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US Lawmakers Continue Scrutiny of Former UN Oil for Food Program for Iraq


The U.S. Congress is continuing its examination of corruption in the former United Nations Oil for Food Program in Iraq. The latest hearing on the subject Tuesday comes during a week of intense scrutiny by congressional committees of the United Nations.

Billions of dollars are thought to have been diverted from the program into the pockets of Saddam Hussein and his regime, and the investigations have done much to focus attention on the question of the credibility of the United Nations.

House and Senate committees have held separate hearings, but the scandal over Oil for Food, a program which ran from 1996 until just before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, has spilled over into other settings.

On Monday, it featured prominently during a Senate hearing on the nomination of John Bolton to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Mr. Bolton, a sharp critic of the United Nations over the years, was asked about Oil for Food in the context of questions about U.N. problems.

Senator Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican closely involved in congressional investigations, had this to say: "I really think the question is that the U.N. has to convince the American public and the world that it is credible. That is the issue right now -- credibility of the United Nations. And whether it is Oil for Food, and the 56 U.N. audits that talked about the millions that were ripped off, hundreds of millions, from the Iraqi people, the billions Saddam put in his own pocket, whether it's the sex abuse, brutal horrible sex abuse [by some U.N. military and other personnel] in the Congo."

This week, two House of Representatives committees will be looking not only at the damage to U.N. credibility by the Oil for Food scandal, but also at plans to reform the world body.

One of those will take place in the House National Security and Emerging Threats Subcommittee chaired by Congressman Christopher Shays, the third time that panel has focused on the Oil for Food Program. Two former U.N. employees are among the witnesses.

Later this week, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, another sharp congressional critic of the United Nations, leads his Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee in looking at Secretary General Kofi Annan's plans for United Nations reform.

In an interim report released at the end of March, former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker said there was insufficient evidence Mr. Annan influenced or profited from an Oil for Food contract awarded to a company employing his son.

However, Mr. Annan was criticized for failing to investigate possible conflict-of-interest allegations involving Kojo Annan who was a part-time contractor for a Swiss-based firm.

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