Tuesday, December 7, 2004

House Republicans yesterday called for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to resign in light of the oil-for-food scandal and threatened to withhold funding from the United Nations unless it fully cooperates with investigators.

“The oil-for-food program is a scandal of enormous proportions, and it may reach into the highest levels of leadership at the U.N.,” said Rep. Roger Wicker, the Mississippi Republican who introduced a resolution yesterday calling for Mr. Annan to resign.

“I don’t think we’ll get all the facts as long as Mr. Annan is remaining at the helm,” Mr. Wicker said.

Nineteen Republicans and one Democrat — Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi — had signed the resolution, as of late yesterday.

Calls for Mr. Annan to step down already have come from Sen. Norm Coleman, the Minnesota Republican who is heading the main congressional inquiry into accusations of fraud, bribery and corruption in the United Nations’ administration of the Iraq oil-for-food program.

Mr. Coleman’s Senate inquiry already has determined that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime skimmed billions of dollars from the program, which allowed Iraq to sell small amounts of oil to pay for food and humanitarian assistance while it was under U.N. sanctions.

A separate group of Republicans led by Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican and member of the House International Relations Committee, yesterday pushed legislation that would tie the United States’ U.N. funding to the organization’s cooperation with investigators.

The corruption accusations have prompted numerous investigations, including several congressional inquiries, a U.S. Treasury Department investigation and a U.N.-commissioned inquiry conducted by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

But Mr. Flake and other Republicans say the United Nations is not cooperating with investigators, is withholding information, and has denied Mr. Volcker’s investigation any subpoena power to get information.

“I’m convinced that the only way we can ensure the U.N.’s full cooperation is with the threat of withholding our funding,” Mr. Flake said.

“We want to shine the light of day on the U.N.,” said Rep. Scott Garrett, New Jersey Republican.

Under Mr. Flake’s bill, which has 77 co-sponsors, Congress would withhold 10 percent of its U.N. funding in fiscal 2005 and 20 percent in fiscal 2006, until President Bush certifies that the United Nations has agreed to certain standards laid out in the bill. The bill calls for full disclosure of documents related to the oil-for-food program, asks U.N. officials to waive diplomatic immunity, and asks any U.N. official who benefited from the program to reimburse the full amount that was improperly received.

Mr. Flake’s bill did not call for Mr. Annan’s ouster because he fears that would garner all the attention and that deeper problems at the United Nations would be ignored. But other Republicans supporting Mr. Flake’s bill also called for Mr. Annan to leave.

“Kofi Annan must go,” said Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican. “I think its time we get someone up there that’s responsible, who we can trust.”

Mr. Garrett added, “The larger question is whether he should be in jail.”

Mr. Annan in October pledged cooperation to “get to the bottom” of the oil-for-food matter, but since then, investigators have complained of problems.

There is growing evidence that Saddam used his illegal oil-for-food revenue to bribe officials in France, Russia and other nations. It also has been revealed that Mr. Annan’s son Kojo accepted money from a Swiss company that had a contract with the oil-for-food program.

Mr. Flake’s bill notes that documents in the files of the former Iraqi Oil Ministry indicate that Benon Sevan, the executive director of the oil-for-food program, and other U.N. officials may have been connected to an illicit scheme in which hundreds of foreign officials, businessmen and political groups were allowed to trade in Iraqi oil at below-market prices.

Mr. Burton added that some of the billions of dollars Saddam skimmed from the program was given to terrorists and, as a result, “people were killed.”

He said it is high time that Congress stop complaining about the United Nations and do something.

“I hope the Congress of the United States will finally act on this issue,” he said.

President Bush has demanded “full disclosure” from the United Nations on the oil-for-food scandal but so far has stopped short of calling for Mr. Annan’s resignation.

A House International Relations Committee inquiry team returned this weekend from an investigative trip to Europe and will spend the next several months preparing a report on the oil-for-food scandal.

Committee chairman Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, has not signed on to either Mr. Wicker’s resolution or Mr. Flake’s bill in light of the pending panel investigation, but Hyde spokesman Sam Stratman said, “this scandal is growing by the day.”

Mr. Flake said the scandal has weakened the United Nations’ power. The group could have stepped in and helped with the troubled Ukrainian election, he said, but it is unable to do so because of the scandal.

“Oil-for-food is an international disgrace that has become a global scandal,” said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, who said Mr. Flake’s bill is “sending the message to the U.N. that it’s time to put your house in order.”

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