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South Korean businessman gets five years in oil-for-food scandal

Tongsun Park, 71, accepted $2 million to work on Iraq's behalf. Tongsun Park, 71, accepted $2 million to work on Iraq's behalf.

NEW YORK -- South Korean businessman Tongsun Park, who was accused in the 1970s of trying to buy influence in Congress in the "Koreagate" scandal, was sentenced to five years in prison for accepting at least $2 million to work on Iraq's behalf to influence the UN oil-for-food program.

Park was sentenced by US District Judge Denny Chin for his conviction seven months ago on conspiracy charges. A jury had rejected his claims that he was a middleman representing the UN's interests in relieving the pain of Iraqis under Saddam Hussein.

The judge called it a "harsh" sentence for a 71-year-old man in poor health but said it was reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances.

"You acted out of greed, acted to profit out of what was supposed to be a humanitarian program," the judge said.

Park said he didn't want to speak in court. His lawyer noted his client's age, poor health, and desire to get his life back on track.

Park's health issues include diabetes, high blood pressure, and a kidney transplant.

He was indicted in the 1970s in the Koreagate scandal, in which agents of the Korean government were accused of trying to buy influence in Congress, but the charges were dropped.

Just before the judge imposed the oil-for-food sentence, he noted that Park had signed a document Nov. 29 agreeing that his misconduct involved more than $2.5 million, that he would not appeal his sentence, and that he would be sentenced within a range of four years and nine months to five years, the maximum sentence allowed.

Federal prosecutors said at Park's trial in July that he was part of a corrupt group of bureaucrats and oil tycoons who enabled a humanitarian effort to be twisted into a corrupt venture benefiting them and Hussein.

Earlier yesterday, the judge rejected requests by Texas oilman Oscar S. Wyatt Jr.; Houston-based Bayoil (USA) Inc.'s sole shareholder, David B. Chalmers Jr.; and oil trader Ludmil Dionissiev to dismiss charges that they paid secret and illegal surcharges to Iraq to receive allocations of oil. Among the charges were wire fraud and conspiracy.

The three have pleaded not guilty and were freed on bail as they await trial.

Wyatt had claimed he was being prosecuted solely because he criticized US policies and actions toward, Iraq but had offered no credible evidence to support the theory, the judge said.

"Mere speculation that prosecutors were influenced by Wyatt's opposition to US foreign policy is not sufficient to show discriminatory purpose," the judge wrote.

Park was convicted despite the few links between him and Iraq after 1997, and even though the conspiracy was alleged to have stretched from 1992 to 2002.

The oil-for-food program from 1996 to 2003 let the Iraqi government sell oil primarily to buy food and medicine for Iraqis, suffering because of sanctions imposed on their country after it invaded Kuwait, leading to the first Gulf War. By 2000, authorities said, Hussein had begun insisting that those he dealt with pay kickbacks.

Prosecutors said Park exploited his relationship with former UN secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali to join an effort by Samir A. Vincent, an Iraqi-American, to earn the favor of Iraq and share as much as $45 million in windfall gains if the sanctions were lifted.

Authorities say the oil-for-food program was corrupted after Hussein was allowed to choose the buyers of Iraqi oil and the sellers of humanitarian goods.

Vincent, who testified against Park, has pleaded guilty to federal charges and is cooperating with the government. He said Park arranged meetings during 1993 involving Park, Boutros-Ghali, and Vincent, including three meetings at Boutros-Ghali's New York residence.

Prosecutors said evidence proved that some money Park received from the government of Iraq was supposed to be used to "take care" of Boutros-Ghali.

An independent panel concluded in 2005 that Iraq had a scheme to bribe Boutros-Ghali, but found no evidence the secretary general was aware of the plot .

Park also faces trial in Washington, D.C., on charges that he made false statements about his participation in the oil-for-food program during a December 2004 interview with FBI agents at the Watergate Hotel.