- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2005

In January, Robert Massey, CEO of Cotecna Inspection SA — a Swiss company which was paying the son of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan during the period it oversaw shipments of goods into Iraq through the U.N. oil-for-food program — wrote an Op-Ed for this newspaper in which he tried to respond to questions about his firm’s performance.

Mr. Massey vowed “to set the record straight” about Cotecna’s work. He wrote that the company was cooperating with the Independent Inquiry Committee headed by Paul Volcker, and suggested that the controversy resulted from a media frenzy based on sensationalism. Unfortunately for Cotecna, the latest report by the Volcker panel, issued March 29, does not square with Mr. Massey’s protestations of the company’s innocence. Instead, it alleges that Cotecna has repeatedly attempted to deceive investigators about its business relationship with the secretary-general’s son, Kojo.

On the day Mr. Massey’s Op-Ed appeared in The Washington Times, our occompanying editorial noted that Kojo’s presence on Cotecna’s payroll would have been at most a minor issue if there had not been serious questions raised about the company’s performance on the oil-for-food program to begin with. But the reality was that Cotecna’s stewardship — the firm was responsible for overseeing the shipments of goods to Iraq from February 1999 until it expired in 2003 — was marred by problems.

For example, in an April 2003 audit of Cotecna’s work, the U.N.’s Office of Internal Oversight Services said that the company failed to post inspectors at certain sites around the clock. In his Op-Ed, Mr. Massey appeared to suggest that this had been a misunderstanding that was resolved. But in fact it was just one of many problems highlighted in the OIOS audit, which went on for more than 20 pages criticizing Cotecna’s work. Problems documented by UN auditors included checkpoints with inadequate numbers of inspection stations and extra costs that should have been borne by Cotecna which instead were paid by the United Nations — using funds that should have been spent to help the Iraqi people who were suffering under sanctions.

If anything, the March 29 interim report released by the IIC is even more disturbing, because it says that Cotecna and Kojo Annan failed to come clean about their relationship, including the fact that Cotecna paid the younger Mr. Annan hundreds of thousands of dollars after he left the company in 1998. Mark Pieth, an investigator for the committee, said afterward that Cotecna officials continually deceived investigators about their relationship with Kojo. He noted that a Cotecna executive falsely represented last year that Mr. Annan was not paid any money after leaving the firm seven years ago.

Unfortunately, it is now impossible to obtain the March 29 report on Cotecna from the United Nations/IIC Web site because the document posted there has been corrupted. In the interest of openness and transparency, the United Nations needs to correct this problem at once so that people can print out the 144-page document and see for themselves what investigators said about Cotecna’s truthfulness and cooperation.

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