UNITED NATIONS – A business executive who wrote an e-mail suggesting that Kofi Annan may have known about a U.N. oil-for-food contract awarded to his son”s company denies ever talking to the U.N. secretary general about the firm”s bid.
The brief statement from Michael Wilson”s lawyers left one key question unanswered: Did anyone else talk to the secretary-general about the bid from the Swiss company Cotecna Inspection S.A.?
A memo from Wilson obtained by The Associated Press describes a brief encounter in which officials from Cotecna discussed the company”s bid for the contract with the U.N. chief "and his entourage" during a summit of French-speaking nations in Paris in late 1998.
The London law firm Schillings issued a brief statement Wednesday on behalf of Wilson, who was a vice president of Cotecna at the time and is a friend of both Annan and his son, Kojo, in response to press reports about the memo.
"Mr. Wilson never met or had any discussion with the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, on the issue of the bid for the U.N. contract by Cotecna at the Francophone Summit, during the bidding process, or at any time prior to the award of the contract," the statement said.
In the Dec. 4, 1998 memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, Wilson said: "We had brief discussions with the SG and his entourage. Their collective advise was that we should respond as best we could to the Q&A session of the 1-12-98 and that we could count on their support."
The numbers — Dec. 1, 1998 — were the date of a discussion Wilson had with U.N. procurement officials. The SG is shorthand for the secretary-general.
A second memo from Wilson, sent minutes after the first, described earlier discussions with U.N. procurement officials and described his confidence that the company would get the bid. Cotecna said that memo had been turned over to investigators last year.
Cotecna was awarded the $10 million-a-year contract on Dec. 11, 1998.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Tuesday that U.N. officials reviewed the records of Annan”s 1998 Paris trip "and there is no mention in that trip record of any exchange with Michael Wilson."
Annan, who was in Paris on Tuesday, also had "no recollection of any such exchange," Eckhard said.
Wilson”s memo also referred to a "KA" who made courtesy calls to various African leaders at the Paris summit. That could be Kojo Annan, then a Cotecna consultant.
Eckhard said it would be reasonable to assume that Kofi and Kojo Annan would have met in Paris if Kojo Annan was there, though he knew of no record of it.
If Kojo Annan was in Paris, the memo raises the possibility that Kofi Annan discussed the Cotecna bid with his son, and not with Wilson.
Both Annans deny any link between Kojo Annan”s employment and the awarding of the U.N. contract to the company.
In an interview with France”s Le Figaro newspaper to be published Thursday, Annan said he has no intention of resigning and is determined to press for approval of a sweeping reform proposal unveiled in March to enable the United Nations to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
"I take seriously the allegations against me," he was quoted as saying.
"That is why I wanted the Independent Inquiry Committee chaired by former Federal Reserve President Paul Volcker to carry out an in-depth investigation of this affair," the secretary-general told the paper.
"We all want the truth," said Annan, who did not specifically mention the e-mail or make any direct reference to his son in the comments to Le Figaro.
Volcker”s interim report in March said there wasn”t enough evidence to show that Annan knew about efforts by Cotecna to win the contract. But the Volcker committee said it was "urgently reviewing" the new Wilson memo which it received from the company Monday night.
In the March report, Volcker”s committee accused Cotecna and Kojo Annan of trying to conceal their relationship after the firm won the contract. It also criticized Kofi Annan for failing to properly investigate possible conflicts of interest but cleared him of trying to influence the contract or violating U.N. rules.
"Does this raise a question? Sure," Reid Morden, executive director of the probe, said Tuesday.
Morden said investigators had planned to interview Annan soon as part of the committee”s investigation into management of the $64 billion oil-for-food program, which allowed Iraq to sell oil provided the proceeds were used primarily to help Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein”s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
"This certainly adds another topic," Morden said of the Cotecna e-mail.
Cotecna on Tuesday again denied wrongdoing in getting the contract to certify deals for supplies Iraq imported under oil-for-food.
Annan told Le Figaro he found it "regrettable that Mr. Volcker cannot conduct his work in serenity — and that is because of constant leaks to the press and incessant attacks against me, against the U.N. and against the committee itself."
Asked whether he had ruled out resigning, Annan replied: "Absolutely."
The oil-for-food program, which ran from 1996-2003, has become a lightning rod for critics of the United Nations because of allegations of widespread corruption. In addition to Volcker, half a dozen U.S. Congressional committees are investigating the program.