Sat, Feb 24, 2007 - Page 3 News List

NY court sentences businessman over oil-for-food scandal


Tongsun Park, a once flamboyant South Korean businessman convicted of illegally representing late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in trying to influence the UN's oil-for-food program, was sentenced on Thursday to five years in prison.

Judge Denny Chin of the Federal District Court in Manhattan said that Park had "blatantly disregarded the law" by taking more than US$2 million for trying to lobby UN officials to ease sanctions against Iraq.

"You acted out of greed, acted to profit from what was supposed to be a humanitarian program," Chin told Park.

Chin fined Park US$15,000 and ordered him to forfeit US$1.2 million.

The judge called the sentence "harsh" for a 71-year-old man with health problems, but he also said it was "appropriate."

Park was found guilty last July by a jury that deliberated for less than a day. He was the first defendant to go to trial in connection with a scandal that involved cash from Iraq in diplomatic pouches, "back-channel communications" to the UN secretary-general at the time and even a scheme to bribe him.

The oil-for-food program was intended to ease some aspects of the sanctions imposed on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Under it, Saddam's government could use money from oil sales to buy nonmilitary aid supplies, such as food and medicine.

US Federal prosecutors said Park had even had a hand in influencing the talks that gave birth to the aid program in 1995.

However, they said Park had never registered as an agent for Saddam's government as required under federal law.

Chin, though, focused on the money that passed through Park's hands and on the money that he pocketed.

The judge said that Park had accepted "manila folders filled with [US]$100 bills."

Chin also said that Park had once traveled to Iraq to pick up US$700,000 in cash.

Park's lawyer, Michael Kim, said Park decided not to speak in court because of "advanced age, frail health, and his desire to get his life back on track."

Park said when he was arrested that he had diabetes and high blood pressure and had just had a kidney transplant.

The sentencing came hours after Chin refused a request from four other defendants to dismiss separate fraud and conspiracy charges. They have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

Park, who was also a central figure in a congressional bribery scandal in the 1970s that became known as Koreagate, was arrested 13 months ago.

Mexican immigration officials took him into custody at the Mexico City airport and put him on a plane to Houston, where US federal agents were waiting.

As prosecutors prepared their case against Park, an independent panel led by Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman, concluded that at the time of his Iraq activities, Park was something of an informal adviser to the UN secretary-general at the time, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

The committee said that Park, who was once known as a big spender with the nickname the Onassis of the Orient, bragged that he and Boutros-Ghali had lunch together whenever Park was in New York.

The report said Park and business partner Samir Vincent worked out an arrangement with officials of Saddam's government.

Park and Vincent would receive millions of US dollars in cash, the report said.

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