Annan summons UN council on probe into Iraq scandal

The Jordan Times
Friday-Saturday, March 26-27, 2004

Annan summons UN council on probe into Iraq scandal

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – UN Secretary General Kofi Annan summoned Security
Council members on Thursday to get firm backing for an independent inquiry
into charges of corruption in the UN-run Iraq oil-for-food programme.
In a letter to council members obtained by Reuters, Annan defined terms of
the probe, saying it would look into allegations of corruption among UN
officials and outside firms dealing with Iraq under the now-defunct $65
billion humanitarian plan.

Evidence in the media from documents found in Iraq – but not given to the
United Nations – alleges payoffs, smuggling and bribes under the programme.
The worst allegation for the world body is a bribe said to have been paid to
the plan’s head, Benon Sevan, who has vigorously denied it.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said Annan was looking for a `nod’ from the
council, perhaps in a statement or a letter, after his meeting late on

`Without the full cooperation of governments and companies, the
investigation is not likely to succeed,’ Eckhard said.

Diplomats said a resolution mandating that all UN members cooperate with an
investigation would probably fail. Many of the firms and individuals charged
with wrongdoing were from the 15 Security Council member states.

Annan has not asked for council approval for the probe, which he said would
go ahead one way or another.

The oil-for-food plan, which began in late 1996, was intended to ease the
impact of 1991 Gulf War sanctions on ordinary Iraqis by allowing Baghdad to
sell oil to pay for humanitarian goods. Iraq selected the buyers of its oil
and vendors of goods.

Annan’s letter said the inquiry would be authorised to approach and seek
cooperation of member states and `their relevant authorities.’

He did not say how much the probe would cost or who would head it. Eckhard
said names were expected to be announced within a week.

Terms of inquiry

Annan in the letter said the probe also would determine:

– whether procedures established by the Security Council and UN secretariat
for monitoring and approving contracts were violated.

– whether any UN officials, personnel and agents or outside contractors
engaged in `any illicit or corrupt activities,’ including bribery, imposing
surcharges and other illicit payments.

– whether UN accounts were in order.

Annan said the independent commission could engage professional
investigators, auditors, accountants, forensic experts and others and issue
a report within three months after the start of the probe.

The burgeoning scandal is one of the worst to hit the world body, giving
fodder to its long-time critics. It also comes as the Bush administration
wants the United Nations to help Iraqis form an interim government

The US General Accounting Office, an interagency body headed by the treasury
department, says Iraqi elites raised $4.4 billion by imposing illegal
surcharges. Ousted Iraq President Saddam Hussein is estimated to have
smuggled another $5.7 billion in oil outside the UN programme through Syria,
Jordan and Turkey.

Many of the programme’s contracts, as well as previous allegations of
wrongdoing, were reviewed by the Security Council’s sanctions committee,
composed of all 15 council nations.

Some were brought to the panel’s attention by Sevan, others by the United
States and Britain over the years. But members, sharply divided over Iraq,
often took no action.

The Iraqi Governing Council has also launched an investigation and several
have been announced in Washington, by Congress, the Pentagon and others.
Britain is probing its own firms.

Friday-Saturday, March 26-27, 2004