- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Kojo Annan, the son of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, played a far more extensive role than previously revealed in a company that won a key contract under the scandal-plagued Iraq oil-for-food program, Senate investigators have learned.

Investigators also have uncovered documents suggesting that Benon Sevan, the U.N. official who oversaw the seven-year program and was suspended last week, had a much more direct interest in laundered oil deals handed out as bribes by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein under the program. One Iraqi internal investigation put Mr. Sevan’s profits at $1.2 million, nearly 10 times the previous estimate.

The revelations are to be aired today at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs permanent subcommittee on investigations, one of a half-dozen congressional panels investigating the $10 billion-plus scandal.

U.S. government investigators estimate that Saddam skimmed as much as $10 billion from the 1996-2003 program, which was designed to allow Iraq, laboring under strict international sanctions imposed after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, to sell its oil to purchase tightly regulated food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies.

The revelations seem almost certain to put new heat on the embattled U.N. secretary-general, who has faced sharp criticism for his overall management of the Iraq program and for the questions about his son’s potential conflicts.

Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican and chairman of the subcommittee, was the first senior figure on Capitol Hill to call for the secretary-general to step down over the oil-for-food scandal.

Cotecna, the Switzerland-based firm that employed Kojo Annan as a consultant, won a major contract to inspect oil-for-food shipments in late 1998. The company never disclosed the younger Mr. Annan’s relationship in the bidding for the contract, and has insisted that his work was restricted to two African countries and never dealt with Iraq.

But Mr. Annan, in a letter to Cotecna executives just months before the contract was awarded, wrote of putting in place for the company “a ‘machinery’ which will be centered in New York that will facilitate the continuation of contacts established and assist in developing new contacts in the future.”

“This machinery, due to its global nature and its longevity, is as important overall as any other contacts [we have] made,” he continued. Inspectors also found that Kojo Annan was directed to spend two weeks at the U.N. General Assembly exploring potential business deals in the fall of 1998, but that no record of his activities while in New York was in the company’s files.

Kojo Annan, interviewed by committee investigators at an undisclosed location on Friday, told them that he could not recall the nature of the “machinery” he had mentioned in his memo, why it was to be based in New York and why it would be global in nature.

“Those responses leave much to be desired,” a Senate investigator said yesterday, briefing reporters on background.

Cotecna Chief Executive Officer Robert M. Massey has denied any wrongdoing in the awarding of the contract. He will testify at the hearing.

The Senate findings also spell fresh trouble for Mr. Sevan. The Cypriot diplomat has denied wrongdoing, but a U.N.-appointed panel led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker late last month detailed the close relationship between Mr. Sevan and a Panama-based company that was given lucrative allocations by Saddam’s ministers to sell oil under the program.

The Volcker report spoke of about $160,000 in suspicious payments Mr. Sevan received at a time when the Panamanian company was receiving the Iraqi oil business.

But Senate investigators yesterday displayed letters written by Iraqi oil officials both under Saddam and after his regime fell in 2003 that listed Mr. Sevan himself as the recipient of the oil allocations, which were then passed along to the Panamanian company. One Iraqi document put Mr. Sevan’s proceeds from an allocation of 9.3 million barrels of crude oil at $1.2 million.

“What we have uncovered suggests that Benon Sevan himself got the commissions that came from passing along the oil allocations,” said a Senate staffer.

A U.N. spokesman said last night that Dileep Nair, the U.N. undersecretary-general for internal oversight services, would not appear at the hearing, despite an invitation to testify.

The spokesman said U.N. officials had decided instead to make Dagfinn Knutsen, the chief auditor of the oil-for-food program, available to the subcommittee and other congressional investigative panels in the future.

The time has not been set, the spokesman said, adding that the United Nations is struggling to meet the requests of both the Volcker panel and the numerous other bodies probing the program.

Mr. Volcker’s $30 million investigation has kept a tight rein on internal U.N. documents, releasing only a series of 58 oil-for-food internal audits. Senate investigators say Mr. Volcker’s panel at first tried to stop third-party contractors from cooperating with the congressional probe, but later withdrew its objections.

But Senate investigators said yesterday that they remained frustrated by the lack of access to key personnel and documents as they try to track the scandal.

“We’re operating with some very large blind spots because we do not have the access to U.N. officials and regulations that we would like,” one staffer said.

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