Tuesday, November 16, 2004

A private intelligence firm hired by the United Nations to look into corruption in the oil-for-food program provided valuable leads to U.N. investigators, but they were ignored, the company’s director says.

“We found it extremely frustrating to be in a position where we could do something significant to dramatically assist the investigation into the oil-for-food fraud and not be allowed to proceed,” said Derek Baldwin, director of operations for IBIS Risk Management Services Inc.

Meanwhile, a U.N. panel investigating the humanitarian program yesterday refused to release documents to two U.S. senators, who last week accused U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a letter of blocking their subcommittee’s probe into the matter.

In his reply to the letter sent by Sens. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, and Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, obtained by Agence France-Presse, U.N. panel chief Paul Volcker pledged to release “all evidence” bearing on its reports and findings but insisted that now was not the time to do so.

Mr. Baldwin said Mr. Volcker’s panel, the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC), tasked his company in June to use its intelligence sources in the Middle East and Europe to assist the probe of the $64 billion program.

In a report produced for the IIC, the company uncovered new information and people with knowledge about the oil-for-food activities in Iraq, Cyprus, Jordan, Kuwait, Iran, Dubai, Egypt, Switzerland and France. U.N. investigators asked IBIS to reveal its sources for the data and then said they wanted to limit the scope of the company’s work to Jordan, Kuwait and Cyprus, Mr. Baldwin said.

“We don’t reveal our sources and methods,” he said, noting that the company has had agents in Iraq since the early 1990s, including former Iraqi intelligence and oil ministry officials.

Three of the company’s sources were killed recently in terrorist violence, he said.

Mr. Baldwin said new information related to the U.N. oil-for-food program uncovered by the company includes:

• A network of Iranians who were involved in smuggling oil under the U.N. program.

• Connections between the U.N. program and a French organized crime figure who U.S. officials said was a conduit for oil-for-food-related payments to French President Jacques Chirac.

• Information on the Swiss-based company Cotecna, which was involved in border inspections of oil-for-food goods. Cotecna at one point during the oil-for-food program hired Mr. Annan’s son as a consultant.

• Data on the activities of an Egyptian oil broker who took part in illegal activities related to the oil-for-food program.

“As an experienced investigator, it became clear to me that the U.N. is failing to act on the leads and intel streams developed by us in specific areas where we were asked to develop leads and intel streams,” said Mr. Baldwin, a fraud investigator and former intelligence official. “That is inexplicable.”

A spokesman for the IIC did not return telephone calls seeking comment on Mr. Baldwin’s statements.

Mr. Baldwin said he could only guess why the U.N. investigation panel did not pursue the leads. He said it was either the result of incompetence or because the U.N. wants to ignore information that could pose problems for the world body.

He said his company pulled out of its agreement to work with the U.N. panel after the IIC kept asking the company to reveal its sources.

“They kept telling us they were going to hire us. We had some very, very good sources and directions to go in, and they just kept stalling,” Mr. Baldwin said. “It’s the strangest investigation we’ve ever been involved in, and we withdrew in order to preserve our own credibility with our own sources and our people.”

He said it was clear from his experience that the IIC is not aggressively pursuing the investigation of corruption in the humanitarian program.

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