Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Back to the oil-for-food scandal

Not that it has ever gone away. In fact, unnoticed by the British media and stolidly ignored by most of the European one, the scandal rumbles on and on, threatening to engulf the whole of the UN.

After the various complaints that the UN has been obstructing the several committees of enquiry set up by Congress, comes the news that Kojo Annan (son of Kofi) was paid by the Swiss-based firm Cotecna Inspection Services SA for several years longer than it had been admitted before.

Cotecna had been given the contract to monitor the oil-for-food programme in 1998 and finally stepped down in 2003 when the UN handed the programme over to the Coalition Provisuional Authority. By a strange coincidence Kojo Annan was employed or, rather, paid by the company for the same period of time.

In fact, the latest information is that he last received money as recently as February 2004, again by coincidence the month when the first articles about the way the programme had been subverted and used as a colossal fraud appeared in the Baghdad newspapers.

Neither Mr Annan Jnr nor Cotecna deny the story. Mr Annan’s spokesman insists that the information had been given to Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, who now chairs the inexplicably quiet UN enquiry into the whole mess. Cotecna, on the other hand, insists that Mr Annan was employed on West African projects and the dates of his employment are purely coincidental. There were no clashes of interest, they say, rather disingenuously.

Cotecna has been refusing to answer journalists’ questions, having received a gagging order from the UN Secretariat. So there seems to be no explanation why the normal non-competition post-employment payment to Mr Annan went on for five years instead of the usual one or why it stopped abruptly when those stories started filtering through.

As Claudia Rossett, who has been writing up the story as it has unfolded, shows in a recent article in the New York Sun, Kofi Annan’s role throughout the saga was to deny all knowledge of everything, particularly his son’s or the younger man’s employer’s involvement.
“At every turn, the saga of the secretary-general's family ties to Cotecna raises questions about Kofi Annan's handling of potential conflicts of interest. Even if Mr. Annan cannot be held responsible for the decisions of his son, his job does entail responsibility for the actions of the U.N. Secretariat. As the oil-for-food scandal has unfolded, it has become clear that U.N. secrecy and lack of accountability evolved, in effect, into complicity with Saddam's scams and influence-buying. By now, between congressional and other investigations, there are allegations that Saddam, on Mr. Annan's watch, under U.N. sanctions and oil-for-food supervision, scammed and smuggled some $17.3 billion in oil money meant for relief, using some of that money to fund terrorism, import weapons, and buy influence with Security Council members France, Russia, and China.”
It is time, most people think, for the UN to start cleaning up its house, in the first place by lifting the gagging order on the various employees and contractors to do with the oil-for-food fraud. If it does not do so, it may find that outside forces will do the cleaning up a good deal more radically than that self-important organization would like it.

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