Roger L. Simon

Oil-for-Food: Fall Guys 1 and 2

It’s only the beginning of August (autumn still nearly two months away) but chief Oil-for-Food investigator Paul Volcker already has two fall guys lined up for the coming season – Benon Sevan (whom we have known about for the better part of a year) and Alexander Yakovlev (whom we have known about for a shorter time, but is still no surprise). Even though the schedule has been sped up by a day or two, something seems very orchestrated here, Mr. Big emerging unscathed as he does in the more cynical Mafia movies.

And speaking of Mafia movies, Volcker appears to be stepping into the Sterling Hayden role of the corrupt cop, arresting peons while protecting the higher ups. Meanwhile…

… loads of important information remains buried in the U.N. records to which the Volcker committee claims monopoly rights. Much of what has leaked from the U.N., or even been released by Volcker, appears in formats every bit as difficult to search as the artificially constricted files to which the frustrated Sevan would like easier access. Volcker released a set of “company tables” last fall, which gave at least some official confirmation of the names of some of the Oil-for-Food contractors, and totals for some of the deals. But Volcker apparently struck off the list some of the contracts, and in some cases the contractors, that turned up on Saddam’s agenda late in the program – and following Saddam’s overthrow were then dropped, in some cases because the contractors ran for the hills. In other words, gone missing from Volcker’s presumably comprehensive list are some of Saddam’s fishiest U.N.-approved deals.

In any event, the format of Volcker’s Oil-for-Food tables qualifies less as a help to outside investigators than as a bad joke. Instead of an easily searchable spreadsheet (which one must hope the 65 staffers of the $34 million Volcker inquiry have managed to put together over the past year), Volcker released a locked pdf file, in type so small it could better serve as an eye test. There are no addresses, there are no contract details; there columns of sums paid out, but still no mention of the details one might assume a former Fed chairman would know are basic to evaluating a contract, such as quantity.

To date, almost every important disclosure about the billions in Oil-for-Food scams has been driven not by the U.N., or even by the Volcker inquiry, but by the press, by Pentagon auditors, by the CIA’s Iraq Survey Group, and by congressional investigators. Among these, only Congress wields direct leverage over the U.N. by way of funding. If Sevan is serious about opening up U.N. records, his best bet is to pay a call to congressional investigators, and start by opening up himself – not just in his own defense, but about the inner workings of the entire Oil-for-Food program, including the complicity of his boss, Kofi Annan. Had the UN come clean years ago, this colossal scandal might never have happened.

Quote-unquote… Claudia Rosett. Who else?