May 8, 2005 | New York Sun

Congressional Team and Volcker Committee Wrangle Over Secret Evidence About Annan

The hottest question right now in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal is who has rights to boxfuls of secret evidence concerning the secretary-general of the world body, Kofi Annan. Congressional investigators and the United Nations' own inquiry team, led by former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, are wrangling over material amassed by Mr. Volcker's investigation that reportedly touches on what Mr. Annan knew about his son's lucrative U.N.-related business deals.

Following Mr. Volcker's March 29 interim report, Mr. Annan declared himself exonerated. Soon after that, two investigators from Mr. Volcker's team, who had worked on the Annan case, resigned. One of these investigators, Robert Parton, said he had stepped down “on principle,” because he thought Mr. Volcker had gone too easy on Mr. Annan.

When Mr. Parton left the Volcker team, he took with him evidence that he turned over last Thursday, under congressional subpoena, to the House Committee on International Relations, chaired by Rep. Henry Hyde, a Republican from Illinois. The evidence, according to a source close to the investigation, consists of boxes of paper printouts, notes, verbatim transcripts, and CDs that contain recordings.

Friday, at a hastily assembled press conference in New York, Mr. Volcker stepped forward to say he wants his evidence back. Mr. Hyde said no. That has triggered a potentially explosive showdown, pitting the powers of Congress against the privileges and immunities of the United Nations, which, by Mr. Volcker's account, extend to his “independent inquiry.”

All of which may be useful in illustrating the rules by which the United Nations, and now its “independent inquiry,” play. Most involve the United Nations' climate of privilege and secrecy, whence sprang oil for food in the first place. Mr. Volcker's inquiry, for example, is funded at the behest of Mr. Annan, with $30 million left over from the $1.4 billion the U.N. Secretariat collected from Saddam Hussein's regime under oil for food to run the program in the first place. So, in the budget sense, Mr. Volcker's inquiry is just one more piece of oil for food.

Were Mr. Hyde to comply with Mr. Volcker's demands, but send back the Parton papers in a manner consistent with the U.N.'s own recent record of dealing with Congress, it would be a long handoff. Congress is still smarting over the time it took the United Nations to turn over its oil-for-food internal audits. It also took the United Nations plenty of time to turn over even partial records to the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority back in 2003, when the CPA was taking over responsibility for the remains of the program and had full rights to all U.N. oil-for-food information.

Indeed, the United Nations avowed as it bowed out of oil for food on November 21, 2003, that all U.N. records of the program had been turned over to the CPA. Not quite, as it turned out. What the CPA got, according to numerous sources in both Washington and Baghdad, were corrupted files, incomplete contract records, in some cases no copies of the contracts at all, and, for the first four months, no bank records.

So far Mr. Hyde has simply said his congressional panel has “an obligation to continue its inquiry.”

It is only thanks to leaks from many quarters that congressional investigators and the press were able to unearth enough material last year to expose oil for food and force a reluctant Mr. Annan to call for any investigation at all. The letter implicating the head of the program, Benon Sevan, was leaked to the press. One of the secret internal audits leaked, and the rest were finally forced by Congress from a reluctant United Nations and Mr. Volcker.

Information about Kojo Annan's U.N.-related projects emerged by way of leaks and congressional subpoenas. All these matters hit the press before Mr. Volcker got around to reporting on them to the public, so it's hard to argue that his investigation has been impeded.

Mr. Volcker's March report on Kofi Annan and Kojo Annan failed to mention that the younger Annan had served on the board of directors of a now-defunct company, Air Harbour Technologies, first alongside the U.N. secretary-general's special adviser, Maurice Strong, and then alongside an adviser for U.N. oil-for-food contractor, Cotecna Inspections. Mr. Strong has taken leave from his U.N. job until information about some of his own business connections can be clarified, part of a tangle arising from a federal bribery complaint issued last month and related to oil for food.

At the press conference Friday, Mr. Volcker said he had “no idea” exactly what material his former staffer Mr. Parton had taken when he resigned, but whatever it was, Mr. Volcker wants it back. In our age of photocopy machines and digital scanners, Mr. Volcker's demand may have less to do with any hope of suppressing the information than with finding out exactly what it was that Mr. Parton turned over to Mr. Hyde's team.

Mr. Volcker on Friday voiced his concern that lives are at stake. Should the cooperation of some witnesses become known, he said, “People are at risk.” One has to wonder just what in Mr. Volcker's secret records suggests to him that witnesses testifying about the doings of Mr. Annan and his son might be risking their lives.

It is also a reminder that many more innocents may be in danger due to the secrecy that the United Nations has to this day imposed not on the identities of witnesses, but on the bulk of the U.N. oil-for-food records – most of which should never have been secret at all. From the glimpses we have had to date, they may provide glimpses of Saddam's network of arms rackets, terrorist groups, and cronies in high places who may still wield influence in world affairs.

– Ms. Rosett is Journalist-in-Residence with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

 

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