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Annan Declines Comment on Latest Oil For Food Allegations


U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has refused to comment on reports he may have influenced the awarding of lucrative Oil For Food contracts. Mr. Annan has rejected calls for his resignation and pledged to push ahead with his reform agenda.

As he returned from a brief trip to Paris Thursday, Mr. Annan turned aside all questions about his possible involvement in the awarding of Oil For Food contracts.

He said he would leave judgment of his actions to the committee led by former U.S. central bank chief Paul Volcker, which he appointed last year to investigate allegations of Oil For Food corruption and mismanagement.

"Mr. Volcker and his group are looking into this, and I will leave him to look into it and get into bottom of the allegations. I don't want to be drawn on this," said Mr. Annan.

In a report last March, the Volcker committee harshly criticized Mr. Annan's conduct in managing the $65 billion humanitarian program. But the report concluded there was not enough evidence to say whether the secretary-general had influenced the awarding of a contract to the Swiss-based firm Cotecna, which had employed his son.

But a new email that surfaced this week suggests Mr. Annan may have known more about the contract than he previously admitted. In the email, Cotecna employee and Annan family friend Michael Wilson, said he had spoken with Mr. Annan in Paris days before Cotecna won a $10 million a year contract, and had been assured that he had the secretary-general's support.

The secretary-general's spokesman immediately refuted the charge, saying neither Mr. Annan nor anyone on his staff had any recollection of meeting Mr. Wilson.

Mr. Annan Thursday pleaded with journalists to allow the Volcker Commission to decide whether his actions were improper.

"Mr.Volcker will be looking into all that. I will leave him to it. I would also plead with you to resist the temptation to substitute yourself for the Volcker Commission. Please let him do his work," he added.

The Volcker committee this week issued a statement saying it was "urgently reviewing" its conclusions about Mr. Annan in light of the new information.

Since then, however, both Mr. Wilson and Cotecna have categorically rejected any allegations of impropriety. In Mr. Wilson's statement, issued by a London law firm, he denies having had any contact with the secretary-general before the contract was awarded.

In an interview with a Paris newspaper this week, Secretary-General Annan called it "regrettable" that the Volcker committee was not able to conduct its inquiry in a calm manner. He said he would not resign, and would push ahead with work to reform the world body.

A U.S. Congressional report released this week criticized the United Nations for lacking oversight and accountability. The report urged Mr. Annan to urgently implement management reforms, including an overhaul of the world body's human rights machinery, as well as sweeping changes in budgeting and administrative procedures.

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