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Findings painful: Annan

Ewen MacAskill

Secretary-General accepts responsibility for oil scam

LONDON: Kofi Annan, U.N. Secretary-General, has described the findings of the investigation into the Iraq oil-for-food scandal as ``painful'' and ``embarrassing'' and underlined an urgent need for reform of the world organisation.

Mr. Annan accepted personal responsibility but made it clear he was not going to resign. He was formally presented with the 820-page report of Paul Volcker, head of the inquiry, during a meeting of the Security Council.

Mr. Volcker told the Council: ``Our assignment has been to look for mis- or maladministration in the oil-for-food programme and for evidence of corruption within the U.N. organisation and by contractors. Unhappily we found both.''

The U.S. administration, which is hostile to Mr. Annan and the U.N. in general, joined in the criticism. John Bolton, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and a long-time critic of the organisation, said: ``This report unambiguously rejects the notion that business as usual at the U.N. is acceptable.''

Mr. Bolton added: ``We need to reform the U.N. in a manner that will prevent another oil-for-food scandal. The credibility of the U.N. depends on it.''

As well as criticising Mr. Annan, the inquiry blamed the permanent members of the Security Council, for taking a lax approach to the programme.

The oil-for-food scheme was set up in 1996 to allow Saddam Hussein to sell oil in return for food for an Iraqi population suffering from the ravages of U.N. sanctions. The report acknowledges that about 90 per cent of the 26 million population was dependent on the food and medicines that the programme provided.

But the investigators, in the course of their inquiries, uncovered instances of corruption and mismanagement. Mr. Hussein was allowed to skim off $10.2 billion, and various companies as well as U.N. officials are alleged to have taken a share.

But the investigators said they found no evidence that Mr. Annan had used his influence to help a company, for which his son Kojo was then working, to secure one of the oil-for-food contracts.

An E-mail discovered in June from one of the company's executives suggested that the executive had spoken to the Secretary-General in Paris in 1998. But the investigators dismissed the claim, saying this amounted to no more than a shouted hello across a hotel corridor, and that the executive had subsequently exaggerated the incident.

As for Kojo himself, the investigators criticised him on several points.

Expectation

The report also described a plot in which Mr. Hussein tried to influence Mr. Annan's predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The investigators claim that Baghdad paid millions of dollars to a South Korean businessman and Iraqi-born American businessman with the apparent expectation that they would pass money to Mr. Boutros-Ghali and another U.N. aide.

Though the investigators criticised Mr. Boutros-Ghali for allowing the oil-for-food programme to be established in such a way that Mr. Hussein was able to exploit it, there is no suggestion he was involved in any wrongdoing. —

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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