According to media reports, the United Nations' own
internal judicial body, the Administrative Tribunal (UNAT), has
ordered the U.N. to pay "all reasonable legal fees" to Benon
Sevan, the disgraced former chief of the
disastrous Iraqi Oil-for-Food Program. Sevan's lawyers are seeking
880,300 U.S. dollars plus interest from the United Nations. Sevan,
currently hiding in his native Cyprus, was charged by U.S. federal
and state prosecutors in January 2007 with bribery and conspiracy
to commit wire fraud. U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq has confirmed the
world body will abide by the tribunal's ruling.
The U.N.'s decision to pay Sevan his legal costs is an affront
to American taxpayers, who currently give over $5 billion a year to
the United Nations and deserve accountability and respect for the
rule of law. For the United Nations to even consider paying what
could amount to nearly $1 million in legal fees is a disgrace and
is yet another stain on the reputation of the world body.
The decision to pay Sevan's legal fees should be condemned by
both the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration. In addition,
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon should intervene and reject the
The United Nations Administrative
Established by the General Assembly in 1950 "for the purpose of
resolving employment-related disputes between U.N. staff and the
organization," UNAT is the highest appeals body in the U.N. It is
composed of seven members, who currently come from Europe, the
U.S., Asia, and South America. The current first vice president of
the tribunal, Jacqueline R. Scott, is an American, and the
president, Spyridon Flogaitis, is Greek.
The tribunal has a history of issuing controversial decisions.
For example, in October 2004, UNAT awarded former United Nations
Development Programme (UNDP) official Callixte Mbarushimana one
year's wages in back pay after he was dismissed by the U.N. in
2001. Mbarushimana, a Rwandan Hutu, was indicted for his direct
involvement in the killing of 32 Tutsis in the 1994 Rwanda
genocide, including the murder of fellow U.N. employees.
Despite a public outcry over the UNAT ruling, outgoing U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan paid Mbarushimana in accordance with
the tribunal's recommendation.
Sevan's Role in the Oil-for-Food
An 18-month investigation chaired by former Federal Reserve
chief Paul Volcker in 2004-2005 documented the widespread
manipulation of the $60 billion Iraqi Oil-for-Food Program by
Saddam Hussein's regime. This manipulation was made possible by the
complicity of more than 2,000 companies in 66 countries as well as
several prominent international politicians and a number of senior
U.N. officials. The reports of the Independent Inquiry Committee
(IIC) on the program painted an ugly tableau of bribery, kickbacks,
corruption, and fraud on a global scale--without a doubt the
greatest scandal in the history of the U.N. The reports clearly
demonstrated how the Iraqi dictator rewarded those who supported
the lifting of U.N. sanctions on Iraq and who paid lip service to
his barbaric regime.
According to the IIC, Sevan--while administering the Oil-for-Food
Program as executive director of the Office of the Iraq
Program--accepted and "corruptly benefited" from bribes that were
generated from illegal Oil-for-Food deals with Saddam's regime.
Iraqi records indicate that by working through an intermediary
company, African Middle East Petroleum Company, Sevan was paid
approximately $150,000 in connection with several illicit oil
deals. In addition, from 1999 to 2003, Sevan's U.N. financial
disclosures indicate that he received $160,000 in cash, which he
claimed was given to him by his elderly aunt who lived in Cyprus.
It was later revealed that Sevan's aunt was in fact a former civil
service pensioner who had been retired for 20 years, lived in a
modest, two-bedroom apartment, and was completely dependent on
small monthly social insurance payments.
What Sevan did exactly for Saddam's regime in return is not
fully known. Senior Iraqi officials have explained that Sevan was
bribed because "he was a man of influence" and so that he would
lift holds that had been placed on certain spare parts for Iraq's
The U.S. Indictment of Sevan
In order to avoid criminal prosecution by U.S. authorities in
the wake of the IIC findings, Sevan fled to his home country of
Cyprus. On January 16, 2007, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern
District of New York indicted Sevan on charges of bribery and
conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If convicted, Sevan would face up
to 50 years in prison. In connection with the indictment, the FBI
assistant director for New York, Mark J. Mershon, noted that "Benon
Sevan was responsible for maintaining the [Oil-for-Food] program's
probity and propriety. Instead, his administration of the program
was marked by profiteering and profligacy." Although U.S.
authorities have filed an arrest warrant for Sevan with Interpol
and continue to seek his arrest and extradition to the U.S., Sevan
has thus far managed to remain free.
Sevan Should Be Extradited to the
If the Obama Administration is serious about reforming the
United Nations and combating corruption within the organization, it
should condemn the U.N. tribunal's decision and demand that Sevan
be brought to face justice in the United States. The Justice
Department should renew its efforts to bring Sevan back to the
U.S., and sustained diplomatic pressure should be applied towards
Cyprus to have him handed over. Finally, in order to send a clear
message that the United Nations should not reward criminal behavior
within its ranks, the United States Congress should withhold from
the U.N. the exact amount of money the organization pays toward
Sevan's legal fees.
Gardiner, Ph.D., is the Director of, and Steven
Groves is the Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow in, the Margaret
Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation. Erica
Munkwitz and Morgan Roach assisted with research for this
 See Edith M. Lederer, "U.N. Ordered to
Pay Legal Fees of Oil-for-Food Chief," Associated Press, February
11, 2009, at http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article
23, 2009); Patrick Worship, "Panel Orders U.N. to Pay Costs for
Oil-for-Food Chief," Reuters, February 12, 2009, at http://uk.reuters.com/article/gc05/idUKTRE5
1B0IM20090212 (February 23, 2009).
 For a profile of Sevan, see "Profile:
Benon Sevan," BBC News, August 8, 2005, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle _east/4131034.stm
(February 23, 2009).
 It is unclear how Sevan's attorneys at
Baach Robinson & Lewis, PLLC, could possibly have done enough
work to justify attorney's fees in excess of $880,000 since Sevan's
personal cooperation with Oil-for-Food investigators amounted to a
single, two and a half hour interview.
Perlez, "Accused of Killings, He Still Gets Back Pay," The New
York Times, October 17, 2004, at http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/international
/africa/17rwanda.html (February 23, 2009); Betsy Pisik,
"Suspect Paid," The Washington Times, December 18, 2006, at
/17/20061217-110724-1789r/ (February 23, 2009).
Independent Inquiry Committee into the U.N.
Oil-for-Food Programme, "First Interim Report," February 3, 2005,
(February 23, 2009), "Third Interim Report," August 8, 2005, at
/Third%20Interim%20Report.pdf (February 23, 2009).