OIL FOR FOOD UDPATE….The Volcker Report on the UN oil-for-food scandal makes for fascinating reading. The head of the oil-for-food program was a UN bureaucrat named Benon Sevan, and one of the key charges of corruption involves an allegation that he steered oil contracts to a company called AMEP, which was run by a guy named Fakhry Abdelnour.
But when the investigation started Sevan denied even knowing Abdelnour, let alone steering business his way. At least, that was his story at first:
When Mr. Sevan was interviewed on January 21, 2005, his description of past contacts with Mr. Abdelnour evolved from a single meeting at the OPEC conference to acknowledging a second chance meeting at a restaurant in Geneva and then, after being confronted with phone record evidence, to having developed an acquaintanceship with Mr. Abdelnour lasting over several years: “I came to like the guy. He is an interesting character you know, he’s been around the world.”
(He’s been “around the world”? That doesn’t seem like it would be especially noteworthy to a lifelong UN bureaucrat, does it?)
Still, I guess we all enjoy being around interesting characters. Unfortunately, there’s also the fact that Sevan took over the oil-for-food program in 1997 and there are Iraqi records for oil purchases in the name of “Mr. Sevan” that start in 1998:
And then there’s Sevan’s receipt of several “large cash payments” over a suspiciously similar period:
The investigators apparently found his explanation that he got this money from his aunt unconvincing:
Mr. Sevan claimed…that this money came from his elderly aunt (now deceased), who lived in Cyprus. Her lifestyle did not suggest this to be so. She was a retired Cyprus government photographer, living on a modest pension, for about twenty years. During her retirement, she lived in a small, plain two-bedroom apartment in Cyprus, which had been purchased by Mr. Sevan. According to a longtime family friend, she never had shown signs of having access to large amounts of cash….
As the report laconically notes, Mr. Sevan “is under continuing investigation.”