Former oil-for-food head quits

The former chief of the Iraq oil-for-food program resigned just a day before investigators release a report that is expected to accuse him of taking kickbacks under the $64-billion (U.S.) humanitarian operation.

Benon Sevan announced his decision Sunday in a scathing letter that lambasted UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the UN Security Council, the United Nations' critics, and the Independent Inquiry Committee investigating the allegations of corruption against him.

“As I predicted, a high-profile investigative body invested with absolute power would feel compelled to target someone and that someone turned out to be me,” Mr. Sevan wrote in the letter. “The charges are false, and you, who have known me for all these years, should know that they are false,” reports Globe and Mail.

According to Finansial Express, Sevan's resignation was made public yesterday on the eve of the independent Volcker panel's release of its third interim report which is expected to accuse Sevan of getting kickbacks. It was apparently meant to preempt his possible dismissal by Annan after the report is released as the Secretary-General had earlier taken action when panel pointed accusing finger at other staff members.

The one-dollar job he got after retiring from the United Nations had given him immunity in return for his agreeing to cooperate with the panel headed by former American Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. The panel also accuses him of not cooperating with him.

But sevan's lawyer says he had been interviewed by the panel and had expressed his willingness to answer any written questions.

The panel in its earlier report had cast doubt on the source of 160,000 dollars which Sevan maintains were given to him in four installments by his aunt. It had questioned whether his aunt could have had so much money.

The oil-for-food program was established in December 1996 to allow Iraq, which was facing UN sanctions for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, to sell oil to buy food and medicine and to repay billions in war reparations. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein siphoned at least $2 billion in illegal kickbacks from companies trading in the program, reminds Chicago Tribune.

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