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Court told Korean asked Iraq for UN chief bribes

Written by: Staff
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NEW YORK, June 29 (Reuters) A South Korean lobbyist sought million from Iraq before the U.N. oil-for-food program was set up to ''take care of some people,'' including then UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, a New York court was told today.

Tongsun Park is accused of acting as an unregistered foreign agent of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and prosecutors say he pocketed some 2.5 million dollars from Iraq.

The 1996-2003 oil-for-food program allowed Iraq to sell oil and use the proceeds to buy nonmilitary goods, under UN supervision. It aimed to ease the impact of U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, but the 67 billion dollars program was rife with corruption, investigators say.

The independent Volcker report said last year Iraq set aside up to 15 million dollars to bribe Boutros-Ghali, but there was no evidence he ever received any money.

The prosecution's main witness, US-Iraqi businessman Samir Vincent, who has pleaded guilty to acting as an agent for Saddam Hussein, told the court today that Park had asked him in late 1995 to seek 10 million dollars from Iraq.

On his third day on the stand, Vincent said Park had told him the money was ''to cover some expenses he had incurred on behalf of Iraq as well as to take care of some people.'' Asked by the prosecutor who needed to be taken care of, Vincent said: ''The only people I know of at the time was the Secretary-General,'' he said, referring to Boutros-Ghali.

In testimony earlier this week, Vincent had outlined a string of meetings with Park, Boutros-Ghali and high level Iraqi officials including former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz from 1992 to 1996.

Vincent described how he would pass on back-channel messages from Aziz and others in Baghdad to Boutros-Ghali in an effort to set up some kind of oil-for-food scheme that would eventually bring commercial benefits to Vincent and his associates. Vincent said he enlisted Park in 1992 because of his close association with Boutros-Ghali.

The Volcker report said that Park made 11 calls to Boutros-Ghali's office and 28 calls to his home in 1995, the year before the oil-for-food program was set up.

After Park asked him for 10 million dollars, Vincent said he met Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, the late Nizer Hamdoon, who said he doubted the Iraqi government would pay up in full and suggested asking for 15 million dollars.

''I guess he needs to take care of BB,'' Vincent quoted Hamdoon as saying, adding that BB referred to Boutros-Ghali.

Defense attorney Michael Kim has said Park was just ''a middleman or facilitator.'' Several defendants are facing criminal charges in federal court in New York in connection with the program.

Park, 71, faces charges in US District Court of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government and money laundering. He has pleaded not guilty and faces a maximum of five years in jail.

REUTERS SHR VV2303

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