- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

NEW YORK — The Bush administration yesterday defended U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan after a prominent U.S. senator demanded his resignation, warning that the U.N. inquiry cannot possibly get to the bottom of the oil-for-food scandal while he is still in charge.

However, Washington refused to give assurances that Mr. Annan, whose son has long had an undisclosed relationship with a key U.N. contractor in the Iraq program, would continue to have U.S. support.

Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican and chairman of a Senate subcommittee investigating whether Saddam Hussein’s regime pocketed billions of dollars from the program, yesterday told The Washington Times that “the stench from this continues to grow” and warned that relations between the United States and the United Nations would fray further if Mr. Annan refuses to step down.

“This is the most massive fraud in the history of the United Nations,” he said. “Kofi Annan and the United Nations are slowly bleeding to death over this. It’s time to cut the gangrene limb off.”

Of particular concern to him is that several of the key players involved in the scandal also were in a position of holding sanctions over Iraq during the run-up to the war.

“In any other organization where the CEO oversaw a $21 billion theft, there would be a board of directors saying we need to clean this up and clear our reputation,” he said. “The problem here is that the board of directors is France, Russia and China who all benefited from the program.”

But State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli called Mr. Annan “a valued interlocutor” and said he “has been working, I think, positively and cooperatively, in trying to get to the bottom of this oil-for-food program.”

Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat and member of the House Committee on International Relations, said U.N. investigators “must investigate all of the accusations regarding corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program.

“The commission should also do everything in its power to accelerate the investigation, and, to the greatest extent possible, share all relevant information with the Congress,” Mr. Berman said.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, told Fox News yesterday that Mr. Coleman is “on the right track,” but that he “would like to see more evidence.”

“The entire credibility of the United Nations is at stake here,” Mr. Allen said.

The United Nations yesterday shrugged off Mr. Coleman’s attack, suggesting he and other critics wait for the results from the U.S.-appointed inquiry.

Mr. Annan last week reluctantly acknowledged that his son continued to receive payments from a key program contractor for four years longer than previously thought.

The U.N. secretary-general’s son was employed by Geneva-based firm Cotecna Inspection SA when it won lucrative U.N. contracts — a coincidence, according to both the company and the world body.

Cotecna spokesman Seth Goldschlager told Agence France-Presse yesterday that Mr. Annan’s son, Kojo Annan, employed first as a trainee and then as a consultant, “was not involved in that contract, nor in its implementation.”

He said the $2,500-a-month payments that continued well after Kojo Annan’s 1998 departure from the firm were required under Swiss law. They were made to prevent him from competing with Cotecna.

News of the younger Mr. Annan’s monthly payments and a combative response by the U.N. staff union, an association representing about 5,000 U.N. staffers, have angered U.S. conservatives, who already are suspicious that the United Nations refuses to cooperate with any number of U.S.-based independent investigations.

Instead, the world body says it will only turn over documents and allow staff to testify before the panel headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

The panel, which now has a staff of about 65 and a $30 million budget, was selected by Mr. Annan and funded by the oil-for-food account.

As accusations about mismanagement and fraud spread all the way from Baghdad to Geneva to U.N. headquarters in New York, the organization has attempted to generate support from within its ranks by e-mailing a petition to support Mr. Annan’s “balanced, fair and substantive approach” to thousands of U.N. staffers in New York and Geneva and in peacekeeping missions around the world.

The unprecedented e-mail, which already has generated 12 pages of signatures — about 2,700 names — was distributed on Monday by the U.N. Department of Administration and Management at the request of senior U.N. officials.

“Many of those accusations — even judgments — are being made without full knowledge of the facts,” says the five-paragraph petition. “Some accusations are totally unfounded and verge on the hysterical.”

“In such a poisoned atmosphere, it is imperative that the U.N. staff members stand together and not play into the hands of critics who would like to destabilize the organization from within,” it says.

The petition does not go into any specific accusations, but hits back at the oil-for-food critics, as well as members of the U.N. staff union, which recently has demanded more accountability from the senior management.

The petition “has taken on a life of its own,” said Andrew Toh, an assistant secretary-general in the management department. “It shows that there is another part of our staff who do not agree with the staff union.”

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