Suspended ex-chief of UN Oil-for-Food seeks more time to answer charges

23 February 2005
Benon Sevan

Benon Sevan, the former head of the United Nations Office of the Iraq Programme (OIP) who was suspended following reports of impropriety in connection with the Oil-for-Food scheme, has asked for more time to answer the administrative charges against him, a UN spokesman reported today.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Sevan and another official, Joseph Stephanides, were given 14 days to summon their defences when Secretary-General Kofi Annan suspended them after receiving an interim report of the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) set up to probe allegations of corruption surrounding the multi-billion dollar programme. Mr. Stephanides was at the time the Chief of the Political Affairs Department's Sanctions Branch.

Mr. Sevan sent a letter to the UN's Office of Human Resources and Management (OHRM) requesting an extension before replying to the charge letter, spokesman Stephane Dujarric told the press in New York.

That request is “being considered,” he said.

Mr. Stephanides has presented a response, which will be reviewed before action is taken, the spokesman added.

At that point, the Secretary-General can exercise a range of disciplinary measures, including summary dismissal.

According to the IIC report, Mr. Sevan “created a grave and continuing conflict of interest” by repeatedly soliciting allocations of oil under the programme, which was set up by the Security Council to enable the sanctions-bound regime of Saddam Hussein to purchase humanitarian goods and supplies using proceeds from oil sales.

The Committee, which is headed by former United States Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker, did not rule on whether Mr. Sevan had personally profited. Through his lawyers, the UN official, who is now retired and receiving a token $1 per year salary, has denied any wrongdoing.

The IIC reported that Mr. Stephanides actively participated in a UN Steering Committee which “prejudiced and pre-empted the competitive process in a manner that rejected the lowest qualified bidder.”

The Oil-for-Food programme operated from 1997 until 2003 and is credited with preventing a deterioration of living standards among Iraqis beset by sanctions and the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein.


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