NOVEMBER 18, 2005
One of France’s most distinguished diplomats has confessed to an investigating judge that he accepted oil allocations from Saddam Hussein, it emerged yesterday.
Jean-Bernard Mérimée is thought to be the first senior figure to admit his role in the oil-for-food scandal, a United Nations humanitarian aid scheme hijacked by Saddam to buy influence.
The Frenchman, who holds the title “ambassador for life”, told authorities that he regretted taking payments amounting to $156,000 (then worth about £108,000) in 2002.
The money was used to renovate a holiday home he owned in southern Morocco. At the time, Mr Mérimée was a special adviser to Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general.
According to yesterday’s Le Figaro, he told judge Philippe Courroye during an interview on Oct 12: “I should not have done what I did. I regret it.”
But he also said that the payments were made in recompense for work he had done on Iraq’s behalf. “All trouble is worth a wage,” he is reported to have said.
It is good that Mérimée is regretful, but his excuse is troublesome.
The oil-for-food program was meant to help bring food to the people of Iraq, yet Mérimée feels that his efforts on behalf of Saddam were somehow worthy of a wage, that the theft of food from Iraqi’s was somehow helpful. The money was certainly helpful in restoring his holiday home in Morocco.
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