- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2005

NEW YORK — The United Nations panel investigating the Iraq oil-for-food scandal said yesterday it is “urgently reviewing” a 1998 memo in which U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appears to endorse a bid by the Swiss firm Cotecna to monitor the program.

If accurate, the memo would contradict a claim by Mr. Annan that he did not know about the bid by Cotecna at the time — a potential conflict of interest because Cotecna employed Mr. Annan’s son, Kojo Annan.

It would also appear to contradict a preliminary report by the investigating panel, headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, that Mr. Annan did not improperly influence the contract being awarded to Cotecna.

U.N. officials said yesterday that they had reviewed logs of Mr. Annan’s contacts and had found no record of a Dec. 4, 1998, meeting in Paris between Mr. Annan and Michael Wilson, a former Cotecna vice president and longtime Annan family friend.

“There is no mention in that trip record of any exchange with Michael Wilson,” said U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard, who noted that his office had contacted Mr. Annan, as well as the coordinator of the trip where the meeting is said to have taken place.

Mr. Eckhard said there is no entry of a telephone conversation, formal meeting or informal contact with the former Cotecna executive.

According to the memo, first reported in yesterday’s editions of the New York Times, Cotecna officials had “brief discussions with the SG and his entourage” and said they were told that “we could count on their support.”

Mr. Eckhard said it was not possible that Mr. Annan, who has consistently denied discussing the Cotecna contract with his son or company officials, could have endorsed the deal.

“That could not have come from the secretary-general because he had no knowledge that Cotecna was a contender for that contract,” Mr. Eckhard told reporters yesterday.

Mr. Annan has consistently denied knowing that Cotecna, which at the time employed his son, was bidding for the contract to inspect and verify merchandise imported by Iraq under the humanitarian program.

The Geneva-based company won the nearly $10 million contract in late 1998, and investigators charge that it continued to pay the younger Mr. Annan long after he told his father that he had broken all ties with the company.

The memo, provided to the newspaper by an unnamed consultant, was written by Mr. Wilson after a meeting with Mr. Annan and his entourage.

The newspaper quoted the consultant as saying it was discovered in files by administrators searching for documents related to the tangled circumstances of Cotecna’s payments to Kojo Annan.

The meeting, if there was one, appears to have occurred on the sidelines of a summit of Francophone African leaders in Paris.

Mr. Volcker’s U.N.-sanctioned Independent Inquiry Committee said it is “urgently reviewing newly disclosed information concerning possible links between U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and representatives of Cotecna Inspection Services, a Swiss contractor based in Geneva that bid for contracts under the Oil-for-Food Program while the Secretary-General’s son, Kojo Annan, was a consultant for the company.”

The panel, which is aiming to wrap up its $20 million investigation by late summer, said yesterday it will conduct additional investigations based on the “new information.”

Mr. Annan has acknowledged meeting Mr. Wilson and Cotecna Chairman Robert Massey around that time, after initially telling investigators that he had no contact with the firm.

The Paris meeting is detailed in the Volcker committee’s preliminary report released on March 29.

That report said Mr. Annan had not exercised “affirmative or improper influence” in awarding Cotecna the contract, but criticized his overall management of the $69 billion oil-for-food program.

Panel investigators have also repeatedly criticized Kojo Annan for refusing to disclose Cotecna payments and answer questions from the panel.

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