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April 17, 2004
Russia Says "Nyet" To Oil-For-Food Investigation

The New York Times reports this morning that the oft-stalled investigation into bribery and corruption allegations surrounding the United Nations' Iraq oil-for-food program has hit another roadblock. Although UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has nominated Paul Volcker to lead the committee and the other members are ready to start, Russia has refused to approve rules that would enhance the independence of the investigation:

United Nations officials said Friday that Mr. Volcker, 76, had been selected for the panel along with Mark Pieth, 50, a Swiss law professor with expertise in investigating money laundering and economic crime, and Richard J. Goldstone, 65, a South African judge who was chief prosecutor for the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia.

But the nominations stalled Friday when Russia said it would not agree to a Security Council resolution that Mr. Volcker said he needed to give him the authority to conduct the wide-ranging inquiry that Mr. Annan was seeking.

"We understand the reputation of the Secretariat is in question, but we do not think it is possible to adopt a resolution on the basis of mass media reports," said Sergei Trepelkov, spokesman for the Russian mission.

In other words, Russia denies that any of the media reports were accurate, and therefore sees no reason for a special investigation into their allegations. As I blogged back on January 30th, Russia reportedly received options on over 1 billion barrel, which included the following:

* Head of the Russian Presidential Cabinet: 90 million barrels
* Russian Communist Party: 137 million barrels
* Russian Orthodox Church: 5 million barrels

I still think that the Communist Party's participation in oil futures is deliciously ironic. Power to the proletariat and all that, but rubles are, after all, rubles!

The US GAO estimates that Saddam himself skimmed more than $10 billion from a program that was designed to keep economic sanctions on him in place. Allegations of corruption and payoffs reached the highest levels of the program, including its chief, Benon Sevan, who has denied everything. Kofi Annan at first agreed with the Russians and tried to mollify critics by having the program reviewed by internal UN auditors, a move which fooled no one. After names started being made public, especially that of Annan's son Kojo who was a high-paid consultant to one of the companies involved, Annan backed down in March and agreed to form the commission, warning that he would need the support of the UNSC:

"There is a lot that is being dumped on the Secretariat, which is not fair," he said of his own office, arguing that a wider inquiry was necessary. It was the 15-member Council that ran the program, and many of the transactions involved nationals of the member states.

In response to Mr. Volcker's request, a draft resolution by the United States circulated this week among the four other veto-bearing members of the Council Britain, China, France and Russia and Germany, which is this month's president of the Council. All but Russia agreed to the motion, and Germany then circulated a revised draft on Thursday. On Friday the Russians said they still objected.

My prediction: they will continue to object until either the investigation is returned to the internal auditors, where it can be controlled, or dropped altogether. The US should launch its own independent investigation to determine what laws were broken and whether or not corrupt officials can be prosecuted under our own laws. Otherwise, we may never know how all that money came into Saddam's hands and precisely why some members of the UNSC were so willing to allow Saddam's reign of terror to continue. (via Instapundit)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 17, 2004 9:05 AM

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