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UN Official Fired Over Oil-For-Food Role


U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has fired an employee accused of wrongdoing in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal.

Joseph Stephanides
(1996 file photo)
Joseph Stephanides, former chief of the U.N. Security Council Affairs Division, was summarily dismissed Tuesday. He is the first U.N. employee to lose his job in connection with the multi-billion dollar oil-for-food scandal.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced the firing.

"After a thorough review of all aspects of the case, the secretary-general has decided that Mr. Joseph Stephanides be summarily dismissed for serious misconduct in accordance with the U.N. staff regulations. Mr. Stephanides was advised accordingly yesterday and was separated from service with immediate effect," he said.

Mr. Stephanides and oil-for-food program chief Benon Sevan, both natives of Cyprus, had been suspended with pay last February. The suspensions came after an independent U.N. panel headed by former U.S. central bank chief Paul Volcker found they had misused their authority.

Mr. Stephanides was accused of intervening on behalf of a British firm that eventually won a lucrative contract to inspect humanitarian goods under the program.

Mr. Sevan was accused of soliciting oil allocations from former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and steering them to a friend's company. Investigators also voiced suspicions that Mr. Sevan might have received kickbacks from oil-for-food contracts.

Both men have vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

U.N. spokesman Dujarric says Mr. Sevan, who held the rank of under secretary-general, is technically still on staff at a token salary while the Volcker panel completes its oil-for-food probe.

"He remains on a dollar a year. He remains suspended, exactly, but as Mr. Volcker's work is continuing, Mr. Sevan's contract was extended," he said.

Spokesman Dujarric said any disciplinary action against Mr. Sevan would be taken when Mr. Volcker's investigation is complete. Mr. Volcker has already issued two reports on his findings. He has promised a third a final report within the next few months. But members of his staff have privately said the probe may drag on longer, as new aspects of the case unfold.

Several U.S. congressional committees are conducting separate inquiries into various aspects of the scandal-ridden oil-for-food program. The program was established in the mid-1990s to provide food and medicine for Iraqis hard-hit by U.N. sanctions on Saddam Hussein's government.

Investigators have documented how Saddam manipulated the program, using billions of dollars in illegal oil profits to reward friends and buy influence, including members of the U.N. Security Council.