Annan slammed in oil-food report

A YEAR-LONG probe of the Iraq oil-for-food programme has concluded that the United Nations (UN) allowed “illicit, unethical, and corrupt behaviour” to overwhelm the US$64 billion operation. The Independent Inquiry Committee’s final report, which was released last week, said the UN must adopt sweeping reforms before taking on such tasks again.

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By  Rhys Jones Published  September 11, 2005

Yet the committee, which is UN-appointed and supported, also found that the programme succeeded in providing minimal standards of nutrition and health care for millions of Iraqis trying to cope with tough UN sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. It also helped in the international effort to deprive Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction, it said. The investigation has concluded that UN secretary general Kofi Annan failed to curb corruption and mismanagement at the UN, but it did not find evidence to support charges that he improperly influenced the scandal-tainted oil-for-food programme. “His sins were ones of omission basically; there were things that he might well have done and should have done that he didn’t do,” a senior investigator close to the probe said last week. Typical of the lapses, the investigator said, was Annan’s failure to look more thoroughly into the activities of his son, Kojo Annan, to see if his working for a company that received an oil-for-food contract posed a conflict of interest for his father. The committee, led by Paul Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, found no evidence that Kofi Annan knew about the contract, but it found instances where Kojo Annan did try to influence it, and in general exploited his father’s name, the investigator said. In one incident, he said, Kojo Annan bought a new Mercedes using his father’s name, which yielded him a diplomatic discount and enabled him to import the vehicle to Ghana without paying the import duty required. The report also detailed an instance in which Annan’s predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, was the target of an effort to exploit the oil-for-food programme. It said that an Iraqi-American businessman, Samir Vincent, and a Korean lobbyist, Tongsun Park, tried to pass around US$1 million in cash to Boutros-Ghali, but that there was no evidence that Boutros-Ghali had received or agreed to receive the money. The report said that Iraq also tried to secure another high-level contact at the United Nations in 1997 when Park invested US$1 million of Iraqi money in a company controlled by Maurice Strong, a Canadian entrepreneur then serving as Annan’s coordinator for UN reform. The committee said it found no evidence that Strong himself was involved. Vincent pleaded guilty earlier this year to federal charges of illegal lobbying for Iraq. Park, who was also charged, is believed to be in South Korea. Strong stepped aside from his post as Annan’s special envoy to North Korea because of past associations with Park, and the United Nations announced in July that his contract would not be renewed. The general conclusion of the 860-page report, the fourth and most definitive from Volcker’s panel, is that the United Nations is inefficient, over-politicised, corrupt and that it is in desperate need of immediate and thorough repair. “The inescapable conclusion from the committee’s work is that the United Nations organisation needs thoroughgoing reform — and it does need it urgently,” said the United Nations oil-for-food report's five-page preface. The report comes a week before more than 170 presidents and prime ministers are due at the United Nations to update goals from the 2000 millennium summit conference and to approve sweeping changes to the way the UN is run. The much-disputed US$64 billion oil-for-food programme was intended to ease the effects of sanctions on the 27 million Iraqis by supplying them with food and medicine in exchange for letting Saddam Hussein export oil. But its manipulation by Saddam Hussein and illicit profits it generated for the Iraqi government caused it to become a lightning rod for many critics of the United Nations, and provoked calls from Republican lawmakers in Washington for Annan’s resignation. However, Annan’s spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric of France, said that Annan intended to fill out his term, which ends in late 2006. The report, while criticising Annan, aknowledges that the United Nations Charter gives him the responsibility of being the chief administrative officer without the resources to meet the demands.

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