- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2005

In newspapers and on the Internet, stories with headlines like The Washington Post’s “UN Panel Clears Annan” and the Boston Globe’s “Report Clears UN chief of corruption allegations” have appeared, suggesting that the Independent Inquiry Committee headed by Paul Volcker somehow vindicated U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

But nothing could be further from the truth. The IIC report is an indictment of Mr. Annan’s leadership of the United Nations. At a minimum, it raises questions about his judgement in hiring his top aide: his former chef de cabinet (chief of staff), S. Iqbal Riza, a Pakistani who suddenly announced his retirement December 22 — the very day he admitted to the panel that he shredded documents that were likely related to the scandal.

The Volcker committee report is sharply critical of the actions of Mr. Riza, “who permitted documents of potential relevance to the Committee’s investigation to be shredded by secretarial staff during the pendency of the Committee’s investigation.”

According to the Volcker panel, last April Mr. Riza’s assistant wrote him a note expressing concern about filing space, and requested written permission for her to “shred” the following files: “Chronological files for the years 1997, 1998 and 1999 — Office of the Chef de Cabinet.” She received back a handwritten note from Mr. Riza telling her: “Fine. Thanks. (A heavy task!).” The note was initialed by Mr. Riza and dated the same day: April 22. With that, three years worth of records — which almost certainly contained information relevant to the investigation of the oil-for-food scandal — were destroyed.

As the Volcker panel points out, “The timing of the destruction order is striking because of Mr. Riza’s awareness of the Committee’s impending investigation.” Mr. Riza’s order came just one day after the Security Council passed Resolution 1538, welcoming the decision by his boss, Mr. Annan, to appoint an independent panel to investigate the oil-for-food program. Even more troubling is the fact that 10 days earlier, Mr. Riza personally wrote to the heads of the nine U.N.-related agencies that administered the program in northern Iraq to request that they cooperate with the investigation and “take all necessary steps to collect, preserve and secure all files, records and documents…relating to the Oil-for-Food Programme.”

Instead, the file destruction authorized by Mr. Riza continued until December — more than six months after Mr. Annan issued an order of his own ordering all U.N. employees to refrain from destroying any documents related to the oil-for-food program. When first interviewed by the Volcker committee on December 20, Mr. Riza failed to disclose that he had authorized the destruction of three years worth of documents. Two days later, he told the committee that some of the files had been destroyed, and produced a copy of his memorandum authorizing their shredding. That very day, Mr. Riza — one of the most powerful figures at the United Nations — suddenly announced his retirement.

We hope that Mr. Annan does not join Mr. Riza in retirement and stays in his post as secretary-general. So long as Mr. Annan remains at the helm, his very presence will remind people of the serious need to reform the United Nations.

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