UN oil-for-food probe nears end

Report due on Oct. 27 will focus on the companies that received contracts.

oil barrels 88 (photo credit: )
oil barrels 88
(photo credit: )
The committee probing claims of wrongdoing in the UN oil-for-food program will issue its final report on Oct. 27, focusing on the companies that received contracts to sell Iraqi oil or supply humanitarian goods. An announcement Friday by the Independent Inquiry Committee headed by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker said "its final findings regarding the role of private companies in the program" would be released at a news conference. Richard Goldstone, former Yugoslav war crimes prosecutor and a member of the committee, said in August that about half of the 4,500 companies that took part in the oil-for-food program paid kickbacks or illegal surcharges on oil purchases. He said a substantial amount of evidence of kickbacks came from Iraqi files, "a lot from UN documents," and some from the committee's investigations. The companies that allegedly paid kickbacks or surcharges were being notified and given a chance to respond to the accusations, he said. The $64 billion oil-for-food program was one of the world's largest humanitarian aid operations, running from 1996-2003. It allowed Saddam Hussein's government to sell oil in exchange for food, medical supplies and other humanitarian goods as an exemption from tough UN sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Saddam, who could choose the buyers of Iraqi oil and the sellers of humanitarian goods, corrupted the program by awarding contracts to - and getting kickbacks from - favored buyers, mostly parties who supported his regime or opposed the sanctions. He allegedly gave former government officials, journalists and UN officials vouchers for Iraqi oil that could then be resold at a profit. Volcker's yearlong investigation of the oil-for-food program issued last month strongly criticized the United Nations and its top leadership, concluding they tolerated corruption and allowed Saddam's government to pocket $10.2 billion. The investigation found mal-administration in the program and corruption within the UN organization and by contractors. Volcker said the responsibility for the failures should be broadly shared, starting with the 191 UN member states and the powerful UN Security Council whose sanctions committee monitored the program.