UN Sacks First Staffer for Oil-for-Food Scandal

Joseph Stephanides, who took part in contractor selections and other procurement activities, is the initial casualty:

UN Fires First Staffer over Oil-for-Food Role (Reuters)

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, himself under attack for mismanagement of the Iraq oil-for-food program, has dismissed the first U.N. official connected to the scandal-tainted humanitarian plan, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

Joseph Stephanides, a veteran mid-level official who contends his actions were approved by his superiors, was accused by a U.N.-appointed inquiry of steering a lucrative contract under the oil-for-food program to a British firm.

Annan, who was not secretary-general when the incident took place in 1996, concluded Stephanides committed “serious misconduct” and “was separated from service with immediate effect,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Stephanides, through his lawyer, said he would appeal. His actions were proper under U.N. rules and authorized by his superiors, attorney George Irving told Reuters.

This move has been long overdue. But, of course, Stephanides is a relatively minor figure. Benon Sevan, who headed the program, is the main antagonist of the story, and disciplinary actions against him were suspended today:

“There are indications that Mr. Volcker is continuing to look into his activities,” he said. “If administrative action is to be taken, it would be taken as a whole instead of piecemeal.”

Sevan, also a Cypriot, ran the oil-for-food program from October 1997 until its end in 2003. He remains suspended from any U.N. duties until the Volcker investigation is concluded.

I hope that the dismissal of “piecemeal” “administrative action” isn’t a sign of a pending slap on the wrist. As is, given Sevan’s old age and forty-year UN career, termination is practically moot. My gut reaction is to increase pressure on the culpable, not relieve it. But at least the suspension remains intact, and perhaps news of Stephanides’s fate will rekindle interest in major UN institutional reforms, which have been somewhat lost amid the fever-pitch politics of the Bolton nomination.

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Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.