Obstruction of justice at the UN

Posted in Other | 16-Nov-04 | Author: William Safire| Source: International Herald Tribune

Charles Duelfer speaks to reporters at the U.N. in this Jan. 16, 1998 file photo.
WASHINGTON 'I'm angry that we find the UN proactively interfering with our investigation," Senator Norm Coleman, chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said on CNN, "by telling certain folks not to cooperate with us."

Coleman repeated for emphasis his sharp response to Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, "interfering with our ability to get information we need" about the oil-for-food scandal. The day before, Judith Miller of The New York Times revealed that the Minnesota Republican, joined by ranking Democrat Carl Levin, sent a letter noting Annan's four-month foot-dragging and that "the UN is hindering our efforts to obtain relevant documents."

If legislative investigators were prosecutors, the name of the game Annan and his enablers are playing would be called "obstruction of justice."

The principal investigating body of the Senate is not helpless. On Monday, witnesses from the Treasury Department and the CIA, as well as its own investigators, were scheduled to present evidence that the huge rip-off engineered by Saddam Hussein - with the connivance of corrupt UN officials and companies protected by Security Council members like Russia and France - was even greater than the $10 billion figure estimated by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Going back to 1991 and including the predecessor to oil-for-food, an outside source tells me that the UN-maladministered profiteering reached $23 billion.

Such heavy spending affects UN votes.

The Senate, as it returns this week, will subpoena evidence through the U.S. connections of companies like Lloyd's Register Inspection Ltd., which Annan's consultant, Paul Volcker, has so far "proactively" kept from cooperating. And there is the budget option: If the UN persists in obstruction, the U.S. can re-examine its contribution to an unaccountable organization.

But the Congress is not dependent on one Senate committee. In the House, Henry Hyde's International Relations Committee will conduct hearings Wednesday. Though there will be overlap - Charles Duelfer will be explicating the oil-for-food section of his CIA report this week - its emphasis has been on following the illicit money through the banking system.

BNP Paribas, the European bank eager to expand in the United States, has cooperated with "friendly subpoenas" that Annan's aides could not stop through their "gag letters"; its present and past officials will testify about its thousands of letters of credit.

But what about "know your customer" rules? What did U.S. Federal Reserve officials know about sloppy banking procedures, and how long did it take for those regulators to put suspect banks under supervising action? The Fed's Herbert Biern may have some explaining to do.

If the UN stonewalling continues this week, Hyde's patience could at last wear thin; as former chairman of Judiciary, he knows something about criminal referrals. Such an action directed at recalcitrant bankers, brokers or UN inspection contractors would at last get high-level attention at the Justice Department, where U.S. attorneys have been tediously poking around U.S. oil companies for leads on kickbacks.

Kofi Annan's longtime right-hand man, Benon Sevan, headed the UN's Office of the Iraq Program; he has been retired but has been vociferously denying wrongdoing ever since his name appeared on a list of beneficiaries of Saddam's largesse in the form of vouchers for oil deals.

Annan's obstruction of outside investigations has strong support with the UN members whose citizens are most likely to be embarrassed by revelations of payoffs: Russia, France and China lead all the rest. He has dutifully continued to align himself with their interests by declaring the overthrow of Saddam "illegal" and recently denouncing the U.S. attack on the insurgents in Falluja. Perhaps he thinks that this confluence of national interest in cover-up - along with the unwillingness of most media to dig into a complicated story - will let his stonewalling succeed. He reckons not with an insulted Congress.

Sad to see is the secretary general's manipulative abuse of Paul Volcker. Here is a former central banker so confident of his hard-earned reputation for integrity that he cannot see how it is being shredded by a web of sticky-fingered officials and see-no-evil bureaucrats desperate to protect the man on top who hired him to substitute for - and thereby to abort - prompt and truly independent investigation.