U.N. Plans Independent Oil Program Probe
By BARBARA BORST
.c The Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS (AP) - An independent commission will investigate allegations
that United Nations staff collected millions of dollars in illegal profits from
the program that allowed Iraq to sell some of its oil to pay for food during the
years of economic sanctions.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced plans Friday for an independent
commission that would go beyond an internal United Nations probe of alleged
corruption and mismanagement in the oil-for-food program.
Annan made the announcement in a letter to the Security Council.
The world organization has been hit with allegations that U.N. staff may have
reaped millions of dollars from the oil-for-food program that helped Iraqis cope
with U.N. sanctions.
U.S. congressional investigators have also looked into the program, charging
this week that Saddam Hussein's government smuggled oil, added surcharges and
collected kickbacks to rake in $10.1 billion in violation of the United Nations'
"Hopefully the U.N. can build upon our work in looking at the books,'' said Jeff
Nelligan, spokesman for the U.S. General Accounting Office.
The U.N. chief said in the letter he wants "an independent, high-level inquiry
to investigate the allegations relating to the administration and management of
the program, including allegations of fraud and corruption.''
Annan's letter didn't elaborate on how an independent probe would be handled. He
said he would address this in a further letter.
"I think we need to have an independent investigation, an investigation that can
be as broad as possible to look into all these allegations which have been made
and get to the bottom of this because I don't think we need to have our
reputation impugned,'' Annan said.
Annan indicated he didn't need security council approval for the probe, but said
he wanted its support.
The oil-for-food program was established by the U.N. Security Council in
December 1996 to help the Iraqi population cope with U.N. sanctions imposed
after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The program, which ended in November, allowed the former Iraqi regime to sell
unlimited quantities of oil, provided the money went primarily to buy
humanitarian goods and pay reparations to victims of the 1991 Gulf War.
Annan's decision followed publication in the Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada of a list
of about 270 former Cabinet officials, legislators, political activists and
journalists from more than 46 countries suspected of profiting from Iraqi oil
The United Nations has already sent two letters to the Iraqi Governing Council
and the U.S.-led coalition requesting evidence of corruption in the program -
the latest a week ago.
In late January, the Governing Council asked the country's Oil Ministry to
gather information on allegations that Saddam Hussein's regime bribed prominent
foreigners with oil money to back his government.