- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

My father founded ourcompany, Cotecna Inspection SA, exactly 30 years ago.

Since then, Cotecna has become a world leader in assuring governments of the integrity, effectiveness and efficiency of the systems they use to facilitate trade through their borders and ports. We have helped them enhance revenue through the collection of customs duties while improving their inspection, administrative and information-technology systems. Today, we have more than 4,000 employees in 150 offices in 100 countries. They include highly skilled economists, engineers, information-technologyand telecommunicationsexperts, inspectors and trade and customs experts.

We have succeeded because we have worked hard, used innovative technology for pre-shipment inspection, developed destination inspection and trained local customs administrations to help them reach self-sufficiency. And we are demonstrating the same abilities to support government efforts to enhance port and supply chain security at a time of global terrorism.

All that may surprise people who, because of recent reporting, identify us uniquely with the United Nations oil-for-foodprogramthat brought humanitarian aid to Iraqis at a time when the country was under trade sanctions.

The controversy surrounding the management of that program has put us center stage in the world’s media. We have learned much over the past months about how difficult it is for a company to obtain fair and objective coverage in a supercharged political context. We have felt the collateral damage firsthand in our commercial dealings worldwide because of the presentation of facts, which often has been selective, incomplete and out of context, while confidentiality constraints with respect to the United Nations and the various investigation committees limited our ability to fully rebut damaging allegations and insinuations. Selective leaks have compromised the integrity of the various ongoing investigations and distracted investigators’ valuable resources of time and money.

Yet, for all of this, we do not despair that the facts will speak for themselves, and that, when the investigations are concluded, they will show that our performance of the limited and technical role we played in the program was professional and in accordance with the law and our contractual obligations.

For that reason, we will continue to cooperate fully, as we have from day one, with investigations by Congress and the U.N. Independent Inquiry Committee. And we intend to continue to attempt to set the record straight. We will provide the public with the facts through the various investigations and by responding at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner to misleading and unfair reporting.

What is the reality behind the questions being raised about Cotecna? A few basic questions and answers can help make that clear.

First, what was the role of Cotecna in the U.N. oil-for-food program? It was limited and technical, without any relation with the financial management of the program. Beginning in February1999,Cotecna worked under contract for the United Nations to authenticate shipments of freight arriving in Iraq under the oil-for-food program. Authentication consisted mainly of verifying paperworkaccompanying shipments voluntarily presented by transporters at points of entry on land borders and at ports in Iraq. The company tested foodstuffs to assure “fitness for human consumption,” and inspected other goods on a random basis.

Second, what was our connection with the managementoftheprogram? Cotecna was involved neither in selecting the goods to be imported, establishing their specifications, selecting suppliers, negotiating the prices to be paid nor designating any sales intermediaries or sales commissions. In addition, Cotecna was never involved in the handling of any funds for the payment for any goods.

Third, has Cotecna been providing all of its records? One of the most glaring examples of the frenzy surrounding the subject was the press coverage of an erroneous accusation made by a congressional subcommittee indicating that Cotecna had not provided it with the information that the company had in its files. The subcommittee publicly corrected its mistake. However, two days of dramatic and violent media reporting of those first false assertions tremendously damaged our company’s reputation. That is a price no person or company should pay, especially one that views its integrity as its most important asset and has voluntarily cooperated with all investigators from the outset.

Fourth, what was Cotecna’s relationship with Kojo Annan, the son of the secretary-general of the United Nations? Did that relationship help the company win and renew its contract? Cotecna historically trains numerous young nationals of countries in which it does business and has a policy of employing local talent instead of expatriates, a policy welcomed by both the countries and their young, talented people. In that context, Kojo Annan was a Cotecna employee and then consultant from the fall of 1995 to the end of 1998. During this period, he was focused on the company’s activities in Nigeria and Ghana. Indeed, there wasn’t any connection betweenKojoAnnanand Cotecna work in Iraq that started in February 1999.

Cotecna won the first tender offer from the United Nations in 1992, three years before it had any contact with Kojo Annan. A contract was never implemented because of the refusal of the Iraqi government. That mission would have involved physical inspection at port of loading and full-price verification, rather than mere authentication upon arrival, which became the scope of work under the original 1996 and subsequent 1998 contracts. Moreover, Cotecna lost the 1996 oil-for-food authentication tender offer when Kojo Annan was employed at Cotecna.

Fifth, why did Cotecna continue paying Kojo Annan following his departure from the company at the end of 1998? Cotecna and Kojo Annan undertook a “non-competition”agreement under Swiss law through which Kojo Annan agreed not to work for competitors of Cotecna in West Africa, where important and specific bidding situations were underway when he left. Under Swiss law, such agreements must be accompanied by compensation if they are to be enforceable by the courts. Modest compensation was agreed to by both parties.

Sixth, what is Cotecna’s response to questions raised by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) audit of April 2003? Of the 58 OIOS audit reports dealing with issues related to the UN oil-for-food program, only one was raising observations and making recommendations on Cotecna’s performance. Yet this audit report on Cotecna was the sole report to be unofficially released to the press — with none of the U.N. Office of the Iraq Programme’s final responses on recommendations made public.

Many of this OIOS audit report’s recommendations address the U.N.’s contract-draftingandperformance-monitoring rather than Cotecna’s performance.

Cotecna was not shown a copy of the internal audit report until it was released on a Web site in mid-2004. Since then, Cotecna has been addressing each of the audit report’s analyses and recommendationswithboth Congress and investigators from the U.N. Independent Inquiry Committee. To take one example, what auditors had first labeled failure to comply to the “24-hour duty requirement” was a mere adjustment of our inspectors’ shifts in certain sites, which corresponded to border-opening hours and the availability of Iraqi customs officials. Even when these borders were closed, however, the authentication work of Cotecna’s inspectors continued until at least midnight in Iraq, given the time difference with the U.N. headquarters in New York. Subsequent amendments to the contract took border closing times into account.

Seventh, is the investigation process raising other questions? We assume so, and we intend to respond to continue to demonstrate our track record of professionalism and legal and fair practices.

We are confident that our full cooperation with the various investigations will reveal the truth, and we trust that the media will give Cotecna as prominent a place when that reality is established.

It took 30 years to earn our company’s reputation. We are proud of it and will continue to demonstrate that we merit the confidence which governments and our clients worldwide continue to place in our ability to assist them in assuring the integrity, efficiency and effectiveness of their customs and other administrations.

Robert Massey is the CEO of Cotecna Inspection SA.

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