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Annan Rejects Resignation Calls After Oil-For-Food Panel Criticism


U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has rejected calls for his resignation after being criticized by a panel investigating the Iraq oil-for-food program. The panel stopped short of accusing Mr. Annan of wrongdoing.

A report issued by the Volcker Commission Tuesday outlines numerous irregularities in awarding oil-for-food contracts. The 136-page document faults Secretary-General Annan for lax oversight of the $65 billion program, and charges him with failing to fully investigate his son Kojo Annan's involvement with a Swiss-based oil-for-food contractor.

It also charges Kojo Annan and the contractor, Cotecna, of conspiring to cover up their relationship, which included payments totaling $400,000 over a period of eight years. Cotecna won a contract, eventually worth $60 million, to monitor oil-for-food shipments.

But in releasing the report, the commission chairman, former U.S. central bank chief Paul Volcker emphasized that his investigation had turned up no evidence that the secretary-general improperly influenced Cotecna's selection.

"Diligent and extensive search of written and electronic records and intensive interviews with all of those involved have provided no evidence of any influence by the secretary-general on the bidding and selection process in for humanitarian goods inspections in 1998," said Mr. Volcker.

But Mr. Volcker had harsh words for Cotecna, and for Mr. Annan's 31-year old son, who has refused to cooperate with the investigation since last October.

“The committee finds that both Cotecna officials and Kojo Annan acted to disguise their continuing business and financial relationship, misleading the secretary-general himself, other U.N. officials, and the public in process,” he added.

In a brief meeting with reporters after release of the report, Mr. Annan expressed relief that he had not been found guilty of wrongdoing. The secretary-general, who is known for his even-temper, was visibly irritated when a reporter suggested he should step down in light of the numerous scandals surrounding the world body.

"Hell no,” said Mr. Annan. “I have lots of work to do and I'm going to go ahead and do it."

Mr. Annan said the most painful moments of the oil-for-food investigation had been when he, as a father, learned that his son had lied, and was refusing to cooperate with investigators.

"I love my son and have always expected the highest standards of integrity from him,” added Mr. Annan. “I'm deeply saddened by the evidence to the contrary that has emerged, and particularly by the fact that my son failed to cooperate fully with the inquiry."

The Bush administration issued a brief statement offering support for Mr. Annan. White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

“We continue to support Secretary General Annan in his work at the United Nations,” said Mr. McClellan. “We will carefully study the report that Mr. Volker has put forward today and we will also look forward to seeing the final results of his investigation."

The Volcker report issued Tuesday is the second of three looking into various allegations of corruption and mismanagement of the oil-for-food program.

The U.N. Security Council created the program to allow Saddam Hussein's government to sell oil to buy food and other essential products for ordinary Iraqis while the country was under strict international sanctions.

U.S. congressional investigators have uncovered evidence that Saddam cheated the humanitarian program out of billions of dollars, part of which was used in an attempt to buy influence in Security Council member countries.

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