While things are spiraling

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While things are spiraling down into the memory hole it sometimes makes sense to give them a few quick tugs before they vanish into oblivion altogether.

Along those lines, remember that some time back there was a big splash about the UN oil-for-food program and claims that various international dignitaries — including the UN official charged with overseeing the program, Benon Sevan — had taken bribes or kickbacks from Saddam Hussein out of funds generated by the program.

The evidence for these particular charges stemmed entirely from a collection of documents allegedly in the possession of Mr. Ahmed Chalabi, documents Chalabi apparently deemed too important to let anyone outside his circle see.

There were two Iraqi investigations into this alleged wrongdoing.

First, there was one run by Chalabi crony Claude Hankes Drielsma at Chalabi’s direction, with assistance from KPMG (one imagines because Arthur Andersen was no longer available).

Another inquiry was established at the behest of Paul Bremer and run by the head of the Iraq’s independent Board of Supreme Audit, Ihsan Karim, with assistance from Ernst and Young.

There was, to put it mildly, a pronounced hostility and antagonism between the two investigations. Chalabi wanted to keep the investigation under his control; Bremer’s efforts blocked that aspiration.

Each of the investigations, it turns out, has run into difficulties, though of rather different sorts.

As for Claude Hankes Drielsma and his inquiry, the last we heard from him, early in June, he was claiming that all the computer files of his investigation had been destroyed by shadowy hackers on the same day Chalabi’s HQ was raided in Baghdad. In a particular coup, the hackers managed to simultaneously destroy his back-ups kept on various hard-drives. “This report would have been even more damning than anticipated,” huffed Hankes Drielsma.

KPMG has stopped working on the investigation because they’re owed hundreds of thousands of dollars which have gone unpaid.

In the middle of June, Karim’s investigation — the one run through the Board of Supreme Audit — signed an agreement with the UN investigation headed up by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to cooperate and share information.

Finally some progress.

But then this last Thursday, Karim was killed when a bomb was placed under one of the cars in his convoy.

Chalabi spokesman, Zaab Sethna told Reuters that Karim’s outfit hadn’t been well-equipped to handle the investigation. And then, with some mix of irony, understatement, and goonishness, he said: “The assassination of Mr Karim is very worrying. Bremer appointed the audit board and left them on their own … The investigation was the highest profile probe the board was handling. It is impossible to speculate who killed Mr Karim, but the oil-for-food corruption involved very powerful people inside and outside Iraq.”

So, with all these tumults and jagged occurrences, let’s not forget to ask. Has anyone outside the Chalabi crew yet seen those documents? Given that we know Chalabi actually ran his own forgery shop in Iraqi Kurdistan in the mid-1990s, and his general lack of 100% reliability, it’s hardly an idle question.

The person who really needs to see them, of course, is Volcker, who is not only (sad to say it, but true) the only investigator left standing, but the one heading up the only investigation that actually has real credibility.

The last batch of articles on this matter date from mid-June. And, as nearly as I could figure, they implied that Chalabi had still not coughed up the documents.

If anyone knows otherwise, I’d be eager to hear.

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