Writes William Safire in the New York Times on the inner workings of the U.N.’s Iraq Program:

“This was the biggest cash cow in the history of the world,” says one of the insiders familiar with the $10 billion U.N. oil-for-food scandal. “Everybody — traders, contractors, banks, inspectors — was milking it. It was supposed to buy food with the money from oil that the U.N. allowed Saddam to sell, but less than half went for that. Perfume, limos, a shipment of 1,500 Ping-Pong tables, for God’s sake.”

…Well-connected international traders — called “the usual suspects” by low-level U.N. staff, who knew they often fronted for sellers of luxury products — would make their deals, including kickbacks, in Baghdad. Letters of credit, as many as 150 a day, would be issued in New York by the U.N.’s favorite bank, BNP [Banque Nationale de Paris] Paribas. But before the sellers, called “beneficiaries,” could be paid (at Saddam’s request, in euros, harder to trace than dollars) the bank required a C.O.A., “Confirmation of Arrival,” from the U.N.’s contracted inspector, Cotecna of Switzerland. “The key was Cotecna,” says my graveyard source. “Ships were lined up at the port of Umm Qasr, stacks of containers already onshore waiting for inspection. You won’t believe the grease being paid. The usual suspects got preferential treatment when the U.N. bosses in New York called the BNP bank to get Cotecna to issue a C.O.A. to release the money.”

From Cox and Forkum:

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