- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 14, 2005

Jennifer Wilbanks of Duluth, Ga., caused a major media stir two weeks ago by running off to Las Vegas after developing a case of wedding jitters. The hordes of media gathered outside her door dubbed her the “Runaway Bride.”

If the media that covered the Jennifer Wilbanks story are looking for another sensational missing persons case to investigate, they should consider heading to New York — the United Nations to be specific — where there is soon likely to be a runaway secretary-general.

Evidence indicates Kofi Annan may be preparing to pack his Armani bags and trade in his mansion on New York’s Sutton Place for a farm in Ghana. Meryl Gordon of New York magazine wrote a long profile of Mr. Annan in which the secretary-general hinted his time in presiding over the corruption and scandal of the United Nations could be limited.

“I’ve thought about it,” Mr. Annan confessed when asked if he has considered resigning before his term is up in 2006. Informing Mr. Annan there is open speculation among U.N. ambassadors the secretary-general will step down later this year, Miss Gordon asked Mr. Annan if the rumors were true.

“That’s a question for the future,” Mr. Kofi said. “In life you cannot rule out, you cannot say never or forever.” Mr. Annan has confided in friends and discussed the idea with his wife, who is sympathetic to him packing it in early. But Mr. Annan has continued to fight for his job because he doesn’t want to give in to the “lynch mob” out to “destroy” him.

But this so called “lynch mob” hasn’t invented the numerous controversies likely to make Kofi Annan yet one more U.N. secretary-general who has had to walk away in disgrace.

For years now, Kofi Annan has faced one embarrassment after another at the U.N. There is widespread sexual abuse of children by U.N. peacekeepers in the Congo; allegations of embezzlement at the World Meteorological Association; and mismanagement and corruption within the U.N. system. Six months ago the U.N. staff issued a historic “vote of no confidence” in Kofi Annan.

But the mother of all scandals at the U.N. is the ongoing Oil-for-Food investigation. In March, Paul Volcker, head of the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) looking into the program, released the second installment of his findings. By many accounts the report was too soft on Mr. Annan. The committee slapped Mr. Annan’s wrist for failing to properly manage the program, and gave him a pass on whether he used his influence to award a $10 million contract to Cotecna, a Swiss company that employed his son Kojo.

Mr. Annan claimed he was “exonerated” by the committee’s findings and confidently declared “Hell no” when asked if he would resign. But like a man with something to hide, the secretary-general quickly dashed out of the press room leaving a normally docile U.N. press corps seething that he would not answer questions about the report.

Today the light shining on Kofi Annan is hotter and brighter than ever. Frustrated by the echo chamber resounding that Mr. Annan had been exonerated, Mr. Volcker was forced to dispute the claim. Mr. Volcker’s own independence has been questioned. In an effort to save his reputation and let the world know the Mr. Annan was not yet in the clear, he told Fox News, “I thought we criticized [Kofi Annan] rather severely.”

Mr. Volcker’s report also included the revelation that Iqbal Riza, Kofi Annan’s former chief-of-staff, destroyed thousands of U.N. documents, some of which may have pertained to the Oil-for-Food program. The purge, coincidentally enough, began the day after the U.N. Security Council authorized an investigation into the Oil-for-Food program and violated Mr. Riza’s own order to U.N. staff to protect documents related to the program. Mr. Annan still refuses to hold Mr. Riza accountable for the destruction of potential evidence.

The interim Volcker report also triggered the voluntary departure of the committee’s top two investigators in protest of the report as too soft on Kofi Annan. One of them, Robert Parton, now is cooperating with congressional investigators and has turned over boxes of evidence — reportedly damning to Mr. Annan — to the House International Relations Committee.

Even Mr. Annan’s top aides are not confident the secretary-general can weather the storm. In an interview with Der Spiegel, Mr. Annan’s new chief of staff, Mark Malloch Brown, admitted the Oil-for-Food allegations were “serious” and have “raised questions … about Kofi Annan’s integrity.” Shashi Tharoor, U.N. communications director who has served many years with Mr. Annan, told The Washington Post the secretary-general’s “honeymoon has ended.”

More than 60 members of Congress have called on Kofi Annan to resign and the Bush administration has hinted it would welcome his departure as well.

Like Jennifer Wilbanks, it is time for Kofi Annan to run far away. But with the damage Mr. Annan has done the U.N., don’t expect any search parties to be sent out to bring him back.

Thomas P. Kilgannon is president of Freedom Alliance, an organization dedicated to preserving U.S. sovereignty.

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