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THE KSS DENIES WRONGDOING; SEVERAL SLOVAK FIRMS NAMED IN CONNECTION WITH CORRUPTION

Oil-for-food scandal spreads to Slovak soil

THE COMMUNIST Party of Slovakia (KSS) is among those accused of benefiting at the expense of Iraqis suffering under UN sanctions as part of the United Nation's oil-for-food programme. The allegations stem from a scathing final report documenting massive corruption of the $64 billion programme that was presented to UN officials on October 27.

THE COMMUNIST Party of Slovakia (KSS) is among those accused of benefiting at the expense of Iraqis suffering under UN sanctions as part of the United Nation's oil-for-food programme. The allegations stem from a scathing final report documenting massive corruption of the $64 billion programme that was presented to UN officials on October 27.

The report is the result of 18 months of special investigations by the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC), a body set up specifically to investigate corruption allegations in the oil-for-food programme. According to former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who led the inquiry, the UN oil-for-food programme turned into a cash cow for deposed Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein and thousands of Western companies that traded with the oppressive regime.

The KSS denies any wrongdoing. The oil-for-food programme lasted between 1996 and 2003 to ensure Iraqi citizens received food, medication and other humanitarian items while the United Nations imposed sanctions against Saddam Hussein.

In a statement issued by the UN's department of public information, Volcker stated: "More than 2,000 companies that did business with the UN's now-defunct Iraqi oil-for-food programme were involved in bribes and kickbacks that allowed Saddam Hussein's sanctions-bound regime to divert nearly $2 billion" for their own purposes.

Based on the IIC report, the KSS is among those that profited, allegedly gaining 2.5 million barrels of crude oil through Russian company ACTEC, for which it could have gained as much as Sk2.3 billion (€58.9 million).

Several top KSS officials, including Vladimír Ďaďo, party chairman between 1992 and 1998, denied the allegations.

Ladislav Jača, KSS central secretary, told The Slovak Spectator that the KSS did not know of ACTEC and had no idea why the KSS appeared in the report in the first place.

"We already filed a [criminal] complaint for defamation and lies in connection with this information," said Jača.

"Tell me where we would have stored the oil. Or, if we sold it, we certainly would not be having to count every crown to make ends meet like we do now!" he said.

Jača , contending that slander always seems to appear when his party's voter support increases, continued: "If we had gotten a hold of that kind of money, do you think we would still be an opposition party? Surely we would have bought everything, including the media, as apparently everything can be bought here in Slovakia."

According to the SME daily, the corruption connected with the oil-for-food programme was reciprocal. Hussein bribed politicians and interest groups to lobby in his favour, and companies bribed Hussein for permission to import their goods to Iraq.

More than 4,000 companies were involved in some form of illicit activity. Among the Slovak firms were Unimpex, Sigma Slovakia, and Polnochem.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan promised that his organization would do everything to ensure that corruption on this scale would never happen again. "We already have proposals for reforms that will ensure that, in the future, we are better equipped to handle this sort of programme," he told the press after the IIC briefing on October 27.

According to a statement on the UN's website, the spokesman for the secretary general noted that Kofi Annan acknowledged, "that a vast network of kickbacks and surcharges has been exposed, involving companies registered in a wide range of member states, and certified by them as competent to conduct business under the programme. He hopes that national authorities will take steps to prevent the recurrence of such practices in the future, and that they will take action, where appropriate, against companies falling within their jurisdiction."

Slovakia's foreign minister, Eduard Kukan, believes that as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Slovakia will obtain all relevant documents in connection with the probe into the oil-for-food programme, the TASR news agency reported.

Kukan said that the Foreign Ministry's role would be to hand over the documents to the respective authorities responsible for investigating such cases. The local investigation team would determine whether Slovak companies broke national laws and how to punish them accordingly.

"We have special bodies and institutions in Slovakia that will carry out these activities [investigations], and will act in line with the conclusions they reach," Kukan said.

In connection with the programme's mismanagement, Volcker called for extensive reforms within the United Nations.

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