Tuesday, May 10, 2005

From combined dispatches

NEW YORK — The United Nations won an initial victory in federal court yesterday blocking congressional efforts to obtain documents a former investigator took with him when he quit a probe of the Iraq oil-for-food program.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington issued the temporary restraining order in the bid by the U.N.-appointed Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) to quash congressional subpoenas for Robert Parton. The former FBI agent resigned from the panel in April because he thought it was too soft on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The court order freezes the legal issues, giving a 10-day window for Mr. Parton to resolve the dispute with the U.N. probe and Congress.

“People around the world, including in Iraq, spoke to us on condition the interviews would remain strictly confidential,” said Michael Holtzman, spokesman for the IIC in New York. “We want to prevent him from disseminating the materials he stole.”

Mr. Parton has been subpoenaed by three congressional committees looking into the oil-for-food program after his resignation came to light.

On Thursday, Mr. Parton turned over boxes of documents from the committee to the House International Relations Committee, led by Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican.

A congressional source told The Washington Times yesterday that he thought the United Nations went to court because it wanted Mr. Parton “shut down from providing documents to anyone else.”

The source said Mr. Parton has not responded to separate subpoenas issued by Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, and Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, who also are examining the oil-for-food scandal.

In the court documents, filed before Judge Urbina, the U.N. brief said Mr. Parton had agreed, in writing, to respect the confidentiality of the investigation.

“In fact, however, Mr. Parton appears to have unlawfully removed large quantities of Independent Inquiry Committee materials,” the U.N. complaint said.

Lanny Davis, Mr. Parton’s attorney, said in a statement that his client provided information to Congress because he was forced to do so by a subpoena.

In his own statement, Mr. Parton said he kept copies of “certain materials relating to the areas of the investigation for which I was responsible because of my concern that the investigative process and conclusions were flawed.”

The IIC issued a statement yesterday saying the committee “has gone to court to restrain a former staff person from disseminating highly sensitive documents.”

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