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Former UN Oil-for-Food chief indicted in US on bribery, fraud charges

[JURIST] The former head of the tarnished UN Oil-for-Food Program [official website; JURIST news archive] was indicted [press release, PDF] by US federal prosecutors in New York Tuesday on charges of bribery and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Benon Sevan [BBC profile] resigned from his post last year and fled to his native Cyprus, from where he is unlikely to be extradited [JURIST report]. The indictment alleges that Sevan took some $160,000 from the brother of then UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali as a bribe from the Iraqi government. Sevan, through his lawyer, has denied the charges. Reuters has more.

The UN Oil-for-Food program was designed to allow the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein, under UN sanctions in the wake of its invasion of Kuwait and the first Gulf War, to sell limited stocks of oil in return for foodstuffs and other humanitarian supplies. The program was abused, however, and Saddam's regime sold oil on the black market and bribed foreign officials and commercial interests to allow this, embezzling over $1 billion in Program funds and perhaps as much another $10 billion from other sources. The allegations against Sevan were initially made public [JURIST report] in August 2005 in an interim report of the independent commission of inquiry led by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, although the Manhattan US Attorney's office had already launched its own investigation [JURIST report] into Sevan's conduct on the strength of allegations made by a US Senate committee [JURIST report], among others. Sevan had been suspended from his post [JURIST report] by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in February of that year, but he formally resigned just before [JURIST report] the findings of the report were announced.

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