- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — The independent panel investigating corruption in the multibillion-dollar U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq said yesterday it was pursuing claims of misconduct by U.N. staff and seeking access to Iraqi records.

Paul Volcker, the former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman appointed last month by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to lead the inquiry, said he expected to compile his first interim report within three months. But he cautioned that a full investigation likely will require at least a year.

“The part that we expect will take the longest … is what went on in Iraq with the contractors, with the overcharging, the undercharging, kickbacks, smuggling” Mr. Volcker said.

The inquiry’s initial activities included a visit to Baghdad last week by a three-member team trying to establish contact “at appropriate levels” in the Iraqi government and the U.S.-led coalition, he said.

Mr. Volcker said the inquiry’s priority was to investigate reports of misconduct by U.N. staff, but that discussions about accessing Iraqi records “as needed” were under way with the board of the Supreme Audit Authority of Iraq, its accounting firm and the coalition.

“Those records are particularly important for identifying the conduct of outside contractors and the flow of funds,” Mr. Volcker said.

Earlier yesterday, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police raided the residence of Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, a member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council. Police seized computers, documents related to the oil-for-food program, a report by the Oil Ministry to the Governing Council and letters from the council, Mr. Chalabi said in Baghdad. Other reports said the raid was conducted by Iraqi police and American civilian contractors.

The oil-for-food program, which began in December 1996 and ended in November, was launched to help Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions.

The United Nations cannot account for an estimated $10 billion from the program.

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