Sat, Jul 15, 2006 - Page 6 News List

S Korean convicted in oil-for-food program scandal

AFP , NEW YORK

A South Korean businessman charged with acting as an Iraqi agent and money laundering connected to the UN oil-for-food scandal was convicted on Thursday of conspiracy, US federal prosecutors said.

A federal jury in New York took less than a day to find Tongsun Park guilty, and he now faces a possible jail term of more than 10 years. Sentencing was set for Oct. 26.

Park, 71, was arrested by FBI agents in January and charged with conspiring to commit wire fraud, acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government and laundering cash payments from the Iraqi regime.

The UN oil-for-food program was set up by the UN Security Council to allow Baghdad to export a limited amount of its oil to purchase food and medicine under UN supervision. But the US$67 billion program, which ran from 1996 to 2003, was manipulated by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein,an independent inquiry concluded.

Prosecutors said that Iraq paid Park at least US$2 million to hold talks in New York and Geneva with high-ranking UN officials to broker a deal that would permit Iraq to export oil.

A large number of Park's payments were in cash delivered in diplomatic pouches through Iraqi government officials.

Park's lawyer had pleaded with the jury to acquit him, arguing that the US government could not prove his client, a noted powerbroker in South Korea and the US had done, was illegal.

He said his client was not an Iraqi spy and didn't believe he had infringed any laws.

"It's not like Mr. Park was going around shooting people, or stealing money that otherwise was illegal," Park's lawyer said in closing arguments to the trial, on Wednesday, according to a transcript on Park's official Web site.

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