Let’s return to the scandal at the heart of the Iraqi oil-for-food program.
The heart of matter, again, is that Saddam Hussein allegedly used the program to engineer pay-offs to a long list political leaders and journalists around the world. The problem is that none of the documents which are said to support this claim have been seen, let alone authenticated by any neutral observers.
In its current issue The Economist states: “Nothing, so far, has been proved, certainly not as far as the UN is concerned. His evidence and nearly all the other allegations against the UN have so far been based on documents found in Iraqi government archives. But no one, other than he and the GC’s 25 members, has seen or authenticated the documents.”
That point about the twenty-five members of the Interim Governing Council probably overstates the matter. The documents are in the charge of the Finance Committee of the IGC. And the Finance Committee is controlled by Ahmed Chalabi. The Chalabi-controlled investigation is being headed up by a man named Claude Hankes-Drielsma. He’s the ‘he’ referred to in the quotation above. The Economist calls him, “a British financial adviser who was appointed by his old friend, Mr Chalabi, who chairs the finance committee of the GC in Iraq, to advise it on its investigations into the affair.”
At the moment, there is a tug-of-war between Hankes-Drielsma and Chalabi on the one hand and Paul Bremer and the CPA on the other. The CPA wants to run an investigation out of the hands of ‘politicians’ (read: Chalabi) whose involvement might taint the results. But thus far, Hankes-Drielsma and Chalabi have resisted turning over the relevant documents to either the investigators at the CPA or the Volcker Commission which was appointed by Kofi Annan to investigate the matter on behalf of the UN.
This issue of the custody of the documents came up in congressional testimony on April 21st.
Let me reprint a portion of it in which Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) was questioning Hankes-Drielsma …
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Is that true that no papers documenting the allegations that you’ve made today have been given to the United Nations?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: No, that’s true.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Right. Well, I want to get into that. Let me finish this and we’ll get into that. And then you — that the accounting firm KPMG was preparing a report the world body would receive. Now, that’s true?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Yes.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Okay. “In January an Iraqi newspaper published a list of 270 groups and individuals, many of them past and present government officials, charging they received vouchers for oil they can sell. Hankes-Drielsma calls the list only the tip of the iceberg.” Is that true?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Correct.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Okay. Is there anything — and let me start from the back and go forward. Is there anything that you haven’t testified so far today that would add to your comment that this is only the tip of the iceberg?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: No.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: So really most of what you’ve given us today is where you would stand, and you don’t have any additional information that would help in the hard evidence to try to prove or disprove these allegations?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: At this stage we have to wait for the KPMG report.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Okay.
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: But the list is certainly only part of the problem. We ‘re talking about 10 percent added to invoices, so a complete list needs to be produced of all suppliers. KPMG are looking at all the illegal oil sales and what happened to that cash. KPMG have already secured a list of all the Iraqi accounts held in the name of individuals on behalf of Iraq. KPMG, with the Audit Bureau of Iraq, will be requesting the banks to provide five year records of all transactions on those accounts. So the work that needs to be done is very extensive and so that list that the media is focused on is only part of the big picture.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Who has retained KPMG or who is paying them right now?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Well, the appointment by KPMG being made by the Iraq Governing Council was done by the Finance Committee with the CPA present, but —
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: And who’s chairman of the Finance Committee?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Dr. Chalabi.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Is he in charge of that investigation on behalf of the Iraqi Governing Council now?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: He and his colleagues on the Finance Committee.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Yeah, but there’s one chairman, just like we have a chairman here.
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: So the chair —
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: His duty is that he’s in charge and he’s the — of conducting this investigation as it relates to what we’ve talked about here today, and right now the Iraqi Governing Council is paying KPMG to conduct this investigation?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: No. First of all, as I testified earlier, the Governing Council unanimously endorsed the decision to appoint KPMG. But at this stage, although initial indications — assurances were given by Ambassador Bremer that the Iraq Development Fund would pay for the work, this has not been reconfirmed by the CPA. The Governing Council certainly doesn’t have at this stage any resources to pay KPMG, because all the Iraqi money is in the Iraq Development Fund, over which Ambassador Bremer has sole signing authority.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: But basically the Iraqi Governing Council retained or —
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Retains KPMG.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Retains KPMG to do the work they’re doing to investigate the alleged corruption that has been put out here today?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Correct.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Now, the only issue now is that the Iraqi Governing Council through Chalabi is trying to get Bremer to be able to pay for this. Is that correct?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Correct.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: And Bremer is leaving now. Correct?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Ah —
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: In two months.
