NEW YORK – The Iraqi-American who was the first to be convicted in the U.N. Oil-for-Food (search) scandal told U.S. authorities that Iraqi officials bribed an unnamed U.N. official.
Samir Vincent (search), who pleaded guilty Tuesday to several federal offenses, portrays eager officials of Saddam Hussein’s regime spreading cash around to get the best deal for Iraq at the United Nations (search).
According to Vincent, Iraqi officials gave cash to the U.N. official while Vincent was in the middle of high-level diplomatic negotiations that caused the U.N. Security Council to create the Oil-for-Food program in the first place in 1996.
In his plea agreement, Vincent told the court: "Several millions of dollars in cash was sent by the Iraqi government to Iraqi government officials in New York. Several hundred thousand dollars of this money was given to me, in Manhattan, and the rest was given to others, one of whom I understood was a United Nations official."
U.N. officials would not say who the unnamed official could be and would not offer an explanation about why a private citizen like Vincent, who was on Saddam’s payroll, would be deeply involved in meetings with U.N. and Iraqi diplomats in the first place.
When U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan (search) was asked about Vincent’s claim about the involvement of a U.N. official, he would only say that he expected the Independent Inquiry Committee headed by Paul Volcker to address the matter.
Until now, the only allegation of a payoff tied directly to the United Nations was aimed at Benon Sevan (search), the Oil-for-Food head who is accused of receiving $1 million worth of vouchers from Saddam. Sevan has denied the accusation.
Vincent, of Annandale, Va., pleaded guilty to making false statements on income-tax returns, acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (search). He could be sentenced to 28 years in prison.
Vincent is cooperating with the "active and ongoing probe of fraud and abuse in the U.N. Oil-for-Food program," Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a news conference Tuesday.
"Combatting corruption, such as that detailed in this plea agreement, sends a clear message both to American citizens and citizens of Iraq: Corruption will not be tolerated. It will be prosecuted," Ashcroft said.
Read the Vincent indictment by clicking here (pdf).
Vincent described his main role in negotiations between Iraqi and U.N. officials in creating the Oil-for-Food program.
"We discussed what would be acceptable to Iraq in such a program and they gave me proposals to pass on to officials at the United Nations,” Vincent said in his statement to federal authorities. “Ultimately these negotiations helped lead to the adoption of Security Council Resolution 986 and its implementation in the Oil-for-Food program."
Vincent received, apparently legally, five separate allocations of Iraqi oil vouchers under Oil-for-Food, partly as compensation for lobbying efforts. He reaped profits totaling millions of dollars by selling those five allocations to an oil company, the Justice Department said.
According to court papers, Vincent was one of only three American citizens allowed to profit by selling Iraqi oil or the options to trade it.
But as an American citizen in the employ of a foreign government, Vincent was required to register as a foreign agent. He also may have neglected to report some or all of the profits made by selling oil vouchers to the Internal Revenue Service.
FOX News' Eric Shawn contributed to this report.