Oil-for-food bribe official pleads guilty

A FORMER United Nations (UN) procurement officer last week pleaded guilty to soliciting a bribe under the US$64 billion oil-for-food programme. The Russian man admitted receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in backhanders from firms doing business with the UN.

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By  Rhys Jones Published  August 14, 2005

A FORMER United Nations (UN) procurement officer last week pleaded guilty to soliciting a bribe under the US$64 billion oil-for-food programme. The Russian man admitted receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in backhanders from firms doing business with the UN. Alexander Yakovlev, 52, also pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of wire fraud and money laundering, making him the first UN official to face criminal charges in connection with the operation. He could face up to 20 years in prison for each of the three counts. Yakovlev surrendered to FBI agents in Manhattan early last week, as UN-backed investigators released a report accusing him and Benon Sevan, the former chief of the programme, of corruption. Sevan was accused of taking US$147,000 in kickbacks. Former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, who is leading the UN investigation, said Yakovlev tried to solicit bribes from a Swiss company that was bidding for business in the oil programme. In addition, Volcker alleged that Yakovlev received more than US$950,000 in an offshore bank account from contractors doing other types of business with the UN. The probe recommended both men’s diplomatic immunity be lifted if asked. Later, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan waived Yakovlev’s immunity when he got just such a request from David Kelley, US attorney for the southern district of New York. The findings are sure to give new fuel to critics who have labelled the oil-for-food programme a huge scam. “Our conclusions are obviously significant and troubling,” said Volcker. “What’s important is that we contribute effectively to the needed reform of the United Nations administration,” he added. Yakovlev, who was released on a US$400,000 bond, resigned in June over separate allegations that he helped his son get a job with a company that did business with the UN. Condemnation from Republicans in US Congress was quick to follow. “This report demonstrates the United Nations lacks the institutional ... alarms necessary to warn of misconduct,” said Christopher Shays, representative of Connecticut. Volcker’s team is set to release a final report in September. The report is expected to consider new evidence suggesting Annan knew more about a contract awarded to a Swiss company that employed his son, Kojo. Both have denied any wrongdoing.

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