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THE ASPERVILLE HORROR - UN Oil for Food scandal touches HR Museum

It had been a successful day.

The bold design for Izzy Asper's dream project, the proposed Canadian Museum for Human Rights, was met with kudos.

The federal government announced $100 million in funding, taking the budget over the hump. The last drops of champagne had been drained, the streamers pulled down and the banners for the museum were all packed away when the Aspers felt a chill trickle down their collective spines.

Like a scene out of the Amityville Horror, a sense of impending misfortune settled over the family. It was the Asperville Horror.

And it wasn't just the presence of federal Liberals stinking with the taint of corruption, kickbacks, cover-up and scandal. The sight of a large Liberal oozing sincerity as he promised to spend a hundred million dollars of taxpayers money to buy election support was only a foreshadowing of what was to come.

Yesterday, a dark cloud passed over the Asper project with the news that a member of the museum's National Advisory Council had shown up on the radar of investigators unravelling the Oil-for-Food scandal that has rocked the United Nations to its core.

It's turning out that Asper museum advisor Maurice Strong, an extremely well-connected former Manitoban, has coincidentally been in business at different times with two men who have become targets of the Oil-for-Food investigation. Both men are suspected of buying influence to promote the Oil-for-Food program which Saddam Hussein used to skim billions (that's with a "b") from money intended to buy food and medicine for ordinary Iraqis.

The latest twist in the investigation came this week with the arrest of Korean businessman Tongsun Park for acting as an unregistered agent of Iraq. Pretty small potatoes until you read the details of the unsealed indictment. It's a classic tale of influence peddling.

According to the FBI , Iraq agreed to pay Park ten million dollars for his help in getting the Oil-for-Food program approved. The indictment teases the reader with coded references to a cooperating witness (CW-1) who was Parks liason with Iraq, and to two high ranking United Nations officials (UN-1 and UN-2).

CW-1 says that Park told his Iraqi contacts he needed more of the promised money up front because he had used $1 million of his payments to date to invest in a company owned by the son of UN-2. The company had gone belly-up, he said.

Yesterday, Maurice Strong said in a statement that in 1997 Tongsun Park had invested in an energy company that he, Strong, was "associated" with. In January, 1997, Maurice Strong was named a special advisor to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Believe it or not, some accounts at the time referred to him as the second most powerful man at the United Nations, although that's the least likely evidence for his being UN-2.

Investigators are quick to point out that there is no suggestion that Strong personally received any of the tainted Oil-for-Food money. But he was exactly the sort of person of influence that the conspirators would want to reach.

In an even greater coincidence, in 1999, Strong joined the board of directors of Air Harbour Technologies, the same day as Kofi Annan's son Kojo Annan. Kojo Annan is being investigated for collecting large and undisclosed payments from a Swiss company hired by the United Nations to monitor oil-for-food imports into Iraq between 1999 and 2003.

Air Harbour Technologies was a company registered in either Cyprus or the Isle of Man (accounts vary). It provided consulting on "building design." Strong resigned in 2000, saying the company was badly run. Before he signed on as director, AHT was involved in scandal over a hugely expensive airport in Zimbabwe, a country whose horrendous human rights violations warrant an exhibit to itself in the Museum for Human Rights.

And then, as if things couldn't get worse in the Asperville Horror---enter Terry Nelson.

To be continued ...

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