New York: A South Korean businessman convicted of accepting at least $2 million (Rs8.85 crore) to secretly work on Iraq’s behalf to influence the United Nations’ oil-for-food program was sentenced on 22 February 2007 to five years in prison.
Tongsun Park was convicted seven months ago on conspiracy charges by a jury that rejected his claims that he was a middleman representing the U.N.’s interests in relieving the pain of Iraqis under Saddam Hussein.
U.S. District Judge Denny Chin said it was a “harsh” sentence for a 71-year-old man in poor health but was reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances.
“You acted out of greed, acted to profit out of what was supposed to be a humanitarian programme,” the judge said.
Park said he did not want to speak in court. His lawyer noted his client’s age, poor health and desire to get his life back on track.
Federal prosecutors said at Park’s trial in July 2006 that he was part of a corrupt group of bureaucrats and oil tycoons who enabled a humanitarian effort to be twisted into a corrupt venture for bureaucrats, oil tycoons and Saddam.
Earlier on 22 February, the judge rejected requests by Texas oilman Oscar S. Wyatt Jr., Houston-based Bayoil (USA) Inc. sole shareholder David B. Chalmers Jr. and oil trader Ludmil Dionissiev to dismiss charges alleging they paid secret and illegal surcharges to Iraq to receive allocations of oil. Among charges they faced were wire fraud and conspiracy.
The judge noted that Wyatt said he was being prosecuted solely because he criticized U.S. policies and actions toward Iraq but had offered no credible evidence to support the theory.
“Mere speculation that prosecutors were influenced by Wyatt’s opposition to U.S. foreign policy is not sufficient to show discriminatory purpose,” the judge wrote.
Park was convicted despite the fact there were few links between him and Iraq after 1997, even though the conspiracy was alleged to have stretched from 1992 to 2002.
The oil-for-food programme from 1996 to 2003 let the Iraqi government sell oil primarily to buy food and medicine for Iraqis who had been suffering since sanctions were imposed on their country after it invaded Kuwait and brought about the first Gulf War. By 2000, authorities said, Saddam had begun insisting that those he dealt with pay kickbacks.
Prosecutors said Park exploited his relationship with former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to help Samir A. Vincent, an Iraqi-American, earn the favor of Iraq and share as much as $45 million in windfall gains if the sanctions were lifted.
Authorities say the oil-for-food program was corrupted after Saddam was allowed to choose the buyers of Iraqi oil and the sellers of humanitarian goods.
Vincent, who testified against Park, has pleaded guilty to federal charges and is cooperating with the government. He said Park arranged meetings during 1993 involving Park, Boutros-Ghali and Vincent, including three meetings at Boutros-Ghali’s Manhattan residence.