Oil-for-Food Chief Sevan Indicted Over Saddam Bribes

Benon Sevan, who headed up the UN’s Oil-for-Food program, has been indicted on charges of taking bribes from Saddam Hussein.

The charges, detailed in a joint press release by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Manhattan district attorney, came over a year after former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker completed an investigation for the United Nations into the massively corrupted Oil-for-Food program that operated in Saddam’s Iraq between 1996 and 2003.

According to the press release, Sevan allegedly received $160,000 generated from the sale of Iraqi oil under the program from one Ephraim Nadler, an associate who was also indicted, on behalf of the government of Iraq. The money was allegedly used to pay off overdue credit cards and bills. Specifically, the two were charged with wire fraud, based on their depriving the United Nations of its right to Sevan’s honest services; bribery concerning an organization — the United Nations that receives more than $10,000 annually from the federal government; and conspiracy to commit these offenses.

If convicted, Sevan would face a maximum sentence of 50 years’ imprisonment. Nadler, who was also charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud by engaging in prohibited financial transactions with Iraq and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, would face a maximum sentence of 112 years’ imprisonment if convicted. Warrants have been issued for the two through Interpol.

Sevan, through his lawyers, has denied that any funds were obtained illegally. The career diplomat is thought to be currently living in Cyprus. That nation’s extradition treaty with the U.S. does not cover financial crimes, so it is unclear as to what impact the charges would have on Sevan.

One wonders whether this will even go to court. Events in Iraq have likely progressed to the point where few will much care about crimes committed by a former UN bureaucratic and a now-executed tyrant.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Law and the Courts, United Nations, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steven Plunk says:

    This alleged crime is not just a crime against Iraq. It is a crime that the US should prosecute in order to provide a deterrent to other UN officials who might abuse the power they wield. This might renew some sense of accountability to the UN.

    Letting this guy get away with it would be the wrong thing to do.

  2. Tim says:

    Corruption happens at all levels – even international. 112 years for that crime though still seems harsh. I’m glad they were caught and indicted though. Justice prevails again!