U.S. senator wants Annan to resign as U.N. leader
Coleman looking into alleged fraud in oil-for-food program run by U.N.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. senator leading the investigation into allegations of corruption and mismanagement in the Iraq oil-for-food program is urging U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to resign, saying the "massive scope of this debacle demands nothing less."
Annan declined to comment on the call, made by Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minnesota, in an opinion piece in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal.
"The decision to call for Mr. Annan's resignation does not come easily," Coleman wrote. "But I have arrived at this conclusion because the most extensive fraud in the history of the U.N. occurred on his watch.
"The world will never be able to learn the full extent of the bribes, kickbacks and under-the-table payments that occurred under the U.N.'s collective nose while Annan is in charge."
Coleman is chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which has been investigating the oil-for-food program for seven months.
Coleman said he was not accusing Kofi Annan of anything "other than incompetence and mismanagement."
The U.S. State Department on Wednesday declined to take a position on whether Annan should resign.
The State Department instead focused on the need for a comprehensive investigation and stressed that Annan has been cooperative on the investigative front.
"What's in front of us is ensuring that if there is wrongdoing, that it be fully understood, and that appropriate actions be taken," Deputy State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli said.
"In this regard, Secretary Annan has been playing an important and, I think, proper role."
Ereli said the United States has urged the United Nations to make the documents requested by Congress available, and said Annan has been very "committed to and supportive of the investigation."
He called Annan a "valued interlocutor" on the oil-for-food issue, and maintained Annan has both cooperated with the investigation and moved to address charges of wrongdoing.
"In our view, the U.N., under the leadership of Secretary-General Annan, is supporting the investigation, understands what's at stake, and is doing the right thing," Ereli said.
The program, administered by the United Nations, was designed to allow Iraq, when it was under economic sanctions after the Persian Gulf War, to sell oil and use the proceeds to buy food and medicine to mitigate the sanctions' impact on the Iraqi people.
Coleman's committee has charged that Saddam Hussein was able to siphon off $6.7 billion in oil revenues from the program and made an additional $13.7 billion smuggling oil in contravention of international sanctions.
Annan has appointed former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to conduct an internal investigation into the allegations. But Coleman, while calling Volcker a "good and honest man," said that the United Nations "simply cannot root out its own corruption while Mr. Annan is in charge."
"If we're to get to the bottom of this, if there's to be any credibility, the person that was at the helm during the course of this thing cannot be the guy that Paul Volcker reports to, cannot be the guy that we go asking for help and assistance in getting the people we need to talk to," Coleman told CNN. "He needs to step back, step down for the credibility of the organization itself."
Annan's son, Kojo, received money for consulting work done in Africa for the Swiss firm Cotecna, which inspected goods entering Iraq under the oil-for-food program. On Monday, the secretary-general said he was disappointed to learn in news reports that his son remained on the Cotecna payroll until earlier this year, despite earlier U.N. statements that he had stopped receiving money from the firm back in 1998.
No formal charges of wrongdoing have been made against Kojo Annan by any of at least six separate investigations under way into the oil-for-food program. But his father conceded Monday that the latest news creates the perception "of conflict of interests and wrongdoing" at the United Nations.
Kofi Annan also said he had no personal involvement in the granting of contracts to companies that participated in the oil-for-food program.