Russian and French officials are strongly denying allegations they illegally benefited from the U.N.- administered Oil-for-Food Program in Iraq. The allegations are in a U.S. report that lists hundreds of individuals, firms, and governments that Saddam Hussein is said to have tried to bribe in an effort to undermine U.N. sanctions against him. The list includes the U.N. official in charge of the Oil-for-Food Program.
The report submitted to Congress by Iraq Survey Group chief Charles Duelfer charges that Saddam Hussein's government manipulated the humanitarian program to skim off billions of dollars in illegal profits.
In testimony to the Senate Armed Service Committee, Mr. Duelfer outlined a scheme through which Saddam allocated lucrative oil vouchers to friends, who could then sell them at huge profits.
"ISG's [Iraq Survey Group's] investigation also makes quite clear how Baghdad exploited the mechanism for executing Oil-for-Food program to give individuals and countries an economic stake in ending sanctions," he said. "The regime, following a pattern that Saddam has applied throughout his career, offered rewards and a rationale for accepting them, successfully arguing its case that the sanctions were harming the innocent, and that the moral choice was to elude and diminish them."
Among those named as recipients of Oil-for-Food vouchers is the program's head, Benon Sevon, former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, radical Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.
Mr. Sevon has previously denied wrongdoing. A French foreign ministry spokesman cast doubt on Mr. Duelfer's allegations, saying they had not been checked with the people or countries involved. And a Russian government spokesman was quoted as urging that a U.N. investigation into the allegations be made public in the interest of clearing up the charges.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed former U.S. Central Bank chief Paul Volcker last April to head an internal investigation into the corruption allegations. But the Volcker report is not expected for several months.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said the United Nations would wait for Mr. Volcker's report before drawing further conclusions.
"But we are not going to comment on any specific allegations against Mr. Sevan or anyone else," he said. "This is in the hands of Paul Volcker. We are cooperating with him fully. Benon Sevan is cooperating with him fully, and we will wait for Volcker's judgment. Benon, meanwhile stands by his statement that he has done nothing wrong."
Congressman Henry Hyde, head of the House International Relations Committee, called for immediate public access to internal U.N. documents. The documents have been given to Mr. Volcker, but have been denied to congressional investigators.
In a written statement, Congressman Hyde said "the world cannot wait years for answers to the growing body of evidence implicating senior U.N. officials in outright corruption."
The Duelfer report charges that Oil-For-Food chief Sevon received vouchers for more than seven million barrels of oil that could have netted him at least 700,000 and as much as two million dollars, depending on oil prices.
The report also says Saddam Hussein used Oil-for-Food funds in an attempt to buy off influential governments. One paragraph reads "at a minimum, Saddam wanted to divide the five permanent [Security Council] members and foment international public support of Iraq at the United Nations by a savvy public relations campaign."
The list of individuals, companies, and governments said to have been offered bribes is led by entities from France, Russia and China, all permanent Security Council members.