Global Policy Forum

Annan Summons UN Council


By Evelyn Leopold

March 25, 2004

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan summoned Security Council members on Thursday to get firm backing for an independent inquiry into charges of corruption in the U.N.-run Iraq oil-for-food program. In a letter to council members obtained by Reuters, Annan defined terms of the probe, saying it would look into allegations of corruption among U.N. officials and outside firms dealing with Iraq under the now-defunct $65 billion humanitarian plan.

Evidence in the media from documents found in Iraq -- but not given to the United Nations -- alleges payoffs, smuggling and bribes under the program. The worst allegation for the world body is a bribe said to have been paid to the plan's head, Benon Sevan, who has vigorously denied it. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Annan was looking for a "nod" from the council, perhaps in a statement or a letter, after his meeting late on Thursday.

"Without the full cooperation of governments and companies, the investigation is not likely to succeed," Eckhard said.

Diplomats said a resolution mandating that all U.N. members cooperate with an investigation would probably fail. Many of the firms and individuals charged with wrongdoing were from the 15 Security Council member states. Annan has not asked for council approval for the probe, which he said would go ahead one way or another.

The oil-for-food plan, which began in late 1996, was intended to ease the impact of 1991 Gulf War sanctions on ordinary Iraqis by allowing Baghdad to sell oil to pay for humanitarian goods. Iraq selected the buyers of its oil and vendors of goods. Annan's letter said the inquiry would be authorized to approach and seek cooperation of member states and "their relevant authorities."

He did not say how much the probe would cost or who would head it. Eckhard said names were expected to be announced within a week. Annan in the letter said the probe also would determine:

  • whether procedures established by the Security Council and U.N. secretariat for monitoring and approving contracts were violated.

  • whether any U.N. officials, personnel and agents or outside contractors engaged in "any illicit or corrupt activities," including bribery, imposing surcharges and other illicit payments.

  • whether U.N. accounts were in order.

  • Annan said the independent commission could engage professional investigators, auditors, accountants, forensic experts and others and issue a report within three months after the start of the probe. The burgeoning scandal is one of the worst to hit the world body, giving fodder to its long-time critics. It also comes as the Bush administration wants the United Nations to help Iraqis form an interim government

    The U.S. General Accounting Office, an interagency body headed by the Treasury Department, says Iraqi elites raised $4.4 billion by imposing illegal surcharges. Ousted Iraq President Saddam Hussein is estimated to have smuggled another $5.7 billion in oil outside the U.N. program through Syria, Jordan and Turkey.

    Many of the program's contracts, as well as previous allegations of wrongdoing, were reviewed by the Security Council's sanctions committee, composed of all 15 council nations. Some were brought to the panel's attention by Sevan, others by the United States and Britain over the years. But members, sharply divided over Iraq, often took no action.

    The Iraqi Governing Council has also launched an investigation and several have been announced in Washington, by Congress, the Pentagon and others. Britain is probing its own firms.

    More Information on the Iraq Crisis
    More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq
    More Information on Iraq's Oil-for-Food Programme


    FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.