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Cotecna rejects oil-for-food allegations

Massey testifying in Washington on Tuesday Keystone

Senior executives at Swiss-based inspection firm Cotecna have denied improper conduct in connection with the United Nations oil-for-food programme.

This content was published on February 16, 2005 - 17:00

At a hearing in the United States, they also rejected allegations that the son of Secretary-General Kofi Annan lobbied UN officials to win the firm a lucrative contract in Iraq.

"Cotecna was selected fairly and on objective grounds... We performed our limited and technical role professionally under difficult circumstances," Robert Massey, Cotecna chief executive, told a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday.

Massey also rejected claims that Kojo Annan, who was employed by the company as a consultant, helped Cotecna win a $66 million (SFr78.50 million) contract from the UN in 1998.

Geneva-based Cotecna served as an independent inspection agent for humanitarian goods entering Iraq under the UN oil-for-food programme between 1999 and 2003.

"The employment of Kojo Annan was exclusively in connection with the company’s substantial work in West Africa," Massey told the hearing.

"Kojo Annan played no role in helping Cotecna obtain the UN contract."

The $64 billion oil-for-food programme allowed Saddam Hussein’s government to sell oil and use the proceeds to buy food and other humanitarian items.

The Senate subcommittee and other panels are investigating allegations that the former Iraqi dictator manipulated the programme, pocketing billions in illegal revenue and bribing officials.

Claims rejected

Kojo Annan, who did not testify at the Washington hearing, issued a statement on Tuesday denying allegations of a possible conflict of interest.

He said claims to this effect by Norm Coleman, head of the Senate investigating panel, were "inaccurate, misleading and incomplete".

"At no time was I involved with any negotiations or lobbying of the United Nations with regard to the oil-for-food programme," said Kojo Annan.

He accused Coleman of using his position at Cotecna to try to get at his father, the UN secretary-general.

"Based as they are on incomplete and inaccurate facts, one can only assume that the statements made by chairman Coleman were not meant to shed light on concerns regarding the oil-for-food programme, but instead were politically motivated and intended to harm my father and the United Nations," he said.

No direct evidence

Senator Coleman did not offer direct evidence that Kojo Annan was involved in the Iraq contract awarded to Cotecna.

But he said memorandums obtained by the senate panel showed Kojo Annan had lobbied on behalf of Cotecna during the 1998 UN General Assembly in New York.

An interim report published earlier this month was highly critical of the UN’s handling of the oil-for-food programme.

Swiss criminal law professor Mark Pieth, one of three independent investigators probing allegations of corruption, told swissinfo that the results of an inquiry into Kojo Annan and Cotecna would be published at a later date.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Cotecna won a $66 million contract in 1998 to serve as an independent inspection agent for humanitarian goods entering Iraq under the oil-for-food programme.

The UN secretary-general’s son, Kojo Annan, was a consultant with Cotecna at the time.

Investigations are underway into a possible conflict of interest. Both Kojo Annan and Cotecna deny any wrongdoing.

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