NEW YORK -- Two senior investigators with the U.N. committee probing corruption in the oil-for-food program have resigned in protest, saying they think a report that cleared Kofi Annan of meddling in the $64 billion operation was too soft on the secretary-general, a panel member confirmed yesterday.
The investigators felt the Independent Inquiry Committee, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, played down findings critical of Mr. Annan when it released an interim report in late March related to his son, said Mark Pieth, one of three leaders of the committee.
"You follow a trail and you want to see people pick it up," Mr. Pieth told the Associated Press, referring to the two top investigators who left. "What we did was we told the story that they found, but we made different conclusions than they would have."
The investigators were identified as Robert Parton and Miranda Duncan.
Mr. Parton, as the senior investigative counsel for oil-for-food, had a wide purview. He was responsible for investigations into the procurement of companies under the oil-for-food program, and he was the lead investigator on issues pertaining to charges of impropriety relating to the secretary-general and his son, Kojo Annan. Miss Duncan worked on Mr. Parton's team.
Mr. Parton, a lawyer and former FBI agent who has worked on a hostage-rescue team abroad, confirmed yesterday that he resigned a week ago, but he declined further comment.
Miss Duncan did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages left at the Rockefeller Family Fund, where she is a member of the board. She is a granddaughter of billionaire David Rockefeller.
The committee's interim report last month faulted Mr. Annan's management of the oil-for-food program, which was set up to help ordinary Iraqis cope with crippling U.N. sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein's regime after his 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The report also said Mr. Annan didn't properly investigate potential conflicts of interest surrounding a U.N. contract awarded to the Swiss employer of Kojo Annan. The investigators criticized Kofi Annan for refusing to push his top advisers further after they conducted a hasty, 24-hour investigation relating to his son and found nothing amiss.
But the interim report cleared the secretary-general of trying to influence the awarding of the $10 million-a-year Swiss contract and said he didn't violate U.N. rules.
Mr. Annan said the report exonerated him -- something Mr. Pieth denied at the time -- and the secretary-general said he had no plans to resign. The investigation into Kojo Annan continues.
The oil-for-food scandal is among a series of problems that have plagued the United Nations in recent months. U.N. peacekeepers have also been accused of sexual misconduct in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other missions, while the former U.N. refugee chief was accused of sexual harassment.
Mr. Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said the resignations were an internal committee matter and refused to comment. U.N. officials have repeatedly said the report speaks for itself.
A spokeswoman at Mr. Volcker's committee, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity, said the resignations came after the investigators had completed the work they signed up to do.
Mr. Pieth acknowledged disagreements within the committee about how to interpret the evidence on Mr. Annan, but he denied that investigators were censored. He also praised the work of Miss Duncan and Mr. Parton.
"I have high esteem for both Robert and Miranda," Mr. Pieth said. "It's not a bad parting. I think they are very capable people."
Mr. Pieth added, however, that he thought the two investigators got "personally very involved" in the probe and so grew upset. "Again, this is the nature of things," he said.
The inquiry committee has more than 70 investigators probing all aspects of oil-for-food, and Miss Duncan and Mr. Parton were two of its most senior investigators.