U.S. Indicts Russian U.N. Official

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A Russian diplomat who chairs a powerful United Nations (search) budget committee was accused in an indictment Friday of helping hide hundreds of thousands of dollars in payouts from companies seeking U.N. contracts.

The charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering against Vladimir Kuznetsov (search) was contained in a grand jury indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

The FBI arrested Kuznetsov on Thursday, less than a month after arresting another Russian U.N. official over alleged money laundering. He was awaiting arraignment Friday in Manhattan federal court.

According to the indictment, Kuznetsov established an offshore company in 2000 to hide criminal proceeds he received from an unidentified U.N. procurement officer who had taken secret payments from foreign companies seeking contracts to provide goods and services to the United Nations.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) waived Kuznetsov's diplomatic immunity at the request of U.S. authorities, U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq said. Kouznetsov heads the General Assembly panel that oversees the U.N. budget.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton (search) praised Annan "for his personal and very prompt decision," and declined to comment further.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said his government was awaiting more information from U.S. law enforcement agencies and the U.N. Secretariat before making any statements, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

On Aug. 8, Alexander Yakovlev (search), a Russian who worked in the U.N. procurement office, was arrested for allegedly soliciting a bribe from a company seeking an oil-for-food contract. He has already pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering for allegedly accepting nearly $1 million in bribes from U.N. contractors in his work outside the oil-for-food program.

The oil-for-food program was launched in December 1996 to help ordinary Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein's (search) 1990 invasion of Kuwait.