A former Russian top spy says his agents helped the Russian government steal nearly $500 million from the U. N.'s oil-for-food program in Iraq...

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UNITED NATIONS — A former Russian top spy says his agents helped the Russian government steal nearly $500 million from the U.N.’s oil-for-food program in Iraq before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Sergei Tretyakov, who defected to the United States in 2000 as a double agent, says he oversaw an operation that helped Saddam’s regime manipulate the price of Iraqi oil sold under the program — and let Russia skim profits.

Tretyakov, former deputy head of intelligence at Russia’s U.N. mission from 1995 to 2000, names some names, but he sticks mainly to code names. Among the spies he says he recruited for Russia were a Canadian nuclear-weapons expert who became a U.N. nuclear verification expert in Vienna, a senior Russian official in the oil-for-food program and a former Soviet bloc ambassador. He describes a Russian businessman who got hold of a nuclear bomb and kept it stored in a shed at his dacha outside Moscow.

The 51-year-old Tretyakov granted his first news-media interviews to publicize a book published Thursday. Written by former Washington Post journalist Pete Earley, the book is titled “Comrade J.: The Untold Secrets of Russia’s Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War.”

“It’s an international spy nest,” Tretyakov said of the U.N., during an interview this past week.

His defection was first reported by The AP in 2001. Shortly after, The New York Times broke the news that he was not a diplomat, but a top Russian spy who was extensively debriefed by the CIA and the FBI.

Some of the people named or referenced by a code name in the book have denied Tretyakov’s claims.

An 18-month investigation into the oil-for-food corruption, led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, culminated in an October 2005 report accusing more than 2,200 companies from some 40 countries of colluding with Saddam’s regime to bilk the humanitarian program in Iraq of $1.8 billion.

The program was aimed at easing Iraqi suffering under U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. It allowed Iraq to sell oil, provided the bulk of the proceeds was used to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian goods and to pay war reparations. Volcker’s reports blamed shoddy U.N. management and the world’s most powerful nations for allowing corruption in the $64 billion program to go on for years.