The Oil Connection

A recent piece of news has shed new light on what could be another storm for both the Clintons. Like an old shipwreck, the crashing waves are slowly revealing more from beneath the sand. Recently, we were treated to the revelation that an agent of Saddam Hussein's essentially financed a junket to visit Iraq before the war and complain about the sanctions' effect on the poor Iraqi children.

(Let's forget for a moment that it turned out that Saddam was actually engaged in a vast criminal enterprise through the oil-for-food program, and was essentially starving his "poor Iraqi children" for PR reasons.) Matt Apuzzo of the AP writes:

Saddam Hussein's intelligence agency secretly financed a trip to Iraq for three U.S. lawmakers during the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

The three anti-war Democrats made the trip in October 2002, while the Bush administration was trying to persuade Congress to authorize military action against Iraq. While traveling, they called for a diplomatic solution.

Prosecutors say that trip was arranged by Muthanna Al-Hanooti, a Michigan charity official, who was charged Wednesday with setting up the junket at the behest of Saddam's regime. Iraqi intelligence officials allegedly paid for the trip through an intermediary and rewarded Al-Hanooti with 2 million barrels of Iraqi oil. [emphasis added]

The lawmakers are not named in the indictment but the dates correspond to a trip by Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott of Washington, David Bonior of Michigan and Mike Thompson of California. None was charged and Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said investigators "have no information whatsoever" any of them knew the trip was underwritten by Saddam.

The one thing that stuck out to me most when I read that was the method of payment for Al-Hanooti: 2 million barrels of Iraqi oil. During the grand old days of sanctions, this was a common method of the Hussein regime to do business.

Then, we learn this week that
Hillary Clinton also received a visit from Al-Hanooti while at the White House in 1997. Ira Stoll of the New York Sun writes:

In a 1997 interview with this reporter, Hanooti said that at the meeting, Mrs. Clinton was "very receptive" to his request for an easing of the American sanctions on Iraq that were in place at the time. He said Mrs. Clinton "passed a message to the State Department" about the need to implement the oil-for-food deal, which was intended to allow Saddam to sell billions of dollars' worth of oil to pay for food for Iraqi citizens.

It's interesting that Hillary Clinton not only was behind the formation of the oil-for-food program, but that it was a direct contact with an agent of Saddam that accomplished the task.

So, fast forward a few years. Baghdad has fallen, the doors have been kicked open, and the oil-for-food program has become the oil-for-food scandal. What seems amazing now is not only the extent of the corruption, but how little most Americans even know about it.

The left is often proud of its hatred for Enron and the $1.5 billion in corruption it represents. Rightly so -- but they so easily excuse nearly 40 billion in corruption in a single UN program. And while Enron resulted in lost pensions and some ordinary folk getting hurt financially, UN corruption lead to people dying. It leads to looking the other way while genocide rages. It leads to rigged elections. It leads to dictators oppressing their people to use them as PR items for our nightly news. Americans are largely unaware of the fallout of the oil-for-food scandal because it was kept out of most of the world media, and virtually all of the American media.

Contracts through oil-for-food largely went to Russian and French companies. All the oil-for-food money was kept in French banks. (Until 2001, curiously enough.) The U.N. collected a 2.2 percent commission on every barrel of oil sold, generating more than $1 billion in revenue. The Hussein regime also used the contracts to extort money from Iraqi businesses. Literally everyone had their hands in the pot. The response from the French banks to the Volker report is notable.

The report cited Banque Nationale de Paris, which held the escrow account for the $64 billion program and provided the letters of credit needed for the financing, saying it "was in a position to have firsthand knowledge" of what was going on but "did not recognize a particular responsibility to adequately inform the U.N."

The two auditors investigating the oil-for-food program during the "Volker period" left their posts before completing their work. They cited interference, obstruction, and complicity of Kofi Annan's office, just for starters. They spoke of corruption that was of a depth and a breadth they'd never seen before. They had come to the conclusion that whoever set it up not only knew what they were doing, but had done it many times before. They were leaving because they felt that it was impossible for them to complete their investigation fully.

The interesting thing about this (to bring it all full circle) is that the payment Al-Hanooti (and many others) accepted, was oil. Raw crude is not something that you can just bring down to the Exxon station on the corner and "cash in". Especially when said crude comes from a brutal dictatorship that is currently under UN sanctions prohibiting its sale. The oil has to be laundered, so to speak; filtered through a series of shell companies and its source disguised. The people who did this were very specialized, and had to have a background in international finance as well as diplomatic connections.

One of these men
was Marc Rich.

The report said Marc Rich & Co. financed 4 million barrels of oil under a 9.5-million-barrel contract awarded to the European Oil and Trading Co., a French-based shell company.

"Surcharges were imposed on the oil," the report said, and "Marc Rich & Co. directed BNP Paris not to disclose its identity to BNP NY in connection with its financing of the U.N. contract."

What I would really like to know now -- and I doubt anyone will ever ask or answer these questions -- are three things:

1. What, exactly, is the relationship between Marc Rich and the Clintons - especially from 1997-2001?

2. Were the Clintons complicit in the founding of the corrupt oil-for-food program or did they just have their hands in the cookie jar like everyone else?

3. Why was the Clinton administration (presumably) completely unaware of the corruption... especially while considering Marc Rich's pardon application?

Enquiring minds do want to know.