NEW YORK - The former U.N. oil-for-food chief was charged yesterday with taking a $160,000 bribe to influence who could buy Iraqi oil under the scandal-tainted humanitarian program.
The indictment of Benon Sevan, 69, of Nicosia, Cyprus, brings to 14 the number of people charged in the case and "strikes at the heart of the corruption that pervaded the oil-for-food program," FBI Assistant Director Mark J. Mershon said.
Sevan was charged with bribery and conspiracy to commit fraud.
The $64 billion program ran from 1996 to 2003 and allowed Iraq to sell oil primarily to buy food and medicine for Iraqis suffering under U.N. sanctions. But the operation was riddled with corruption involving bureaucrats, oil tycoons, and Saddam Hussein's regime.
Sevan, who had worked for the United Nations for 40 years, said through his lawyer that he was being made a political scapegoat and that he had accounted for every penny as he ran the biggest humanitarian program in U.N. history, helping to save "tens of thousands of innocent people from death by disease and starvation."
Federal and state prosecutors also announced the indictment of Ephraim Nadler, 79, of New York City, on the same charges.
Nadler, a brother-in-law of former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, was accused of helping someone obtain the right to buy Iraqi oil under the program in exchange for commissions from the oil sales. He then funneled approximately $160,000 of these oil commissions to Sevan, prosecutors said.
Both men are believed to be overseas. U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said the United States had lodged warrants for their arrest with Interpol.
It was not immediately clear whether Nadler had retained a lawyer.