- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

NEW YORK — U.N. officials said yesterday that financial-disclosure forms filed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and more than 1,500 staff members must be kept confidential to protect the staff members from sometimes despotic governments in their home countries.

The United Nations “is not a national government,” said Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for Mr. Annan, in explaining the decision not to release the disclosures, many of which were ordered in response to international outrage over the oil-for-food scandal.

“You have a lot of people here who are nationals of governments. They may be in the opposition, or the government might be a dictatorship, and so on,” Mr. Dujarric said. “If you have a Zimbabwean [staffer] who is not in the graces of [President Robert] Mugabe, for his form to be made public could put him in jeopardy.”

Mr. Annan expanded the number of U.N. staffers who must file financial-disclosure forms in response to the oil-for-food scandal, in which massive corruption was found in a United Nations-administered program to allow dictator Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to sell some oil and purchase humanitarian goods.

Several procurement officers were fired or suspended because of the scandal, and the U.S. Justice Department is considering whether to file charges.

An extensive investigation headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker cleared Mr. Annan of any personal wrongdoing. But U.S. officials are trying to get a more complete picture of the finances of other senior U.N. officials whom they suspect of accepting housing subsidies from their governments in violation of U.N. rules.

“We have been informed there are at least eight U.N. officials who receive housing subsidies from their home governments,” said Richard Grenell, spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton. “There are lots of unresolved questions [which] we feel it’s important to get resolved by the end of the year.”

U.N. officials have acknowledged that Mr. Annan personally approves such subsidies “on an exceptional basis” but said Sept. 12 that only one official currently receives that benefit.

The disclosure forms are filed with the U.N. Ethics Office — also established by Mr. Annan in response to the scandal — and are to be reviewed for improprieties by an outside auditing company, which has not been hired. About 90 percent of the 1,800 staffers required to file the forms have done so, said Nancy Hurtz-Sokya, the interim head of the ethics office.

Mr. Annan, who leaves office at the end of December, had promised to file his own disclosure form, even though he is not legally required to do so because he is not technically a staff member of the United Nations.

He did not file the form until Sept. 22, nearly 10 months after he made the promise. A Secretariat official said he had been delaying at the advice of his legal counsel, who was concerned about setting a precedent for future secretaries-general.

Some American lawmakers counter that it is essential that Mr. Annan set an example for his successors of complete transparency.

“I would say the most important thing is to re-establish trust in the United Nations,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican. “Sixty-eight percent of the [American] people don’t” trust the organization, based on a recent poll.

“If Kofi Annan wants to leave any legacy besides scandal and fraud, he ought to leave a legacy of setting an example to make it easy for the next leaders to rebuild confidence in the U.N.”

It will be difficult to continue U.S. funding for the organization if Congress can’t trust U.N. finances and the character of its leaders, Mr. Coburn added.

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