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: You will know more about that than —
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Do you know who’s taking his place?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: I know who’s going to be the ambassador.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Who is that?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: I understand from the media that it’s Ambassador Negroponte.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Yeah, but is Negroponte also on the investigation committee appointed by Annan, which is Volcker and Annan?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: No.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: He’s not? Okay. And by the way, I want to say about the appointment of Volcker on that committee, I am very impressed with the credibility of Volcker. He’s a tough individual who will get to the bottom if he’s given the resources and the ability to get that facts and data that are needed. Do you agree with that?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: I agree with that.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Okay. So I think we’ve cleared up as far as where KPMG is supposed — Bremer will pay them. What’s going to happen then?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Well, if the CPA refuses to pay for this I think it will be a very sad day for the Iraqi people.
REP. SHAYS: I would agree.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Yeah, and I would agree too. Okay. The final issue, I just want to ask you the question. You talk about K — and maybe —
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: (Cross talk) — KPMG.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: KPMG.
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: KPMG.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: That’s it. I’ve been doing KM, it’s KPMG. Okay, that’s taken care of.
REP. SHAYS: I’ll write it out for him.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Okay, I’ve got it. One plus one is two. Now, the issue with respect to the information that KPMG have developed right now. I’m very much concerned that we’re waiting — that the United Nations is waiting for something when in fact there could be crimes and cover-ups going on at this point. This is going to have a tremendous impact, in my opinion, in world media and I think this is something that we have to deal with right away and move as quickly as we can. What is the hold up with respect to KPMG or you or any information the Iraqi Governing Council has, to getting it to the authorities immediately, right now? And why wait or hold back when you yourself said today you’re concerned about shredding of documents?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Because an investigation needs to be thoroughly done. The documents — there needs to be forensic work done on them. And the information — some of the transactions need to be traced, ultimate beneficiaries need to be identified. And if you produce a document that is half baked, you will end up being criticized for precisely the reasons that we want to try and avoid. That this needs to be done professionally and properly.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: But my point is that Volcker is out there investigating, you’re going to communicate with him. It seems to me that KPMG and any information that they have or you have should be brought to the table with Volcker and move as quickly as possible. Why isn’t that being done?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Well, you’re prejudging what might happen. We haven’t had a discussion with Mr. Volcker. We suggested the meeting with Mr. Volcker. It was not at a request at this stage of Mr. Volcker, although the U.N. has suggested it — internal — the IOS has. We suggested it. The first opportunity for us — and Mr. Bates is flying over specially tonight from the U.K. to actually be present at that meeting so we can discuss —
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: So when is that meeting?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: Tomorrow morning.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: That’s very good. Tomorrow morning with Mr. Volcker and the other gentleman?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: I don’t know who else Mr. Volcker will include.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Okay. And at that point you, representing the Iraqi Governing Council, are you willing to put forth any hard evidence, documents, whatever that you have, that will help Mr. Volcker in his investigation of this serious matter?
MR. HANKES-DRIELSMA: As a former letter from the Governing Council has already stated to Mr. Kofi Annan, that we will cooperate and Iraq will cooperate fully with the U.N. and we hope that the U.N. will also make all the information that the Governing Council and the information that they’ve requested as part of my evidence, is made available to the Iraqis so they can see for themselves.
REP. RUPPERSBERGER: Good. Thank you.
As near as I can tell from news reports, that list and other related documents still haven’t been turned over to the UN or any of the other investigating agencies. According to an AP story dated May 1st, when IGC member Jalal Talabani was asked whether the documents would be turned over to the Volcker Commission, he said: “Yes. If it will be necessary, it’s ready.”
In any case, the point is that these are very serious allegations. And various of the players involved in Iraq right now have motives not entirely consistent with having all the truth come out.
The motives of Chalabi’s crew are obvious. A greater UN role in Iraq deals a further blow to his plans to run Iraq for fun and profit. At the same time, the US government — paradox and irony — is increasingly dependent on UN mediation to halt the rapid deterioration of the situation on the ground in the country. So the Bush administration and the CPA, whatever their more general animus toward the UN, at the moment needs the UN very much. Antagonizing the world body at the behest of our one-time Iraqi favorite, Chalabi, even if the underlying charges are valid, would be a further complication in an already complicated situation. All of these many contending interests cry out for an independent, credible and transparent investigation.
Let me be clear, I don’t think any of this means that these allegations are not true. I figure that most of them are. But I say that mainly on the basis of the supposition that this hullabaloo wouldn’t have gotten so far without there being something to it. And that’s not a particularly good reason. And we’re far enough down the line now where no great argument needs to be made that Mr. Chalabi lacks a certain credibility when it comes to the quality of information and the authenticity of documents.