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Two US Congressmen Urge Cooperation With Iraq Oil-for-Food Probe - 2004-05-04

Two Republican members of the House of Representatives are urging the Bush administration to ensure full U.S. government support for an independent investigation into the United Nations-managed "Oil-for-Food Program." The lawmakers spoke on Capitol Hill.

In a letter to President Bush, Republicans Christopher Shays and Frank Wolf call for full cooperation by U.S. government agencies with the investigation headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.

Congressman Shays calls the scandal over the Oil-for-Food Program "a huge black mark" on the United Nations. "We want the State Department, CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority], and the U.N. to know that there has to be a full accounting of the Oil-for-Food transactions, even if that unaccustomed degree of transparency embarrasses some members of the [U.N.] Security Council, and it may even embarrass the United States," he said. "We can't ignore the profound serious allegations of malfeasance in the Oil-for-Food Program. To do so would be to deny the Iraqi people the accounting they deserve, and leave the U.N. under an ominous cloud."

Both lawmakers have spoken personally with Paul Volcker, who is leading the main independent probe.

Noting that both he and Congressman Shays chair key committees dealing with U.S. contributions to the United Nations, as well as aid programs, Mr. Wolf said, "We are urging the president, to provide the maximum support and the cooperation of the U.S. government to the independent commission. We owe it to the Iraqi people, we owe it to the world, and we also owe it to the American people who are funding a lot of the costs of the operations of the U.N."

Some lawmakers are raising questions about a letter, now circulating on Capitol Hill, that raises new questions regarding the role of U.N. Undersecretary General Benon Sevan.

Mr. Sevan's name was among a list of some 200 names published by a Baghdad newspaper, in a report on alleged abuses in the Oil-for-Food program. He has also been mentioned in testimony to congressional hearings.

Signed by Maurice Critchley, but under Mr. Sevan's name, the letter instructs a Europe-based contractor, Saybolt, a Netherlands-based company, not to respond directly to outside requests for information about program matters, including one by an unidentified "governmental authority."

Asked about the letter Tuesday, Congressman Shays referred to testimony in a recent congressional hearing concerning Mr. Sevan, and said "it would be a big mistake, I think, for him [Mr. Sevan] to suggest that people not cooperate in this investigation. It would further imply that he is totally mixed up in this, and he ran the program."

Responding to journalists questions this past Monday, United Nations spokesman Fred Eckhard said the letter was "an institutional response" following standard U.N. legal practice on the work of contractors, requiring that all documentation be released only to the United Nations unless otherwise authorized.

The letter was sent before the Volcker commission was established. However, some lawmakers are skeptical of the U.N. explanation, saying it has the appearance of an attempt to impede the flow of information about the Oil-for-Food program.

Congressman Shays and Congressman Wolf say they have been assured by the FBI of its full cooperation with investigations into the Oil-for-Food program, and expect the same from the Department of Treasury and other agencies.