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UN: Panel Accuses Sevan, Yakovlev Of Corruption In Oil-For-Food Program

Paul Volcker (file photo) An investigative panel is urging criminal prosecutions against two former UN officials it accuses of abusing the oil-for-food program in Iraq. The panel, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, accuses the former head of the UN program, Benon Sevan, and a UN procurement officer, Aleksandr Yakovlev, of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks. Yakovlev, whose diplomatic immunity was waived, is already believed to be in custody. RFE/RL correspondents Robert McMahon and Nikola Krastev report.

New York, 8 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The panel's report says Benon Sevan was in a "precarious" financial situation at the time he began running the oil-for-food program in late 1997.

The panel accuses Sevan of taking about $150,000 in bribes from 1998 to 2002 in money derived from oil allocations from the Iraqi regime. Panel Chairman Paul Volcker recommended waiving the diplomatic immunity of Sevan, who is believed to be in Cyprus.

"Mr. Sevan is now the subject of a criminal investigation. If criminal charges ought to be brought against Mr. Sevan, the committee recommends that the secretary-general accede to any properly supported request from an appropriate law enforcement authority for waiver of Mr. Sevan's UN immunity," Volcker said.

The panel says it also found evidence that Aleksandr Yakovlev, a former UN procurement official, collected about $950,000 in kickbacks from various UN contractors outside the oil-for-food program.

The report released today recommended that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan waive Yakovlev's immunity, as well, to allow criminal investigations to proceed.

"The evidence now gathered by the committee is sufficiently strong that we are, again, recommending that upon the request of the appropriate law enforcement authorities, the secretary-general also waive the immunity of Mr. Yakovlev. The committee's investigation of Mr. Yakovlev's program-related activities is continuing," Volcker said.

Later, Annan's spokesman said the secretary-general had waived Yakovlev's immunity, following a formal request from the U.S. Attorney's office. Yakovlev is now believed to be in the custody of U.S. officials.

Yakovlev, of Russia, resigned earlier this year. Sevan, a Cypriot, announced his resignation yesterday in a letter criticizing the panel and Annan.
According to the latest report, the discovery of e-mail records suggests Annan knew more than he said about his son's involvement in the program.

This report was the third into abuses of the UN humanitarian program in Iraq from 1996 to 2003 and focused on the actions of Sevan and Yakovlev. But there was also a signal that Annan himself and his son, Kojo, continue to be investigated for possible improprieties involving the contract procurement process.

The central finding of the panel's previous report was that there is insufficient evidence linking Kofi Annan to the awarding of a multimillion-dollar contract won by a Swiss inspection firm named Cotecna. The firm employed Kojo Annan.

According to the latest report, the discovery of e-mail records suggests Annan knew more than he said about his son's involvement in the program. Volcker said the records raise questions that will be answered in a final report.

"The investigation has elicited a series of denials from others presumably involved or knowledgeable concerning the fact of the 'discussion' described in the e-mail. The investigation is continuing through further document search and interviews to evaluate the significance of this new evidence and other evidence that bears on the selection of Cotecna," Volcker said.

UN management has now come under criticism in three separate reports into the $64 billion program. The program helped feed about 90 percent of Iraq's population, but abuses allowed Saddam Hussein's regime to earn billions of dollars illegally.

U.S. investigators charge that the previous Iraqi regime profited by nearly $10 billion from corruption in the program.

See also:

UN Chief Seeks Iraq Mission Extension, Amid Corruption Allegations Against Former Oil-For-Food Head

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