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UN Aide Steps Aside During Oil-For-Food Probe

The top U.N. envoy to North Korea is stepping down while investigators probe his ties to a Korean businessman indicted in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal.

U.N. special envoy to North Korea Maurice Strong has agreed to suspend all work for the world body. Wednesday's announcement follows Mr. Strong's admission that he had a business relationship with South Korean businessman Tongsun Park.

The U.S. attorney's office in New York last week charged Mr. Park with attempting to influence U.N. decisions on the Iraq oil-for-food program on behalf of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. An indictment said Mr. Park had met two high-ranking U.N. officials in the 1990s, and received more than $2 million for his work.

The South Korean businessman, who was born in North Korea, was also a central figure in a 1970s U.S. Congressional influence-peddling scandal.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Kofi Annan had accepted Mr. Strong's decision to at least temporarily step aside.

"Maurice Strong has informed the secretary-general that he will defer any further action on his Korean assignment until association with Tongsun Park is clarified and resolved, which he hopes will be done expeditiously. The secretary-general agrees that this is the appropriate thing to do," he said.

Mr. Strong issued a statement Monday admitting that Mr. Park had invested in a Canadian energy company with which he was associated in 1997. At the time, Mr. Strong was acting as an adviser to the secretary-general on U.N. reform.

He and Secretary-General Annan have been friends for decades, but Mr. Annan told VOA Tuesday he had no knowledge of the business relationship between Mr. Strong and Mr. Park.

Mr. Strong has worked in various capacities for the United Nations since 1970. He is perhaps best known for his role as secretary-general of the Stockholm and Rio de Janeiro summits on the environment. He was also a close associate of former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who headed the world body at the time the oil-for-food program was established.

But Mr. Strong is also a well known Canadian businessman and former oil company executive. A website operated by the Canadian Broadcasting Company describes him as "the most influential Canadian on the planet."

As special envoy on Korea, he has been Secretary-General Annan's representative to the stalled six-party talks aimed at persuading the Pyongyang government to halt its nuclear weapons program.

In his written statement to reporters this week, Mr. Strong said he had had no involvement with the oil-for-food program or any other of the U.N.'s Iraq activities. He pledged to cooperate with all investigations in order to, in his words "have this cloud removed as soon as possible."