Prison for Iraqi Oil

A Korean businessman who once acted as a secret backchannel between Saddam Hussein and the United Nations has been tagged with a maximum prison sentence. Tongsun Park, the first person convicted by a jury in the United Nations Oil for Food scandal was sentenced to five years behind bars by U.S. District Denny Chin on Thursday.

Park, 71 and ailing, has been incarcerated since his arrest one year ago.

Last July, he was found guilty of acting as an unregistered agent of Iraq in the 1990's, while Saddam's regime was floundering under international economic sanctions stemming from the dictator's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

The UN launched Oil for Food in 1996 to provide humanitarian aid to Iraq. The UN managed sales of some Iraqi oil, applying the cash – $64 billion over seven years – to purchase food, and medicine, and supplies.

The problem was the UN let Saddam choose his buyers and vendors, allowing him to impose illicit surcharges on the oil sold and kickbacks on the goods purchased. This cost of doing business subverted the UN program and led Saddam to pocket an estimated $1.8 billion. Park got paid at least $2 million by Saddam to orchestrate a lobbying campaign to lift the punitive sanctions, serving as a liaison to former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and other officials in a campaign that led to the Oil for Food relief.

Trial testimony established that Park was expected to use some Iraqi cash to "take care" of Boutros Ghali – though evidence of an actual bribe never materialized – and gave $1 million to the man who became UN special envoy to the Korean peninsula under Boutros-Ghali's successor, Kofi Annan. It is illegal to act as a lobbyist for a foreign government in the U.S. without registering with the Attorney General, something Park neglected to do.