April 27, 2004


UN apologists remain silent on oil scandal (James Morrow, The Australian, 28/04/04)

The editorial decision to turn a blind eye to the story puts the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) in good company with other Western news outlets, most of which have taken a see-no-evil approach to one of the biggest corruption scandals in modern history: the systematic purchasing of friends and allies by the Iraqi dictator.

The scheme was elegant in its simplicity, but huge in scale. From 1996 to 2003, Iraq's government was allowed to sell some of its oil through a UN program and, theoretically, buy food and medicine for its citizens.

But any humanitarian goods that were purchased with this money were doled out to Baath party supporters, while the rest of the cash went to building Saddam's lavish palaces and maintaining his terrifying security apparatus.

Far worse was the abuse of oil given to "non-end users" (that is, not sold to refineries and petroleum companies). Documents found in Iraq's old ministry of oil reveal that hundreds of prominent individuals received vouchers to buy Iraqi oil at cut-rate prices and sell it on the open market -- at tremendous, often seven-figure, profits.

Those named include not just Sevan but a vast array of Russian politicians, close friends of French President Jacques Chirac (including France's former minister of the interior), British Labour MP George Galloway, former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter and, closer to home, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri. [...]

But by far the biggest recipient of Saddam's largesse was the UN. During the program's existence, more than $US1 billion was kept by the organisation as a fee for administering the program. As one senior UN diplomat recently told London's Daily Telegraph: "The UN was not doing this work just for the good of Iraq. Cash from Saddam's government was keeping the UN going for a few years."

Amazingly, though, it has taken an incredible amount of time for this story to get what little traction it has so far gained in the media. (Certainly the anti-war Left, which is happy to believe that George W. Bush toppled Saddam to kick a few contracts to Dick Cheney's old pals at Halliburton, has been deafeningly silent on the topic.)

Perhaps because of all the DIY international lawyering engaged in by the world press corps in the run-up to Iraq's invasion, many journalists are reluctant to admit that the UN they put so much faith in was many times more corrupt than they could imagine the Bush White House being.

Or maybe they just don't want to admit that so many of the anti-war voices they used to support their stories were bought and paid for with money belonging to the long-suffering, if little-mentioned, Iraqi people.

But the naive belief among journalists with little or no international law background that no military action is legitimate without the UN's seal of approval is one thing. The continued fetishistic belief of politicians and opinion-makers in the supposed good intentions of the UN is another -- and it is something that needs to end immediately.

The Left did say that it was all about oil.

Posted by Peter Burnet at April 27, 2004 9:31 PM

I've read a report by Claudia Rosett that appears to be well documented, and certainly looks damning against the UN. What happens next? I'm somewhat ignorant regarding the legal applications that follow, if any. Where will all this lead to, and what will be the action taken if these allegations are proven true? Heaven forbid the World Court taking jurisdiction.

Posted by: Tom Wall at April 27, 2004 10:12 PM

Classic case of projection.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at April 27, 2004 11:16 PM

If Bush and Rove are smart, they will push for a Congressional investigation this summer. Imagine: daily headlines about UN corruption, the failure of Iraqi sanctions, and payoffs to war opponents all while Kerry campaigns on a "We need the UN" platform....

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 27, 2004 11:21 PM


Agree completely. Then the congressional committees can even top themselves by issuing a subpoeana to Kofi - what would Kerry say about that?

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 28, 2004 12:25 PM

This story shows all the signs of something nobody wants to think about.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 29, 2004 2:22 AM