Oil-for-Food Program Hearings

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The Oil-for-Food Program Hearings were held by the U.S Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations beginning in 2004 to investigate abuses of the United Nations (UN) Oil-for-Food Programme in which the economically sanctioned country of Iraq was intended to be able to sell limited amounts of oil in exchange for vital food and medicine for its population.

In December 2004 the subcommittee's chairman Senator Norm Coleman called for UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan to resign because of the "UN's utter failure to detect or stop Saddam's abuses" of the program and because of related fraud allegations against Annan's son.

In May 2005 the subcommittee held the hearings on their investigation of abuses of the program, including oil smuggling, illegal kickbacks and use of surcharges, and Saddam Hussein's use of oil vouchers for the purpose of buying influence abroad. These hearings covered certain corporations and several well-known political figures, including Russia's Vladimir Zhironovsky and drew significant media attention for the combative appearance of British Member of Parliament George Galloway, an anti-Iraq-War member of the RESPECT The Unity Coalition (Respect), a then-new British political party, who vigorously denied the subcommittee's allegations against him and claimed they were politically motivated.

U.S. oil company Bayoil was among the corporations investigated by the committee,[1] and its executive David Chalmers was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.[2]

Alleged US corporate complicity[edit]

It has also been alleged that the American government was aware of the scandal and chose to not prevent the smuggling because their allies Turkey and Jordan benefited from the majority of the smuggled oil. US Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) is quoted in an interview for the New York Times as saying, "There is no question that the bulk of the illicit oil revenues came from the open sale of Iraqi oil to Jordan and to Turkey, and that that was a way of going around the Oil-for-Food Programme [and that] we were fully aware of the bypass and looked the other way."[3]

Galloway testimony[edit]

"We have your name on Iraqi documents, some prepared before the fall of Saddam, some after, that identify you as one of the allocation holders," Senator Coleman accused MP Galloway in May 2005. "I am not now nor have I ever been an oil trader" retorted Galloway, stating that the charges were false and part of a diversionary "mother of all smoke screens" by pro-Iraq-War U.S. politicians to deflect attention from the "theft of billions of dollars of Iraq's wealth... on your watch" that had occurred not during the Oil-for-Food program but under the post-invasion Coalition Provisional Authority by "Halliburton and other American corporations... with the connivance of your own government." Galloway claimed that the subcommittee's dossier was full of distortions and rudimentary mistakes, citing, for example, the charge that he had met with Saddam Hussein "many times" when the number was two.[4] This unusual appearance of a British MP before a US Senate committee drew much media attention in both America and Britain.[5]

The Majority Staff of the subcommittee prepared a subsequent report pertaining to Galloway, which was released in October, 2005. It elaborated on allegations and evidence of the committee and included disputed [6] testimony from former Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz. It also alleges that another officer of Mariam Appeal, Amineh Abu-Zayyad (Galloway's then-wife), received $150,000 in oil kickbacks, which she denies.[7][8] Senator Coleman conveyed these reports to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Manhattan DA, the Washington DC and New York federal prosecutors, the UK Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and the Charity Commission.[9][10] None saw fit to pursue charges.

Australian Wheat Board Involvement[edit]

The subcommittee considered and may have done some preliminary work to investigate Australian Wheat Board (AWB) in connection with Oil-for-Food Program abuses. The Australian ambassador to the U.S., Michael Thawley, met with Sen. Coleman in late 2004 to lobby against any investigation of AWB. [11][12] On June 2, 2006, Coleman responded to criticism that he had insufficiently investigated them by saying that there were legal and cost hurdles. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and others had claimed it was a political favor being paid back.[13] The Australian Prime Minister John Howard was a supporter of the invasion of Iraq.[14]

Indictments and conviction[edit]

On January 6, 2006, South Korean businessman Tongsun Park was arrested by the FBI in Houston after he was indicted for illegally accepting millions of dollars from Iraq in the UN Oil-for-Food Programme. The criminal charges against him were unsealed in a U.S. District Court in Manhattan.[15] In July 2006, he was convicted on conspiracy charges.[16] He became the first person convicted through the oil-for-food investigation. On February 22, 2007 he was sentenced to five years in prison. He was also fined $15,000 and required to forfeit $1,200,000.[17]

On January 16, 2007, former UN official Benon Sevan was indicted by a Manhattan federal prosecutor for taking about $160,000 in bribes. Michael J. Garcia, the U.S. attorney from the Southern District of New York, issued a warrant through Interpol for the arrest of Sevan at his home in Cyprus, as well as a warrant for Efraim "Fred" Nadler, a New York businessman who was indicted on charges of channelling the illegal payments to Sevan. Nadler's whereabouts are unknown.[18]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.senate.gov/~levin/newsroom/release.cfm?id=247953 Levin to Release Report on Bayoil Diversions
  2. ^ http://www6.lexisnexis.com/publisher/EndUser?Action=UserDisplayFullDocument&orgId=574&topicId=100010244&docId=l:756505383&start=4 Texas Oil Executive and Two Corporations Sentenced
  3. ^ U.S. pegged for leaky Iraq oil sanctions | The San Diego Union-Tribune
  4. ^ Galloway tongue-lashes Coleman; committee documents show Bush political friends and family paid Oil-for-Food kickbacks to Saddam Hussein — Online Journal 5/21/05
  5. ^ Media react to blistering hearing — BBC News 5/17/05
  6. ^ Aziz denies naming British MP in oil probe — ABC News Online 10/30/05
  7. ^ REPORT CONCERNING THE TESTIMONY OF GEORGE GALLOWAY BEFORE THE PERMANENT SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS — MAJORITY STAFF OF THE PERMANENT SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS 10/25/05
  8. ^ UN team links more oil cash to Galloway wife's bank account — Times Online 10/28/05
  9. ^ Department of Justice to investigate George Galloway 10/30/05
  10. ^ Galloway hit by US criminal investigation — news.scotsman.com 10/29/05
  11. ^ Inquiry into certain Australian companies in relation to the UN Oil-For-Food Programme — Australian Attorney General's Department 11/10/05
  12. ^ Revealed: ambassador tried to kill US hunt for AWB bribes. Sydney Morning Herald. 1 February, 2006.
  13. ^ Coleman criticized for wheat-scandal silence. Blog reprint of Star Tribune article. 7 June, 2006.
  14. ^ "Bush: Aziz 'still doesn't know how to tell the truth'". pub. 2003-05-03. Retrieved 2008-04-24. "Howard backed Bush in the Iraq war despite sharp opposition at home, and the president was paying off the IOU by playing host on his Texas ranch."" 
  15. ^ "Korean arrested on oil-for-food scandal charges". NBC News. January 6, 2006. 
  16. ^ Associated Press (July 13, 2006). Korean businessman guilty in oil-for-food case. MSNBC. Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  17. ^ Lynch, Colum (February 23, 2007). "Park Sentenced to 5 Years in U.N. Oil-for-Food Bribery Scandal". The Washington Post (80). pp. A–11. 
  18. ^ Colum Lynch (January 17, 2007). "Former U.N. Oil-for-Food Chief Indicted". The Washington Post.