’s oil solely to buy humanitarian aid, such as milk and medicine, for the people of Iraq. The idea was that the U.N. would oversee the process, with the Secretariat collecting 2.2 percent of Saddam’s oil revenues to defray its costs for ensuring the integrity of the program. (That U.N. commission totaled $1.4 billion, from which U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan last year plucked $30 million in residual funds to cover the U.N.-authorized independent inquiry led by former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, who has yet to provide the kind of insight offered in this Senate report).

The U.N. let Saddam pick his own business partners, and kept the deals secret, and at Annan’s behest greatly expanded the program. That opened the way to Saddam for such scams as underpricing oil and allocating shipments as rewards to favored business partners, who could then make fat profits by reselling these allocations on the world market. The Senate report quotes a former Iraqi official saying that inside Saddam’s oil-marketing agency, this arrangement was known as the “Saddam Bribery System.”

And the author of the aforementioned website wonders why I am so concerned. I wonder why he is not. But no matter. I don’t really care. Textbook cases of reification abound. Meanwhile, as Claudia notes:

Somewhere in all this, the U.N.-authorized Volcker inquiry is engaged right now in a legal showdown, demanding that House investigators give back boxfuls of evidence that Rep. Hyde‚Äôs Committee on International Relations subpoenaed recently from an investigator who resigned last month from Volcker’s team, claiming Volcker’s most recent report had been too soft on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Sen. Coleman and Rep. Chris Shays, who heads yet another congressional panel investigating Oil-for-Food, have also issued subpoenas for this evidence. A restraining order, obtained by Volcker’s committee, expires next week. There is room to wonder who is most likely to enlighten us as to the true depths of Oil-for-Food’s dirty secrets: Congress, now pouring forth information to the public; or Volcker, already sitting on millions of still-secret U.N. documents, who wants his stray boxes of evidence back.

That investigator is, of course, Robert Parton whose resignation from the Volcker Committee was first revealed on this blog. As for what’s in Volcker’s box, well, you would think that in a situation of such international consequence, which involves the citizens of all nations, not to mention its taxpayers (mainly American) who support the UN, a little transparency would be in order. Transparency should be the watch word in all things regarding the UN. After all, the United Nations belongs, as the song goes, “to everyone,” doesn’t it, Mr. Volcker?