- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

A powerful House Republican yesterday issued subpoenas to two key contractors in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal, as lawmakers said they might expand their probe of financial mismanagement to more than a dozen agencies of the world body.

Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the International Relations Committee, is seeking payment records from BNP Paribas, the giant French bank that handled the accounts for the Iraq program, and personnel records from Geneva-based Cotecna Inspection SA, which employed the son of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan even as it held a major monitoring contract for program.

Mr. Hyde and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican and chairman of the new International Relations subcommittee on investigations and oversight, asked Mr. Annan yesterday for copies of internal audits on 16 other specialized U.N. agencies.

In light of revelations of suspected U.N. wrongdoing, “we have now concluded that a wider problem of corruption and mismanagement in the U.N. might exist.”

The subpoenas come on the heels of last week’s 219-page interim report by a U.N.-appointed panel investigating the oil-for-food scandal. Mr. Annan tapped former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to head the $30 million probe.

The program, which ran from 1997 to 2003, was designed to allow the regime of Saddam Hussein, laboring under heavy international sanctions, to sell oil to buy food and other humanitarian goods for his people.

But investigators now think Saddam was able to skim off $10 billion or more during the period from secret oil sales and kickbacks on oil-for-food contracts. Benon Sevan, the U.N. official who ran the program, has been suspended by Mr. Annan amid suspicions he solicited discount vouchers to sell oil from Saddam.

In New York, U.N. officials said yesterday they had mailed a list of charges to Mr. Sevan and to Joseph Stephanides, another U.N. official who dealt with oil-for-food contracts.

Mr. Sevan, who was criticized in the Volcker report, has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr. Rohrabacher said the Volcker report showed that the oil-for-food program “was tainted by corruption, rank political considerations and incompetence from the very start.”

He said he and Mr. Hyde plan to include a major reform package for the United Nations in the foreign relations authorization bill, demanding changes to the U.N. procurement, finance, personnel and auditing functions.

“We will make it a priority of our committee to achieve passage of legislation to reform the U.N. this year,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.

Both Republican lawmakers cited new evidence of potential fraud at the Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization, the U.N.-affiliated international weather agency.

Investigators think lax oversight and poor financial controls allowed a Sudanese employee of the WMO to steal as much as $3 million since 2000. The employee now is missing and reportedly tried to fake his own death to cover his tracks.

The story was first reported yesterday by Fox News and the New York Times.

Betsy Pisik in New York contributed to this article.


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