Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Oil-for-(Baby)Food, Formula for Deceit

In an editorial in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, Claudia Rosett asks U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan a trenchant question: “What’s 'Illegal'?”

Recall that last week, Mr. Annan voiced the opinion that the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein was illegal. Ms. Rosett counters:
But if Mr. Annan wants to discuss right and wrong in Iraq, which seems to be the real issue, then it is time to talk about baby formula. Why? Because Mr. Annan's preferred means of dealing with Saddam was a mix of U.N. sanctions and the U.N. relief program called Oil-for-Food. And the heart and soul of Oil-for-Food was supposed to be the feeding of sick and hungry Iraqi babies--including the purchase by Saddam, under U.N. auspices, of large amounts of baby formula.

We now know that Saddam was running a scam on his oil-for-food contracts: overpaying for the goods and collecting a substantial portion of the overpayment in kickbacks. The U.S. General Accounting Office estimates that graft from the U.N. program yielded Saddam at least $10.1 billion.

"Of all the abuses of Oil-for-Food committed by Saddam--and not only allowed but in effect approved and covered up by Mr. Annan's U.N.--the most cynical has to have been the trade in baby formula."
Ironically, Saddam was able to rake off the largest payoffs from the baby formula deals, ostensibly aimed at alleviating the suffering of starving infants. In just four baby food and milk contracts examined by the Pentagon the potential overpayment was 26% for $11 million.

Meanwhile, Mr. Annan's Secretariat, charged with ensuring that the revenues were used for humanitarian purposes, collected more than $1.4 billion in commissions on Saddam's oil sales. In 2002, when Security Council by Oil-for-Food director Benon Sevan reported that acute malnutrition was still rampant among the young children of Iraq, Mr. Annan responded by urging that Saddam be permitted to sell more oil.

Ms. Rosett concludes:

Mr. Annan is due to step down next year. If he wants to leave a legacy more auspicious than having presided over Oil-for-Fraud, he might want to devote his twilight time at the U.N. to mending a system in which a U.N. Secretary-General feels free to describe the overthrow of a murderous tyrant as "illegal," but no one at the top seems particularly bothered to have presided over that tyrant's theft of food from hungry children.

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