NEW YORK: The former head of the UN oil-for-food program for Iraq and a brother-in-law of an ex-UN Secretary General were charged with bribery and conspiracy to commit wire fraud tied to the program.
Benon Sevan, 69, the first UN official to be charged with wrongdoing under the program, and Ephraim Nadler, 79, a businessman and brother-in-law of former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, were named in an indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday.
Michael Garcia, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Sevan allegedly received about $160,000 from Nadler on behalf of the Iraqi government that illustrated how pervasive the corruption was and how that corruption undermined the operation of the program.
Garcia said the United States had lodged warrants for the arrest of Nadler and Sevan and will seek their extradition to New York. Sevan is in his native Cyprus, which has a law against extraditing its citizens.
Nadler, a US citizen, lives in Manhattan and in Europe. He is the brother of Leia Boutros-Ghali, the wife of the former secretary-general who led the world body from 1992 to 1996 and set up the program.
Sevan s lawyer, Eric Lewis, said that the United States was using his client as a scapegoat and a distraction from its own massive failures and mismanagement in Iraq.
These allegations are not only trivial; they are without basis, Lewis said in a statement. Mr Sevan accounted for every penny of the $64 billion under his control.
When the program closed in 2003, Sevan turned over more than $10 billion to the United States in Iraq, money that Lewis said vanished and has not been accounted for since then.
Allegations against both men surfaced in 2005 in a UN-established independent inquiry headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker that looked into the now-defunct oil-for-food humanitarian program.
Sevan was chosen as executive director of the $64 billion program in late 1997 after a distinguished 40-year career with the world body in which he was involved in some of the most intractable, and often dangerous, world crises, including Afghanistan, Lebanon and Angola.
The oil-for-food program was designed to soften the blow to civilians of UN sanctions against Iraq by allowing Baghdad to sell oil to finance purchases of humanitarian goods. The sanctions were imposed after Baghdad s troops invaded Kuwait in 1990. It began in late 1996 and ended in 2003.
Saddam Hussein s government raised $1.8 billion through kickbacks and surcharges on the sale of oil in the program.
Saddam probably earned $10 billion more from oil that he smuggled out of the country outside of the UN program. More than 2,300 companies have been investigated and some governments accused of paying bribes or receiving funds.
US federal prosecutors have indicted 12 other people in relation to the program, including oil traders, and two other UN officials accused of kickbacks but not directly connected with the program.
At the United Nations, spokesman Farhan Haq said the world body had been cooperating with US authorities in following up the findings of Volcker s investigation.
Volcker s report said that an Egyptian oil dealer paid Sevan to steer lucrative Iraqi oil contracts his way. The cash was supposedly routed through a trading company owned by Fakhry Abdelnour, a cousin of Boutros-Ghali, who was not named in the indictment.
Volcker said the African Middle East Petroleum Co. transferred $580,000 to the account of Nadler, who then deposited funds in New York bank accounts controlled by Sevan and his wife.
The prosecutors complaint on Tuesday lists an unidentified co-conspirator.