Where in the World Is Benon Sevan?
NEW YORK – Benon Sevan (search), the man who once ran the U.N. Oil-for-Food program, could face bribery charges over an alleged kickback scheme but officials first need to find him.
Up until his resignation from the United Nations (search) on Sunday, Sevan was kept on the U.N. payroll for a $1 a year to ensure his cooperation and keep his diplomatic immunity. But U.N. officials apparently let him return to his native Cyprus and that nation does not have an extradition treaty with the United States for financial crimes.
It's unclear exactly where Sevan is right now. When FOX News inquired with the United Nations about his whereabouts three weeks ago, officials said he was in Nicosia, Cyrpus. But on Sunday, when his Washington-based lawyer issued Sevan's resignation statement, the lawyer declined to say where his client was.
What is clear is that Sevan is under investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney's office, for his role in Oil-for-Food (search).
The Independent Inquiry Committee led by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker (search) reported Monday that it had also uncovered enough evidence to prosecute two of Sevan's friends who are related to former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. They are suspected of helping the ex-director in a kickback scheme.
Read the report by clicking here (pdf).
The committee, which is a fact-finding body and cannot file criminal charges, accused Sevan of steering lucrative Iraqi oil contracts to a company run by the two Egyptians and accepting $147,184 in kickbacks. For the first time, it gave a motive, saying his finances were "precarious" before the kickbacks started.
In a statement, Sevan dismissed Volcker's charges as "false." He lambasted U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the U.N. Security Council, which set up the Oil-for-Food program. And he accused the inquiry committee of a "witch-hunt."
But Richard Goldstone, a member of the Volcker panel and former justice on South Africa's constitutional court, told FOX News that there was an "extremely strong circumstantial case" against Sevan.
"This sort of circumstantial case can often be much more damning than having direct evidence or one smoking gun, which might be turned on the investigators," Goldstone said.
Sevan wasn't the only U.N. figure to receive attention in the Volcker panel report. Hours before the report's release, another U.N. official was charged in federal court in Manhattan for allegedly soliciting a bribe from a company seeking an oil-for-food contract.
Alexander Yakovlev (search), a Russian procurement officer, was the first U.N. official to be charged in the scandal. He was also accused of wire fraud and money laundering for allegedly accepting nearly $1 million in bribes from U.N. contractors in his work outside the program.
Yakovlev pleaded guilty Monday to the charges and surrendered to FBI agents in Manhattan but was later released on $400,000 bail. He could face up to 20 years in prison for each of the three counts.
At the urging of Volcker's investigators, Annan waived Yakovlev's immunity on Monday after David Kelley, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, requested that he do so.
The investigators also asked Annan to assist in the possible prosecution of Fred Nadler, a brother-in-law of Boutros-Ghali who is a director of African Middle East Petroleum Co. Ltd. Inc., and Fakhry Abdelnour, the Swiss company's president and a cousin of the former secretary-general.
The inquiry committee found Yakovlev secretly tried to bribe a company called Societe Generale de Surveillance S.A., which was seeking an oil inspection contract under oil-for-food. But they also came across more explosive evidence of wrongdoing — that Yakovlev took at least $950,000 in kickbacks from companies that had won some $79 million in U.N. contracts unrelated to oil-for-food.
Volcker said his investigators were still looking into Yakovlev's participation in the selection of the Swiss company Cotecna Inspection S.A. in 1998 to inspect goods entering Iraq under the oil-for-food program.
The results will be included in a final report in early September that will examine the U.N. management of the oil-for-food program. The report will also cover Boutros-Ghali's role and new evidence suggesting Annan knew more about the contract awarded to Cotecna, which employed his son, Kojo. Both have denied any wrongdoing, Volcker said.
The oil-for-food program, launched in December 1996 to help ordinary Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, was one of the largest humanitarian programs in history. It was a lifeline for 90 percent of the country's population of 26 million.
Under the program, Saddam's regime could sell oil, provided the proceeds went primarily to buy humanitarian goods and pay war reparations. Saddam allegedly sought to curry favor by giving former government officials, journalists and others vouchers for Iraqi oil that could then be resold at a profit.
The program has become the subject of several congressional investigations, as well as probes by a federal grand jury and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
FOX News' Eric Shawn, Jonathan Wachtel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.