Saddam selected individuals, corporations and political parties to receive oil allotments at steep price discounts, which were then sold at the market price. Their part of the deal was to kick back a generous percentage of the profits to Saddam and to help keep him in power by giving him political support in the U.N. and elsewhere.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was a chief negotiator with Saddam. Annan's secretariat collected fees of $1.4 billion to monitor, administer and audit the program, keep the records, and interact with Saddam, plus another $500 million for weapons inspection.
Annan picked U.N. Assistant Secretary General Benon Sevan to be oil-for-food's executive director and report directly to him. He served for six years.
The Iraq oil ministry has released a list of 270 companies and politicians from 46 countries, especially Russia and France, that profited from this scheme. The list includes former Iraqi officials, a former French Cabinet minister, a British member of Parliament, Benon Sevan, who ran the program, a company with which Annan's son was associated and other U.N. personnel who were supposed to be monitoring the contracts.
The smoking gun is a letter to the former Iraqi oil minister obtained by ABC News. It describes the specifics of one deal that would have generated a profit of $3.5 million.
Some of the food delivered, mostly from Russia, was unfit for human consumption. Medicines were often out of date. Saddam also handed out vouchers instead of cash for other goods imported illegally in violation of U.N. sanctions. The excuse for this program was an alleged desire to provide for needs of the Iraqi people, but the people had no say in who bought or sold goods or food, what was bought, how it was distributed, or anything else. The deal was between the U.N. and Saddam.
Five investigations of what is probably the biggest financial fraud in history are now in progress. Two are by the U.S. House, one by the Senate, one by the Iraqi Governing Council, and one authorized by the U.N. and headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. A U.N. Security Council resolution calls on the 191 U.N. countries "to cooperate fully," but much cooperation is unlikely because Volcker has no subpoena power.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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