The head of the United Nations oil-for-food programme to Iraq has been singled out for criticism in an interim report on allegations of corruption. Cypriot diplomat Benon Sevan will face a disciplinary procedure after being accused of using his position to solicit and receive oil allocations for a trading firm. The man leading the inquiry, Paul Volcker, says Sevan behaved unethically and undermined the UN’s integrity: “I think it is a fact that Mr Sevan placed himself in a grave and continuing conflict of interest situation,” he said.
Sevan, who could have his diplomatic immunity lifted, has repeatedly denied doing anything wrong. Now retired, he says he is being used as a political scapegoat. The report found Iraqi officials complied with Sevan’s demands in the hope of gaining influence and support on funding. The oil-for-food programme was designed to allow Saddam Hussein’s government to sell crude in order to buy humanitarian goods. The idea was to help ordinary Iraqis cope under the harsh sanctions regime imposed by the international community.
But Volker’s interim report found that UN officials ignored the normal financial and competitive bidding rules when they were handing out contracts to companies. His full report is due out in June. The US Senate and current Iraqi government are also investigating the allegations of corruption.