The New York Times
November 10, 2004
THE OIL-FOR-FOOD INVESTIGATION
Senators Accuse U.N. Leader of Blocking Their Fraud Inquiry
By JUDITH MILLER
Leaders of a United States Senate subcommittee investigating allegations of
fraud in the oil-for-food program in Iraq have accused Kofi Annan, the United
Nations secretary general, of obstructing their inquiry.
In a letter sent to Mr. Annan yesterday, the Republican chairman and ranking
Democrat on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations charged that the
secretary general and a panel he appointed to conduct an independent
investigation into the charges of abuses appeared to be "affirmatively
preventing" the Senate from getting documents from a former United Nations
contractor that inspected goods bought by Iraq.
The senators also complained that Mr. Annan was blocking access to 55 internal
audit reports of the program and other relevant documents and refusing to permit
United Nations officials to be interviewed by the subcommittee's investigators.
The United Nations-administered program, which ran from 1996 to 2003, allowed
Iraq to sell oil to buy food and other essential supplies for Iraqis hurt by
The senators said it had taken four months for Mr. Annan to reply to the
subcommittee's requests, and when he finally did, he refused to cooperate with
the Senate inquiry.
"We are concerned that the U.N.'s nondisclosure policy is being used as both a
sword and a shield," the senators wrote, "sharing such 'internal records' when
it favors the U.N., but then declining to do so when such disclosure could have
The blunt letter is signed by the subcommittee's chairman, Senator Norm Coleman,
Republican of Minnesota, and Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan.
Edward Mortimer, director of communications in the secretary general's office,
said United Nations officials would "carefully look into what is clearly a very
awkward and troubling letter."
He said he would also consult with Paul A. Volcker, who heads the United
Nations-appointed investigation panel. Mr. Mortimer emphasized that Mr. Annan
had instructed all United Nations staff to cooperate with Mr. Volcker's panel,
known as the Independent Inquiry Committee.
Neither Mr. Volcker nor members of his staff, who have had a tense relationship
with several House and Senate committees investigating the program, could be
reached for comment last night.
The subcommittee also announced yesterday that on Monday it would hold the first
of several hearings into allegations of widespread corruption in the $64 billion
program. Among the first witnesses scheduled is Charles A. Duelfer, the chief
American adviser on Iraq's unconventional weapons programs. Mr. Duelfer, the
head of the Iraq Survey Group, recently published a lengthy report on Iraqi
weapons programs that documented Saddam Hussein's use of the program not to buy
civilian supplies as intended, but to generate billions of dollars in illicit
money, undermine sanctions and buy conventional arms.
In their letter to Mr. Annan, the senators cited the United Nations' refusal to
permit Lloyd's Register, which the United Nations had hired to inspect Iraq's
purchases, to provide documents to the Senate investigators.
In an Aug. 31 letter, the director of the United Nations' legal affairs office
told Lloyd's that while Lloyd's should cooperate fully with Mr. Volcker's panel,
"under no circumstances" was it authorized to provide documents to the
The letter also asks Mr. Annan to permit the Senate investigators to interview
11 senior United Nations officials, including Benon V. Sevan, who headed the
program. Mr. Duelfer's report said Mr. Sevan might have received oil allocations
from Saddam Hussein. Mr. Sevan has denied any impropriety.