Roger L. Simon

Spaghetti a la Putin-esca (the lede is buried) (UPDATE)

IMPORTANT UPDATE FROM THE AP (No link yet):

UNITED NATIONS_Investigators of the U.N. oil-for-food program said Tuesday they are “urgently reviewing” new information suggesting U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan may have known more about a contract awarded to the company that employed his son.

START MAIN STORY:

Maybe Howard Dean and Vladimir Putin were separated at birth because they both have habit of putting their foot in their mouth. Of course, their motivations may not be the same – Dean’s seems to come from an uncontrollable narcissistic impulse to hog the limelight (at the expense of his party) while Putin’s appears to stem from an atavistic impulse to bring Russia back to the time of tsars.

But as we know, Russia may never have left it as the latest Oil-For-Food piece in the WSJ indicates:

The alleged role of the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow in helping Baghdad exploit the United Nations’ oil-for-food program has emerged as a new flash point in already rocky U.S.-Russian relations.

In the three years before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, say former employees of the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow and American investigators, cash deliveries were funneled through the embassy as part of an elaborate kickback scheme to Saddam Hussein’s government, paid in return for lucrative oil contracts under the U.N.’s oil-for-food program.

The main question facing investigators is whether the scheme took place with the active cooperation of the Kremlin or was simply part of the murky and often corrupt business climate that has flourished in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. The intermingling of Russia’s government and business spheres — many companies are either formally state-owned or under the unofficial control of powerful political or military figures — is making the issue more difficult to resolve.

Clear evidence that the Kremlin subverted U.N. sanctions, or that Russia’s opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq was financially motivated, would undermine Moscow’s credibility with Washington at a time when the U.S. is already wary of President Vladimir Putin and what many consider his backsliding on democracy and economic change. The Kremlin’s critics in the U.S. say the scandal proves Russia is an unreliable partner in international affairs and has worked actively to undermine U.S. interests.

There’s more in the WSJ article, including some interesting info on activities at the crumbling IRaqi Embassy in Moscow before the war. Meanwhile, the NYT has news of a memo that links Kofi Annan to the OFF contract of his son Kojo’s company Cotecna.

Kofi Annan has said several times that he did not discuss the contract with his son and was not involved in Cotecna’s selection. A United Nations panel headed by Paul A. Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve, concluded in March that Mr. Annan had not influenced the awarding of the $10 million dollar-a-year contract to the company.

But the memo appears to raise questions about the secretary general’s role.

Asked for comment, a consultant for the company who is familiar with its role in the oil-for-food program said that on Monday Cotecna provided copies of the e-mail messages and other documents that were recently discovered in company files to investigators of three Congressional committees. The committees have been looking into fraud and abuses in the $65 billion program.

The consultant said the memo was found by accident three weeks ago in a search of company archives as part of an effort to account for all of Cotecna’s payments to Kojo Annan.

“No senior Cotecna officials initially had any memory of the e-mail or of such a meeting, and the memo appears to contradict what the company has said,” said the company’s consultant, who declined to be identified.

A copy of the memo was provided to The New York Times, and the consultant confirmed that it was authentic.

I told you I buried the lede! But so did the NYT. This article is on page 10 of their newspaper. Imagine if it was about Guantanamo.