An expat's commentary on current events in national security, foreign affairs, the media, culture, technology and assorted trivia.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Greed hurts

The Economist sums it up:
FOR over a year, investigators have pored over questions of mismanagement and corruption at the United Nations. On Monday August 8th, they produced their firmest—and most painful—conclusions to date. An independent commission has found that Benon Sevan, the former head of the UN’s oil-for-food programme in Iraq, “corruptly benefited” from kickbacks while he was in charge. Another UN official, from the procurement office, is accused of soliciting bribes. The UN’s biggest-ever humanitarian undertaking seems to have become its biggest-ever scandal...

So Mr Bolton’s arrival and the mutual acrimony over oil-for-food mean tense times between the UN and its most powerful member—all the more so given that this comes just before the world body is set to consider proposals to keep it relevant after the war in Iraq. These include adding new permanent members to the Security Council, defining terrorism more clearly, helping the UN to react more robustly to humanitarian disasters, and more...

The exploits of Messrs Sevan, Yakovlev and others may have done more than just a terrible disservice to the wretched people of Iraq they were paid to help.

(Emphasis added.)


Quote for the day

Liberty is liberty, not equality, or justice, or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience.

- Isaiah Berlin (1909 – 1997)


Q: When is a tax not a tax? A: When it is a 'staff assessment' 'offset' by a 'post adjustment'

Oh ho! Colour me shocked! It appears that UN workers do pay tax! (Not to their home countries, mind you, but to the Global Government of Good Guys itself.)

Re Benon Sevan's tax-free pay packet, there is an interesting glimpse inside the world of UN globetrotters. I refer to Footnote 14 on Page 11 of the Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Oil-for-Food Programme's Third Interim Report (PDF link 3.6 MB file):

When promoted in early 1998 to Under-Secretary-General, Mr. Sevan's salary increased to $147,420. In lieu of taxes, a "staff assessment" of $45,290 was imposed (a 30.7% rate! Who knew? - ed.); this adjustment, however was offset by an upward "post adjustment" of $43,507.

(Emphasis added.)

I would bet my pension that UN peons (translators, drivers, security guards, receptionists, PAs, custodial workers, groundskeepers, etc., do not enjoy the benefit of 'offsetting' 'post adjustments.'

Pace Leona Helmsley, 'Only the little people pay taxes.'

And these corrupt leeches still have the impudence to constantly moot global taxes on really productive workers (viz Tobin tax among many many others).

(BTW I like 'staff assessment,' it sounds even less like 'tax' than 'service fee' does.)


Volcker smacks down Sevan request for special treatment

From the Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Oil-for-Food Programme's Third Interim Report (PDF link 3.6 MB file), page 50:
On July 27, 2005, the Committee advised Mr. Sevan through his counsel of its intent to enter an adverse finding against him, arising from his receipt of financial benefits from the oil allocations that he obtained from Iraq for AMEP (Africa Middle East Petroleum Company, a Panamanian-registered company controlled by Fakhry Abdelnour, Boutros-Ghali's cousin - ed.).

Rather than respond to the Committee's finding, Mr. Sevan requested an opportunity to review the evidence upon which it is based. The Committee declined this request because of Mr. Sevan's refusal to be interviewed by the Committee about this new evidence.

Mr. Sevan stated a willingness only to answer written questions, but not to answer questions in an interview.134 This is inconsistent with the obligation of Mr. Sevan and all United Nations staff to "cooperate fully" with the Committee's investigation.

No other United Nations official employee - including the Secretary-General, who has been interviewd seven times - has been afforded the option of answering questions in writing rather than by interview.

In the Committee's view, Mr. Sevan does not warrant a special exception.

(Emphasis added.)


Benon Sevan is a crooked bastard

The London Times reports some very interesting tidbits about Benon Sevan:
...The investigation of the Oil-for-Food scandal, chaired by Paul Volcker, blamed Mr Sevan’s “precarious personal financial condition” yesterday for his decision to accept almost $150,000 (£84,000) in 1998 and 2002.

Mr Sevan earned $129,524 (£72,600) (all tax-free! -ed.) when he took over the Oil-For-Food programme in 1997. His wife, Micheline, made $69,243 (£38,800) (also tax-free! -ed.) as an assistant at the UN’s department of economic and social affairs. The couple owned a house in Long Island, rented a flat in Manhattan and had savings of less than $5,000 in their New York bank accounts.

But in 1996 Mr Sevan bought shares worth $180,000 using money from an equity line of credit and taking a cash advance on his credit card. His investment lost more than half of its value, partly because of a stock fraud that led to the conviction of four brokers. From December 1996 to October 1998, Mr Sevan’s bank account was overdrawn 45 times and his wife’s account was in the red 153 times.

A Cypriot-Armenian, Mr Sevan is in Cyprus, which does not extradite its citizens. Mr Sevan’s mother, Verginia, was a teenager when she gave birth out of wedlock. She was cast out by her family and his father is understood to have refused to recognise him.

Mr Sevan maintains his innocence and claims to have received $160,000 in cash gifts from an aunt, Berdjouhi Zeitountsian, a retired civil servant. She died last year aged 84 after falling down a lift shaft.

(Emphasis added.)

