The world's largest financial rip-off

William Safire:

"Never has there been a financial rip-off of the magnitude of the U.N. oil-for-food scandal.

"At least $5 billion in kickbacks went from corrupt contractors — mainly French and Russian — into the pockets of Saddam Hussein and his thugs. Some went to pay off his protectors in foreign governments and media, and we may soon see how much stuck to the fingers of U.N. bureaucrats as well.

"Responding to a harangue in this space on March 17, the spokesman for Kofi Annan confirmed that the secretary-general's soft-spoken son, Kojo, was on the payroll of Cotecna Inspections of Switzerland until December 1998. In that very month, the United Nations awarded Cotecna the contract to monitor and authenticate the goods shipped to Iraq.

"Prices were inflated to allow for 10 percent kickbacks, and the goods were often shoddy and unusable. As the lax Cotecna made a lot of corporate friends, Iraqi children suffered from rotted food and diluted medicines.

...

"...The money for the huge heist known as the Iraq-U.N. account passed exclusively through BNP Paribas. French companies led all the rest (what's French for "kickback"?), though Vladimir Putin's favorite Russian oligarchs insisted on sharing the wealth. That explains why Paris and Moscow were Saddam's main prewar defenders, and why their politicians and executives now want no inquiry they cannot control."

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