Former U.N. official claimed guilty in bribing

Veteran U.N. official Benon Sevan, head of Ј34bn food-or-oil programme, was accused Monday of bribing in the oil-for-food program he headed. Benon Sevan once called himself the most "politically incorrect person in the U.N."

The report on Monday from the Independent Inquiry Committee, headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, alleged that Sevan received received wads of $100 bills in illicit payments after his personal finances were hurt when he was swindled in a stock fraud.

On Monday, he was accused by a U.N.-established panel of investigators of receiving nearly $150,000 for steering oil contracts to relatives of former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. He has vigorously denied the charges, Reuters informs. Sevan, 67, a Cypriot of Armenian descent, was chosen to direct the oil-for-food program after a distinguished 40-year career with the world body in which he was involved in some of the most intractable, and often dangerous, world crises.

A big man with white hair and dark eyebrows, Sevan was admired by colleagues for an ability to solve problems fast, his blunt retorts and a store of anecdotes for all occasions, told in rapid-fire heavily-accented English.

He once jokingly said his outspokenness made him the most "politically incorrect person in the United Nations."

It began in 1996 as an effort to alleviate the worst effects of sanctions on Iraq's population. It allowed Saddam Hussein to sell some oil in return for food imports. But the programme quickly became abused by Saddam and unscrupulous businessmen, and allegedly by the UN officials.

The investigation suggested a motive for Mr Sevan's alleged actions, saying that his finances were "precarious" before he allegedly accepted the bribes between 1998 and 2002. Mr Sevan claimed he was being made the fall guy.

The report's findings will be welcomed by US congressional members, mainly Republicans, who have been campaigning against Mr Annan and the UN and have been carrying out their own inquiries into the oil-for-food scandal.

Mr Sevan has been in limbo since being accused by Mr Volcker in an interim report in February of having repeatedly asked Iraqis to allocate oil to a particular company.

The report said Mr Sevan, "corruptly" and in concert with Effraim (Fred) Nadler and Fakhry Abdelnour, both of the African Middle East Petroleum Company, "derived pecuniary benefit from the programme through cash receipts from the sale of oil allocated by Iraq to Mr Sevan and bought by the African Middle East Petroleum Company. The participants had knowledge that some of the oil was purchased by paying an illegal surcharge to Iraq in violation of UN sanctions and rules of the programme," Guardian says.

The report said the investigators had discovered evidence that Mr Yakovlev "secretly participated in a scheme to solicit a bribe from Societe Generale de Surveillance SA, one of the companies that submitted a bid for the oil inspection contract". The company did not pay any bribe.

Yesterday's report is the third in a series of interim releases. Mr Volcker has promised the final report early next month.

The final report is scheduled to be published at one of the worst possible times for Mr Annan. It threatens to overshadow a special UN summit in September, to be attended by heads of government, to discuss UN reform and meeting goals for reducing poverty.

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