- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2005

U.S. lawmakers expressed confidence yesterday they will overcome U.N. efforts to block their access to a former U.N. investigator into the oil-for-food scandal who complained the probe was too soft on Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

A federal court Monday issued a 10-day restraining order to block the investigator, Robert Parton, from complying with two congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony on the $64 billion Iraq oil-for-food program, the biggest financial scandal in the world body’s history.

The U.N.-appointed Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC), headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, argued that the subpoenas could compromise the IIC’s work and endanger the lives of witnesses who had cooperated with the U.N. probe.

“We’re in a cooling-off period, but we’re going to work this out,” said Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs investigations subcommittee probing the program.

“We are going to get access to Robert Parton and we are going to be able to look at documents,” Mr. Coleman said in an interview with Fox News.

Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican and chairman of a separate House inquiry, said he expected Congress, the United Nations and Mr. Parton to come to an agreement.

“I continue to believe that Congress can get the information we need while maintaining the integrity of the Volcker investigation,” he said.

Mr. Coleman said he hoped to reach a deal with Mr. Volcker, but said charges that the IIC had “soft-pedaled” its findings were hurting the U.N. investigation.

“There’s a cloud that hangs over the investigation,” Mr. Coleman said. “That doesn’t serve Volcker well.”

The order by U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina does not affect a third subpoena for oil-for-food-related documents already issued by House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican.

Mr. Parton last week turned over to the House committee more than a half-dozen boxes of IIC documents and audiotapes about Mr. Annan and the oil-for-food scandal, sparking the unusual legal battle between the United Nations and Congress.

The investigator and a colleague resigned from the $30 million Volcker probe last month after the IIC issued an interim report that Mr. Annan claimed “exonerated” him on a charge that he had steered a key oil-for-food contract to a Swiss firm that employed his son, Kojo.

Mr. Hyde’s committee has refused to characterize what it has found in Mr. Parton’s files. Because the restraining order only relates to the new subpoenas, the committee says it will not return the documents in its possession to Mr. Volcker’s panel.

In the filing with the district court, IIC attorney Susan Ringler argued that turning the internal documents over to Congress would violate the U.N.’s legal immunity and could cause “irreparable harm” to the Volcker investigation.

U.N. attorneys also say Mr. Parton violated a confidentiality agreement when he complied with the first House subpoena, and they are demanding he return all oil-for-food documents still in his possession.

Lawmakers have shown little interest in an offer Mr. Volcker made last week to allow Mr. Parton to issue a public statement on his reservations about Mr. Annan if the congressional subpoenas were withdrawn.

Mr. Parton said in a statement released through his attorney that he made copies of IIC files “because of my concern that the investigative process and conclusions were flawed.” He said he had intended to keep them private but felt he could not defy the congressional subpoena.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey yesterday expressed support for the congressional probes into the oil-for-food scandal.

“We support the work of the [Volcker committee], but we also believe it’s important for the U.S. Congress to be able to have a look at this issue and make sure it is comfortable with the facts and that it understands what happened,” he said.

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