U.N. Chief Rebuts Critics of the Iraq “Oil for Food” Program

U.N. Chief Rebuts Critics of the Iraq “Oil for Food” Program

April 23, 2004

UNITED NATIONS, April 22 – Secretary General Kofi Annan struck back
Thursday at critics of the United Nations and his leadership, saying
they were treating unproven charges as facts and ignoring the good
that the “oil for food” program brought Iraqis despite its
scandal-ridden management.

The allegations of corruption have battered the United Nations just as
it is being given the lead role in shaping an interim government in
Iraq. Mr. Annan has responded by appointing a panel of three to
investigate the charges, headed by Paul A. Volcker, a former chairman
of the United States Federal Reserve.

Several Congressional committees, saying they distrust the United
Nations’ willingness to examine itself, are looking into the
case. United Nations detractors have seized on the reports to call
into question the organization’s work in the Iraqi transition and
Mr. Annan’s fitness to remain in office.

“I think it is unfortunate that there have been so many allegations,
and some of it is being handled as if they were facts, and that is why
we need to have this investigation done,” Mr. Annan said Thursday.

“And in all this, ” he added, “what has been lost is the fact that
the oil-for-food program did provide relief to the Iraqi
population. Every household was touched.”

The Security Council began the program in 1996 to enable Iraq to sell
oil and devote the proceeds to humanitarian purchases as a way of
easing the effects of the sanctions imposed after the Persian Gulf war
of 1991. According to the General Accounting Office, the investigative
arm of the United States Congress, Saddam Hussein’s government skimmed
$10.1 billion from the $67 billion program.

Mr. Annan said that he had met Wednesday with Benon V. Sevan, the
former head of the program, and that Mr. Sevan had promised to
cooperate with the investigation. Mr. Sevan’s name was reportedly
discovered on an Iraqi Trade Ministry document saying he had received
an illegal oil allotment himself worth up to $3.5 million. Mr. Annan
said Mr. Sevan had repeated his past denials of the charge.

The Security Council unanimously approved a resolution on Wednesday
endorsing the inquiry.

Joining Mr. Volcker, 76, on the panel are Richard J. Goldstone, 65, a
South African judge who served as prosecutor for the International
Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and Mark
Pieth, 50, a Swiss law professor with expertise in tracking money

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