03/30/2005, 00.00
un - iraq
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Scant proof Annan knew of deal over oil for food

New York (AsiaNews/Agencies) - There is insufficient evidence to show that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan knew of a contract bid by his son's employer, according to a report on the United Nations oil-for-food programme in Iraq, published by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.  

But the report, released yesterday, did criticise the UN chief for not determining the exact nature of Kojo Annan's relationship with Swiss company Cotecna Inspection. Cotecna won a US million -a-year UN contract while Annan was secretary-general and it employed his son Kojo. Volker's report also accused Cotecna, and Kojo Annan, of concealing their relationship after the contract was awarded.

The contractor, Swiss firm Cotecna, was hired by the UN to verify goods coming into Iraq.

Kojo Annan, who was a trainee with the firm from 1995 to 1998, continued to be paid a salary until February 2004.

The report was not the clear vindication the secretary-general had wanted, though the investigation led by Volcker did not accuse the UN chief of wrongdoing. It said "there is no evidence" the selection of Cotecna for an inspection contract under the oil-for-food programme "was subject to any affirmative or improper influence of the secretary-general in the bidding or selection process".  The report clearly faulted his management of the world body and his supervision of the US billion programme.

Mr Volcker's independent inquiry committee found that Kojo Annan was not forthcoming with either his father or the committee. It said there were still "significant questions" about Kojo Annan's business dealings with the programme and an investigation was continuing.

In a letter annexed to the report, Kojo Annan's lawyer - William Taylor - rejected any claim that the secretary-general's son had not been wholly co-operative with the committee. But Mr Taylor admitted Kojo Annan had not told his father the entire truth. "[Kojo] Annan has consistently acknowledged that he was not completely candid with his father when the Cotecna-UN contract first attracted publicity in late January 1999," Mr Taylor wrote. "He regrets the embarrassment that [the] omission caused to his father and to the UN, and accepts responsibility for it."

The UN secretary said he was happy with the findings of the interim report and he brushed aside a reporter's question about whether he would resign with the words, "Hell, no". "I have lots of work to do and I am going to go ahead and do it," he said.

The US billion oil-for-food programme ran from 1996 to 2003. Saddam's government was allowed to sell oil in exchange for humanitarian goods as an exemption from U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. US congressional investigators say Saddam's regime may have illegally made more than US billion by cheating the programme and other sanctions-busting schemes.

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