Roger L. Simon

The UN has another bad day....

Is anybody listening or all they obsessed with ‘Scooter’ Libby? Undoubtedly the latter because it’s Washington blood sport. Meanwhile, the NYT is reporting:

More than 4,500 companies took part in the United Nations oil-for-food program and more than half of them paid illegal surcharges and kickbacks to Saddam Hussein, according to the independent committee investigating the program.

The country with the most companies involved in the program was Russia, followed by France, the committee says in a report to be released Thursday. The inquiry was led by Paul A. Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

The findings are in the committee’s fifth and final report, a document of more than 500 pages that will detail how outside companies from more than 60 countries were able to evade United Nations controls and make money for themselves as well as for the Hussein government.

Three investigators who described their findings in interviews declined to name the companies, though they said the companies would be identified in the document on Thursday. They refused to speak on the record about the report until it is released.

The new report studies the people outside Iraq who profited illicitly and how they did it. It will identify companies and individuals who took part, both deliberately and inadvertently, and will chronicle in detail the experience of 30 to 40 of them, the investigators said.

In an interview, Mr. Volcker said that while he knew the naming of companies and the exposure of international “machinations” would draw attention, he hoped it would not obscure his committee’s purpose in keeping the focus of their work on the need for United Nations reform.

“In my mind,” he said, “this part of our investigation, looking at the manipulation of the program outside the U.N., strongly reinforces the case that the U.N. itself carries a large part of this responsibility and needs reform.

“Even though we are looking at it from the outside, it kind of screams out at you, ‘Why didn’t somebody blow a whistle?’ The central point is that it all adds up to the same story. You need some pretty thoroughgoing reforms at the U.N.”

Claudia has more to tell us on how the unparalleled corruption came to be:

Few outside U.N. circles have heard of IHC Services, a private company that for years was one of hundreds of firms selling goods and services to the U.N. As a rule, the U.N. keeps secret most details of these deals. But scandals involving IHC have begun lifting the lid on how the U.N. handles taxpayers’ money.

The IHC story suggests that the U.N.’s failures of governance are not confined to such special projects as the Oil for Food program. If anything, Oil for Food looks more and more like a large outcropping of U.N. business as usual. And as with Oil for Food, which ran from December 1996 until the fall of Saddam in 2003, the timeline of IHC business with the U.N. starts in December 1996. That was the month before Kofi Annan took over as secretary-general, and it is on his watch that the IHC-U.N. tale has unfolded.