South Korean arrested in Iraq oil-for-food scandal

  • World
  • Saturday, 07 Jan 2006

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. authorities arrested a South Korean lobbyist accused of secretly scheming with top U.N. and Iraqi officials to create the oil-for-food program that turned into a multibillion-dollar scandal. 

Tongsun Park was arrested in Houston on Friday on accusations of acting as an unregistered agent of Saddam Hussein's former government among others charges, amending original charges filed against him last April. 

Park received at least $2 million in cash from Iraq to influence the United Nations' shaping of the now-defunct oil-for-food program, the U.S. attorney's office in New York said in a statement. 

Much of that money was delivered in diplomatic pouches and it was understood he would use some to "take care" of an unnamed, high-ranking U.N. official, the statement said. 

Park was also at the center of the 1970s "Koreagate" bribery scandal in Washington. His defense lawyer was not immediately available for comment. 

"Saddam Hussein's government paid off Tongsun Park to corrupt the oil-for-food program from its inception," U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said in a statement. 

The other charges are conspiring to commit wire fraud and to launder criminal proceeds. 

"Park actively lobbied U.N. officials to establish the program, while extracting millions of dollars from profiteering Iraqi officials," the FBI chief in New York, Mark Mershon, said in the statement. Mershon called the oil-for-food program "a cash cow masquerading as humanitarian aid." 

The U.S. authorities say Park met in 1993 with the high-ranking U.N. official at his Manhattan apartment to set the terms of the program. That meeting included an unnamed collaborator who is now cooperating with the investigation. 

They also allegedly held a second meeting in Geneva that included two Iraqi officials. Both meetings were said to influence the 1995 U.N. resolution establishing the program. 

The $67 billion, oil-for-food program allowed Iraq to sell oil to buy civilian goods for its people living under U.N. sanctions. It began in 1996 and ended after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. 

Saddam diverted some $1.8 billion in kickbacks and surcharges paid by more than 2,000 firms involved in the scheme, according to a U.N.-established Independent Inquiry Committee led by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. 

Several defendants are facing criminal charges in federal court in New York in connection with the program. 

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