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UN chief braces for potentially embarrassing report on oil-for-food scandal - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – The most detailed report on the corruption-sullied UN oil-for-food program for Iraq was due for release Wednesday in what could prove an embarrassment for UN chief Kofi Annan one week before he is to host a world summit here.

The lengthy report by an independent panel led by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker will be the fourth so far on the scandal, which has tarnished the United Nations.

The release could not have come at a worse time for the secretary general, who is to host world leaders at a September 14-16 summit aimed at endorsing far-reaching reforms of the world body on its 60th anniversary.

&#34We had hoped the report would come earlier,&#34 he said last month, adding: &#34I hope that report would be comprehensive and put things in perspective.&#34

Annan, who was to return here late Tuesday after attending a two-day AIDS donors” conference in London, huddled with panel investigators Thursday but there was no word on what was discussed.

Wednesday”s report is expected to shed some light on &#34serious questions&#34 previously raised by the Volcker panel about Annan”s son, Kojo, who was once employed by the Swiss firm Cotecna, which got a large contract under the now-defunct oil-for-food program.

Volcker said last month that a recently discovered e-mail &#34raises a further question about the secretary general”s knowledge of&#34 his son”s dealings with Cotecna and &#34appears authentic.&#34

The e-mail indicated that then-Cotecna vice president Michael Wilson, an Annan family friend, had spoken with Annan and his entourage in November 1998, shortly before the UN contract was awarded to Cotecna.

Aides said Annan had no recollection of such discussion and found no trace of it in UN records. They added that they were confident that the secretary general would be cleared.

But Annan, whose second term as secretary general runs until the end of 2006, could face reprimand for the mismanagement and evidence of corruption in the 64-billion-dollar program.

That would give further ammunition to his critics, particularly in the US Congress, some of whom have been pressing for his resignation.

Several US congressional committees are probing the scandal and some of Republican lawmakers have threatened a cut in US dues to the world body if it does not fully cooperate with the investigations.

The Volcker panel last month accused the ex-head of the oil-for-food program, Benon Sevan of Cyprus, of receiving 147,184 dollars from oil sales kickbacks under the program. Sevan, who fled to Cyprus in June, denied the charges and accused Annan of &#34sacrificing&#34 him.

It also charged Alexander Yakovlev, a Russian former UN procurement officer, with accepting bribes.

Yakovlev was also charged by US authorities August 8 with receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in criminal proceeds from three firms as part of a contract to airlift goods for the UN.

Yakovlev, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and money laundering and faces 20 years in prison for each of the three counts, was released on a 400,000-dollar bond.

Also arrested Thursday in connection with the Yakovlev case was Vladimir Kuznetsov, a Russian diplomat on loan to the United Nations who was elected chairman of the UN Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budget Questions three years ago.

Yakovlev and Kuznetsov are accused of having set up a company, Moxyco, to handle illicit payments, receiving transfers on accounts in the Caribbean island of Antigua and in Switzerland in exchange for information and assistance for these companies.

Volcker was appointed by Annan in April last year to probe allegations that senior UN officials had improperly benefited from the program.

The Volcker panel said it would release another report in early October giving a definitive list of the more than 4,500 private contractors that engaged in the purchase of oil for the sale of humanitarian and other goods to Iraq under the program.

The program, which ran from 1996 until 2003, when US-led forces invaded Iraq to oust then-president Saddam Hussein, allowed Baghdad to sell oil in exchange for humanitarian goods the country lacked due to sanctions.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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