- The Washington Times - Friday, May 6, 2005

Paul Volcker, the head of the U.N.-appointed panel probing the oil-for-food scandal, yesterday asked Congress to drop its efforts to force an investigator who resigned from the panel to testify about any top-level corruption at the world body.

Mr. Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman, warned the integrity of his investigation and the safety of witnesses interviewed by the committee both could be at stake if U.S. lawmakers follow through on subpoenas for Robert Parton’s appearance.

Mr. Parton, a former FBI agent, and a fellow investigator quit Mr. Volcker’s $30 million investigation last month to protest the soft treatment they felt was given to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Mr. Volcker also said the congressional committees probing the $10 billion Iraq oil-for-food scandal should immediately return more than a half-dozen boxes of documents Mr. Parton turned over to the House International Relations Committee Thursday in response to a subpoena.

“An overriding concern of the committee is to safeguard the security of witnesses whose lives, quite literally, would be at risk if information about their cooperation became known,” Mr. Volcker told reporters at a press conference in New York.

At least two other congressional committees have subpoenaed Mr. Parton and Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican and chairman of a House Government Reform subcommittee investigating the oil-for-food scandal, has scheduled a hearing early next week to hear Mr. Parton.

“The bottom line is, we don’t really have confidence in [Mr. Volcker’s] report” dealing with Mr. Annan, Mr. Shays told Fox News in an interview yesterday.

The central dispute concerns Mr. Annan’s role in the awarding of a key oil-for-food contract in 1998 to a Swiss firm that employed his son, Kojo.

Mr. Volcker’s panel in a March 29 interim report concluded there was no “reasonably sufficient evidence” that the senior Mr. Annan had interfered with the contract, a finding the secretary-general immediately called an “exoneration” of the most serious charge against him.

Among the documents Mr. Parton is believed to have turned over to Congress are earlier drafts of the report that took a much tougher stance on Mr. Annan’s conduct.

The oil-for-food program, which operated in Iraq until 2003, has become the biggest financial scandal in United Nations history.

U.S. government investigators believe dictator Saddam Hussein was able to siphon off about $10 billion through oil smuggling, kickbacks and bribes, and some of Mr. Annan’s own subordinates have been implicated in the scandal.

Mr. Volcker said yesterday that in exchange for U.S. lawmakers withdrawing their subpoenas, his panel was willing to allow Mr. Parton to make a public statement on his disagreements with the report’s conclusions about Mr. Annan’s role.

Mr. Shays said in a statement that he might be willing to consider the compromise.

“While the details of such a public statement are yet to be worked out, I believe a voluntary presentation by Mr. Parton could meet Congress’ legitimate need for information while maintaining the integrity of the Volcker Committee’s investigation,” he said.

Mr. Volcker declined to say what the U.N. panel would do if the congressional committees decline to drop their subpoenas.

“We are an institution that can hire lawyers and bring suit,” he said, but he quickly added that “we have made no decisions on any of those matters.”

Richard J. Goldstone, a South African judge and a member of Mr. Volcker’s three-man investigating committee, said at the press conference that Mr. Parton’s cooperation with Capitol Hill committees would violate the U.N. inquiry’s immunity and also a confidentiality agreement he signed when he joined the inquiry last year.

Mr. Parton could not waive his immunity on oil-for-food matters to testify in Washington even if he wanted to, Mr. Goldstone said.

But Mr. Parton’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, said in a statement his client had agreed to cooperate with U.S. lawmakers because he was never explicitly told by the United Nations or the Volcker panel that he could defy a congressional subpoena.

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