August 14, 2005 | New York Sun

U.N. Secretary-General’s Brother Kobina Annan May Have Played a Role in Oil-for-Food Scandal

To the cast of characters caught up in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal, investigators have reportedly added another name, that of the secretary-general's brother, Kobina Annan.

That means at least three members of the Annan clan are now under scrutiny, including Secretary-General Annan himself, his globetrotting son, Kojo Annan, and his brother, who is Ghana's ambassador to Morocco.

This latest news comes from London, where the Sunday Times's Robert Winnett reported yesterday that the U.N.-authorized investigation into oil for food, led by a former chairman of the Federal Reserve board, Paul Volcker, is looking into suspected business connections between Kobina Annan and a family friend, Ghanaian businessman Michael Wilson.

Details of the Kobina Annan angle in the oil-for-food investigations are not yet clear. But this latest news in the scandal already tagged by some as Kofigate looks likely to intensify the spotlight on the secretary-general's family and on a pattern of family and crony connections at the United Nations. Since early 2004, various investigations into oil-for-food have been finding a latticework of links between U.N. business and families of top U.N. officials.

Mr. Wilson, son of a former Ghanaian diplomat and a family friend of the Annans, who also come from Ghana, has turned up in a number of contexts. Mr. Wilson worked in the 1990s for the Swiss-based inspection firm Cotecna Inspection, which also employed Kojo Annan between 1995 and 1998. Kojo's work as a consultant ended the day Cotecna signed a contract with the U.N. to serve as inspectors of relief imports into Iraq under oil for food. Cotecna then paid Kojo from 1999 until early 2004 for not competing with their business in West Africa.

During Kojo Annan's employment with Cotecna, according to Cotecna internal documents and an interim report issued by the Volcker inquiry earlier this year, Mr. Wilson worked closely with Kojo on various projects, including lobbying in 1998 at the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York for Cotecna's business. Kojo Annan may also be the mysterious “KA” mentioned in a Cotecna memo that turned up recently, describing a meeting with Kofi Annan and his “entourage” in Paris, in late November 1998, as Cotecna was looking for ways to secure the U.N. oil-for-food inspections contract that it won the following month.

Mr. Wilson was the first person at Cotecna whom Kofi Annan contacted upon learning in January 1999 of disclosures in the British press that Kojo Annan had worked for Cotecna. Mr. Wilson later served on the board of a private company, Air Harbour Technologies, where Kojo Annan and one of Kofi Annan's closest U.N. advisers, Maurice Strong, who was then an undersecretary-general, also at various times held directorships.

This latest news raises more questions about the secretary-general himself, who has by turns professed ignorance, shock, disappointment – or refused comment – following each in the series of press disclosures over the past year and a half in which suspect U.N. business links converge on his doorstep. This past April, The New York Sun's Benny Avni reported that a New York-based public relations firm, Ruder Finn – which did some paid work for the United Nations, but had also been offering pro bono advice to the secretary-general as he sought to ward off criticism sparked by oil for food – had employed Kofi Annan's nephew, who is the son of Kobina Annan, and shares the same name.

The Moroccan connection, via Kobina Annan's post as ambassador to Morocco, raises questions about links hinted at in a number of previous press dispatches on oil for food. Writing in June 2004, in London's Times, Mr. Winnett reported that investigators were looking into Kojo Annan's alleged role in setting up a deal for a Moroccan company to buy oil from Saddam Hussein's regime in 2001, at a time when all Iraqi oil exports were supposed to be overseen by the U.N. oil-for-food program, a job for which Kofi Annan's secretariat hired the oil inspectors and had oil overseers reporting to the secretary-general's longtime colleague and handpicked head of the program, Benon Sevan. Mr. Sevan was accused last week by the Volcker committee of having accepted more than $147,000 in bribes from Saddam, via a set of intermediaries related to a former U.N. secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Yet another Moroccan connection linking suspected oil-for-food scams to the immediate circle around Kofi Annan turns up in the case of a former French ambassador to the United Nations, Jean-Bernard Merimee, now one of a number of figures linked to oil for food who are under investigation in France. Mr. Merimee served as France's ambassador to Morocco from 1987-91, as ambassador to the United Nations from 1991-95, and as ambassador to Rome from 1995-98. He then went on to work directly for Kofi Annan, serving from 1999-2002 (during the oil-for-food era) as Mr. Annan's special adviser for European affairs. Mr. Merimee's name appeared last fall in a report of the CIA's Iraq Survey Group as one of those whom Saddam's regime recorded as among secret recipients of Iraqi oil allocations, though in Mr. Merimee's case, the Iraqi documentation shows those allocations, made shortly before the fall of Saddam, were not delivered. Mr. Merimee until recently held a seat on the board of directors of a Moroccan bank. Asked where he might be located, a U.N. spokesman said recently the United Nations has no information. But according to one source in Paris, he is now said to be spending time in Morocco.

In the skein of U.N. family and crony connections, the most clearly exposed scheme to date is that of Mr. Sevan, who according to Mr. Volcker's latest report received tainted money from Saddam, from late 1998 until early 2002, via a nest of business connections involving both in-laws and a cousin of Mr. Boutros-Ghali. By Mr. Volcker's account, Mr. Sevan deposited the bribes in cash into both his own bank accounts in New York and accounts of his wife, Micheline Sevan, who also worked at the United Nations. Mr. Sevan then reported the money on his U.N. disclosure forms as gifts from his aunt – since deceased – in Cyprus, where Mr. Sevan is now believed to be.

Then there's the case of Mr. Strong, one of Kofi Annan's closest advisers, who took a leading role in designing Mr. Annan's 1997 U.N. reforms. These included consolidating oil-for-food management into one office at U.N. headquarters in October, 1997 and appointing Mr. Sevan to run it. Mr. Strong left the United Nations earlier this year, after it was discovered that against U.N. regulations he had employed his stepdaughter, Kristina Mayo, in his U.N. office and failed to disclose this relationship.

On top of that there was the news earlier this year that one of Mr. Strong's contacts in his role as Mr. Annan's personal envoy to the Korean peninsula, businessman Tongsun Park, had invested substantial funds in the mid-1990s in a company connected to Mr. Strong's son, which soon afterward went out of business. Mr. Park was indicted recently by federal prosecutors who accused him of passing millions from Saddam to unnamed high-ranking U.N. officials.

And in the U.N. Procurement Department, where the Volcker committee reported that Kojo Annan liked to drop by and tinker with the computers while visiting a family friend, Diana Mills-Aryee, whom he called “Auntie,” scandal has now enveloped a longtime Russian staffer, Alexander Yakovlev – who was taken into custody and entered a plea last week after the Volcker committee accused him of taking more than $950,000 in bribes related to U.N. procurement deals. Mr. Yakovlev, who was heavily involved in some of the oil-for-food inspections contracts, had his own apparent family conflict of interest outside oil for food, by way of handling some of the world body's business with a company that employed his son, Dmitry Yakovlev.

Ms. Rosett is a journalist-in-residence at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

 

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