NEW YORK – A South Korean businessman accused of being an Iraqi agent and trying to influence the United Nations' oil-for-food program was found guilty Thursday of conspiracy.
Tongsun Park, 71, arrested last year, was the first to go on trial in the criminal case stemming from a scandal involving the United Nations, Iraq and a group of alleged conspirators who included Saddam Hussein.
Park could face more than a dozen years in prison for his role in the decade-long conspiracy. U.S. District Judge Denny Chin set sentencing for Oct. 26.
Park's lawyer, Michael Kim, said Park was "very disappointed" but hopeful that Chin might reverse the verdict and conclude during post-trial motions that there was not enough evidence to convict him.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Miller had told jurors Park had arranged to receive millions of dollars in cash to influence top U.N. officials, including former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
"We're not talking about France or Mexico here," Miller said. "Saddam Hussein's government was an international pariah."
An independent panel concluded last year that Iraq had a scheme to bribe Boutros-Ghali but found no evidence the secretary-general was aware of the plot or received the money.
Miller said Park provided the conspiracy with high-level connections within the United Nations while Samir A. Vincent, an Iraqi-American, kept in touch with Iraqi leaders, all in a bid to get the sanctions lifted and receive a big payday from the Iraqi government.
The conspiracy allegedly stretched from 1992 until 2002.
Kim had argued that Park was not an Iraqi agent and did not think he was violating U.S. laws by acting as a middleman in an effort to help the oil-for-food program supply food and medicine to suffering Iraqis.
The program from 1996 to 2003 permitted the Iraqi government to sell oil primarily to buy humanitarian goods. It was designed to help Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions, but authorities said the program was corrupted because Saddam was allowed to choose the buyers of Iraqi oil and the sellers of humanitarian goods.
The trial included no references to Park's role in the 1970s in the influence-peddling scandal known as Koreagate.
In that scandal, Park was accused of helping intelligence services in his native South Korea funnel bribes and favors to U.S. politicians. He was granted immunity in exchange for his cooperation with prosecutors. He testified that he doled out $850,000 in bribes.