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Paul Volcker Asks for Public Help in UN Oil For Food Investigation

The independent panel investigating the Iraq oil-for-food program has appealed for public help in identifying entities that may have profited illegally from oil sales.

Oil for Food Panel chairman Paul Volcker Thursday released two lists of companies that did business with Iraq through the oil for food program. One list included the names of 248 recipients of Iraqi oil, the other covers more than 3,500 companies that exported goods to then Saddam Hussein's government.

But Mr. Volcker, former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman, emphasized that being on the list does not imply illegal behavior. He said it is too early to make any findings of guilt or innocence. "It is not a report of findings. It is not a report of what went wrong. It is not a report of went right," he said.

U.N Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked Mr. Volcker last April to lead an investigation into allegations of rampant corruption in the 69-billion dollar humanitarian aid program.

Earlier this month, top U.S. weapons inspector for Iraq Charles Duelfer charged that Saddam made billions of dollars in illegal profits and undermined U.N. sanctions by buying off countries, foreign officials and international figures. Among those Mr. Duelfer identified was the top U.N. official in charge of the oil for food program, Benon Sevan.

Mr. Sevan has denied the allegations.

Mr. Volcker declined to confirm the Duelfer findings. He suggested that a lot of work still needs to be done to identify the people behind the companies on the lists, and to determine what their role was. He appealed to anyone with information to come forward. "We know that some are essentially temporary companies, they may be front companies, they may have existed only for this purpose. Part of the value in publishing this list, we know some explicitly, we don't know everything about every company on this list, and if there is information that should be brought to our attention about companies on this list, we would welcome it," he said.

Mr. Volcker refused to discuss allegations against individuals or companies.

He praised cooperation from the United States and the Iraqi government in gathering information for the probe. But said investigators had encountered resistance from the American Ernst and Young accounting firm, which was hired by Iraq's interim government, and from the French Bank Paribas, which handled much of the oil for food transactions. "That's true to a certain extent in tracing certain bank accounts where we think we're entitled to have the information, and I think we're gonna get it, but it hasn't been volunteered quite as rapidly as we might have wished, we've run into a little trouble in Baghdad in cooperation with the private investigators there, and we expect that to be cleared up in a matter of days," he said.

Mr. Volcker said he expects to release an interim report of findings at the end of the year. That will focus on allegations of corruption within the United Nations system.

A second, comprehensive report is expected about the middle of next year.