And a very timely topple it was for little Benon, too. Investigators were seeking to question her regarding where a retired government photographer who lived in a modest flat was getting that much money to splash about.

Benon Sevan and his wife were taking home US$200,ooo per year (equivalent to over US$300,ooo for commoners), and still couldn't balance their accounts.

Whatever could they do to make up their losses on risky shares, and maintain their jet-set diplomat lifestyles? Steal from hungry Iraqis, that's what.

And no, that is not hyperbole. In the UN's own words (from CNN backgrounder):
Following the Persian Gulf War, then-U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar sent a mission to Iraq and Kuwait to look into humanitarian needs.

The U.N. mission found Iraqis were on the verge of “imminent catastrophe, which could include epidemic and famine.” In response to the report, the United Nations proposed measures in 1991 to enable Iraq to sell oil in return for humanitarian goods such as food, medicine and supplies.

Sevan was stealing money from hungry, sick, needy Iraqis.

So now you see why this post is titled as it is.


Baksheesh for Boutros^2

From the Washington Post another Secretary-General's name pops up repeatedly:

Volcker accused Sevan in a February report of engaging in a "grave conflict of interest" by asking senior Iraqi officials to give business to Africa Middle East Petroleum Co. (AMEP), a Panamanian-registered company controlled by Fakhry Abdelnour, Boutros-Ghali's cousin. AMEP bought 7.3 million barrels of Iraqi oil from 1998 to 2001 and sold them for more than $1.5 million in profit.

Monday's report accused Sevan of accepting cash from Abdelnour and Boutros-Ghali's brother-in-law, Efraim "Fred" Nadler, an officer at the company.

(Emphasis added.)

Boutros Boutros-Ghali is Kofi Annan's predecessor as UN Secretary-General. Both of these fine humanitarians seem to have family members with sticky fingers.

The obvious question is, did Boutros2 get a cut? Volcker promises to address (but not necessarily answer) that question in the forthcoming Comprehensive Report.

BTW, the only other Arab I know with a repetitive name like Boutros2 is Sirhan2.


Glasnost in Oil for Food makes heads roll

According to the AP, a top UN official has resigned and already 'fessed up:
Alexander Yakovlev, a Russian, also pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of wire fraud and money laundering for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from U.N. contractors in his work outside oil-for-food. He could face up to 20 years in prison for each of the three counts in the indictment.

(Emphasis added.)

The UN had removed his diplomatic immunity, making him answerable to charges. He had resigned in June.

What the AP article neglects to tell us is a bit more of Mr Yakovlev's CV:

He is best known for his long association with Mihail Gorbachev, of course.

Wouldn't want to bring Mr Gorbachev's name into the tawdry Oil-for-Food-and-Weapons-and Palaces scandal, would we?

Update: Oops, it is not the same guy. They just have the same name. I apologise for my error. In further research, it seems that Perestroika dude is 80-something and UN Bribe guy is 50-something.

As the Japanese say, even monkeys fall from trees.

Mea culpa.

Monday, August 08, 2005


Home schooling with the siloviki

I thought that home schooling was just for those slack-jawed creationist yokels in the backwoods of Alabama... but guess who else decided not to leave his progeny to the tender mercies of government-run schools?

From The Moscow Times:
President Vladimir Putin's two daughters have both been admitted to St. Petersburg State University, where their father once studied, national newspapers reported last week.

Katya, 19, will study Japanese history in the Oriental Studies department, while Masha, 20, will study in the department of biology and soil science, the reports said. Putin's daughters had been privately tutored at home.

(Emphasis added.)

Sunday, August 07, 2005


Quote for the day

A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.

- Robert Frost (1874 - 1963)
American poet


Casper's revenge

Making fools of the toffy-nosed, empty-headed leftist poseurs of the BBC isn't much of a challenge. They make it so easy, but then again, they do so deserve it.

Note the earlier post on the non-existent, nay, 'phantom' Al-Qaeda threat, ginned up by the neocons and nefarious Bush and Blair governments to quash all freedom and control the populace through a state of fear.

From the Washington Times:

Two senior al Qaeda operatives in Saudi Arabia made money transfers and used coded text messages to communicate with suspected terrorists in Britain in the months before the July attacks in London, according to security officials in the kingdom...

Younis Mohammed Ibrahim al-Hayari, al Qaeda's purported leader in Saudi Arabia, was killed in Riyadh three weeks ago, and Abdel Karim al-Mejati died in a shootout in the central Al-Qassim region in April.

Security officials in Saudi Arabia suspect both men of involvement in the attacks on London on July 7 and 21 and say they have established that al Qaeda is operating in Britain.

"It's beyond doubt they're active in your country," said one security official in Riyadh. The deaths of al-Hayari and al-Mejati had severely disrupted al Qaeda's base in Saudi Arabia, Saudi officials said.

Money transfers are understood to have been made from Saudi Arabia to Britain in the first six months of this year through businesses in the two countries...

Scotland Yard is now investigating who received the messages and money from Saudi Arabia. The suicide bombings of July 7 left 52 victims dead and more than 700 injured, while the second bombs planned for July 21 failed to detonate.

(Emphasis added.)

I continue to make fools of the BBC only because the BBC, which broadcasts lies to the entire UK populace even as it extorts £126.50 from each UK household every year, takes us for fools.