U.N.: $80 Million Overpaid to Victims of Iraq's Invasion of Kuwait

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The United Nations is seeking the return of millions of dollars in compensation to victims of the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait after an investigation showed they were given more money than they were entitled to, officials said Thursday.

An audit revealed that several thousand victims had been overpaid by more than $80 million by the U.N. Compensation Commission, which was set up to compensate victims of the Gulf War, a Foreign Office spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.

Mojtaba Kazazi, chief of the commission's administrative office, confirmed it was trying to recover the overpayments, but said the exact amount of money and the number of claimants involved was still being worked out.

The commission has asked Britain — and other governments — to collect the money, the Foreign Office spokesman said. Britain has sent letters to 113 British claimants asking for the return of a total of about $391,000 within 30 days, although he could not say if any action would be taken against those who refused to comply.

The compensation commission draws on funds taken from Iraqi oil sales to pay victims of the conflict, including foreigners expelled from Iraq and Kuwait during the war, those who lost family or were injured in the fighting, and those whose property was damaged or destroyed in the war. Many of the claims were filed through the governments of Kuwait and other Arab countries.

Kazazi said there were several reasons for the overpayments. In some cases, members of the same family filed claims separately even though they should have been part of the same claim, Kazazi said.

The Foreign Office spokesman suggested that the commission had been focused on helping the victims quickly.

"I think the reason is that at the time they really wanted to get the claims processed, awarded, and paid and quickly as possible," the spokesman said.

On its Web site, the compensation commission said it had received 2.7 million claims seeking approximately $352.5 billion in compensation, and that it had approved $52.4 billion in awards.

"The resolution of such a significant number of claims with such a large asserted value over such a short period has no precedent in the history of international claims resolution," the commission said.