Calls to Extradite Former U.N. Under-Secretary Benon Sevan from Cyprus

E-mail Eric Shawn

Bernard Cornfeld, the highflying playboy financier, gleans millions from a bogus mutual fund investment organization, then seeks refuge in Switzerland, where he serves barely a year in the slammer for his duplicity.

Robert Vesco, accused by the SEC of stealing $224 million, manages to live on the lam for two decades before finally landing in a Cuban jail.

Marc Rich, the infamous billionaire, sits in Geneva, having slipped through the pardon process courtesy of Bill Clinton, and remains quite free.

And now, former Under-Secretary of the U.N., Benon Sevan. He doesn't seem to have nearly as much money as the preceding trio, but we can add him to the list of the illustrious wanted.

In August of 2005, Sevan resigned as Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, boarded a plane at J.F.K., and flew home to the sunny resort island of Cyprus. Good timing on his part, because in January of this year federal prosecutors indicted Sevan, charging him with bribery for allegedly siphoning off $160,000 in oil vouchers from Saddam Hussein’s regime.

These days, he apparently resides in a small apartment but seems to run the very real risk of being apprehended should he ever leave Cyprus.

Through his lawyer, he has denied the charges. His defense has been that the money came from his elderly aunt, to supposedly defray living expenses on her annual visit to the Sevans in New York — a subject about which we at FOX News have already reported extensively.

After the indictment came, American authorities promptly alerted INTERPOL. If Sevan leaves Cyprus to go shopping in Paris, eat out in Rome, or visit museums in Leningrad, he will presumably be nabbed, cuffed, and dispatched to the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York City.

As a veteran reporter of many criminal cases, I wonder if Sevan has any potential deal-making information to offer up — specifically, something that could implicate higher-ups at the U.N? But even if he doesn’t know anything incriminating, how long can he abide by what, in effect, is house arrest on an island slightly larger than Connecticut? His refuge threatens to become a very large prison.

Now, there are calls for the Cyprus government to extradite Sevan, even though Cyprus and the United States does not have an extradition treaty pertaining to financial crimes. Cyprus has promised "to offer any further assistance" to the United States in its efforts to locate Sevan. Now, let’s see if Sevan's countrymen step up to the appropriate challenge.

The two leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee have embarked on some prodding. Democratic chairman Tom Lantos, and ranking Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen co-signed a letter to his Excellency Andreas Kakouris, the Cypriot Ambassador to the United States, essentially demanding that his nation knock on Mr. Sevan's door and haul him out. The ambassador, as of yet, has not told us what his government plans to do about this.

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen told me that "it is in the interest of American taxpayer, and it is in the interest of maintaining whatever integrity is left of the United Nations" to have Sevan extradited and deposited at the defense table.

She quite correctly notes that if Sevan is left alone by his government, U.N. officials, diplomats, or crooked financiers "will merely say 'let me find a country with whom the United States does not have an extradition requirement regarding financial improprieties, and that is where I will be sipping my coffee in the morning at any bistro.'"

She has a point. Here is a former top official of the United Nations, essentially on the lam. The U.N. is supposed to uphold the worst accountable through the International Criminal Court in The Hague, yet no one can do anything about Mr. Sevan's glaring absence while under indictment.

He should, I think, have his day in court. His lawyer, Eric Lewis, has aggressively defended his client in the media, lambasted the Oil-for-Food investigation headed by Paul Volcker, all the while challenging the specific allegations against his client. He even questioned the motivation for the indictment.

"Instead of focusing on the devastating wrongdoing in Iraq," Lewis charged, "the U.S. government has chosen to focus instead on fully disclosed family gifts from a deceased relative. Mr. Sevan is being used to distract attention from the political and humanitarian disaster in Iraq from which the world will not soon recover."

Judging by such fiery statements, we should look forward to watching Lewis in action in front of a jury. Let Sevan — who is innocent before proven guilty — clear his name, or, if the evidence so warrants, be convicted. Either way, it appears that so far we have been cheated of the opportunity to witness the appropriate legal proceeding.

Mr. Lewis notes that any decision to extradite his client has to be based on international agreements that permit such an extradition. He says that in this case, there are none: "The issue of extradition is governed by treaties and constitutions and administered by the Executive. For the Congress to try to become involved in an ongoing matter like this one is, in my view, without legal basis and is simply political posturing."

Recently, Sevan told the newspaper, The Cyprus Mail, that he has nothing to hide. In an article by Jean Christou, Sevan said that "when he returned to Cyprus some 18 months ago, he was not aware that as a Cypriot citizen he could not be extradited to the U.S. 'I came home because it's my country,' he said."

In the movie and television show "The Fugitive," David Jansen, and later Harrison Ford, spent their lives on the run — but for now, Benon Sevan has shown that sometimes you don't have to run, or even hide, to beat the rap.

E-mail Eric Shawn

Eric Shawn, a New York based senior correspondent for FOX News Channel, and the author of The U.N. Exposed: How the United Nations Sabotages America's Security and Fails the World. You can read his complete bio here.

Follow Eric Shawn on Twitter: @EricShawnTV