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Cotecna memo sparks fresh probe into Annan

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has come under fire again Keystone

The oil-for-food inquiry is examining a memo which appears to link the United Nations secretary-general to a Swiss firm, granted a contract under the programme.

This content was published on June 15, 2005 - 12:39

A previously unknown memo from Cotecna published this week describes a meeting between Kofi Annan and the company in 1998, just weeks before the contract was awarded.

Annan has previously denied prior knowledge of the bid at Cotecna, which also employed his son, Kojo.

He was cleared by a previous inquiry into the matter, although he was criticised for failing to perceive potential conflicts of interest. Kojo Annan was found to have "intentionally deceived" his father about his financial involvement with the company.

But two previously unknown e-mails seem to suggest that Annan may have known more than he claimed about the multimillion-dollar deal.

The firm, which has denied any wrongdoing, was awarded the contract to verify goods coming into Iraq in December 1998.

Urgently reviewing

The committee probing the oil-for-food affair said on Tuesday that it was "urgently reviewing" the two e-mails, which Cotecna turned over to the committee on Monday.

It added that it would "conduct an additional investigation regarding this new information".

One mail described an encounter between Annan and officials from Cotecna in late November 1998 at a summit in Paris where its bid for the contract was raised. Its author wrote that Cotecna was told it could count on the UN’s support.

A second from the same Cotecna executive expressed his confidence that the company would get the bid because of "effective but quiet lobbying" in New York diplomatic circles.

Denial

Annan’s spokesman said on Tuesday that the secretary-general could not remember the meeting.

"We spoke to the secretary-general... and he has no recollection of any such exchange," said Fred Eckhard.

He added that any information would be sent to the inquiry’s chairman, Paul Volcker.

The oil-for-food programme was established in 1996 to help ordinary Iraqis suffering under UN sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. It allowed Iraq to sell oil provided most of the proceeds were used to buy humanitarian goods.

But it has since become the target of several corruption investigations, including the UN-appointed Independent Inquiry Committee, led by Volcker. The final version of this inquiry’s report is due to be published at the end of August.

Meanwhile, the Swiss and the Genevan authorities have launched their own probes into the affair.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The UN oil-for-food programme ran from 1996 to 2003.
Saddam Hussein is suspected of pocketing more than $5 billion.
Individuals and firms from around 50 countries are suspected of helping the former dictator in return for kickbacks.

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