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Annan 'disappointed' son didn't tell all

Kojo Annan continued on payroll of oil-for-food inspection firm

Annan said of his son: "I don't get involved with his activities and he doesn't get involved in mine."
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United Nations
Paul Volcker

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday he was "disappointed and surprised" to learn that his son, Kojo, had remained on the payroll of a company involved in the Iraq oil-for-food program, the subject of several corruption probes.

Kojo Annan received money for consulting work done in Africa for Geneva, Switzerland-based Cotecna Inspection, which was hired to verify whether food, medicine and other goods entering Iraq were on the approved list under the $64 billion oil-for-food program.

The United Nations previously said the payments stopped after Kojo Annan left the firm in 1997.

Earlier this year, it revised that statement, saying the younger Annan received money through the end of 1998 under an agreement not to compete with Cotecna in West Africa.

Cotecna had said the payments to Annan were halted when the firm won the contract to inspect oil-for-food humanitarian shipments starting in December 1998.

But late last week the United Nations said Kojo Annan had received payments as recently as February 2004 under the non-compete agreement.

The company said Swiss law required that it continue the payments for the length of time the younger Annan was prohibited from working for a competitor under the agreement.

At least six investigations are under way into the defunct oil-for-food program -- several in the U.S. Congress and one by an independent U.N. panel headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. (Full story)

Kofi Annan told reporters Monday he understands that with this latest oil-for-food news the United Nations faces the perception "of conflict of interests and wrongdoing."

"Naturally I was very disappointed and surprised," Annan said, when he learned his son had not fully disclosed his continued involvement with Cotecna.

He said he has spoken with his son, but he declined to reveal what was said.

Annan said he has "warm family relations with his son, but he is in a different field. He is an independent businessman. He is a grown man, and I don't get involved with his activities and he doesn't get involved in mine."

Annan said he had no personal involvement in the granting of contracts to businesses that participated in the oil-for-food program.

He walked away without a response to questions about calls for his resignation in opinion articles published in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard was quoted by Reuters as saying that those who signed the inspection deal with Cotecna in 1998 contended they did not know that Kojo Annan, then a trainee, worked for the firm at the time.

No formal charges of wrongdoing have been made against Kojo Annan, who is based in Nigeria.

Reuters reported that no evidence has been found that he worked on the Iraq project for Cotecna, which also was hired by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq until mid-2004.

The oil-for-food program began in December 1996 to alleviate the effect of U.N. economic sanctions on ordinary Iraqis.

Under supervision by the U.N. secretariat and Security Council, the government of dictator Saddam Hussein was permitted to sell oil and buy civilian supplies. The program was halted after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

In October, former U.N. weapons inspector Charles Duelfer said in a report for the CIA that Saddam's government routinely violated the sanctions, earning an estimated $7.5 billion in cash mainly by smuggling oil outside the U.N. program.

Saddam's government earned another $3 billion in kickbacks on oil and other schemes under the program, Reuters reported Duelfer's report as saying.

The General Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, reported similar estimates.

A U.S. Senate committee said earlier this month that the amount of money Saddam earned by subverting the program may be more that twice the estimates by Duelfer and the GAO. (Full story)

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Danforth said Monday that the United States considers the allegations made about the oil-for-food program "very serious."

"The investigation has to be very comprehensive," Danforth said. "We have to get to the bottom of this. It has to be done in a very professional fashion. It shouldn't be prejudged. Let the chips fall where they may."

Danforth said he favors having Volcker's panel turn over information to U.S. congressional committees that are demanding sharing of all oil-for-food files.

So far, Volcker has refused to do so, and Danforth said he saw no immediate resolution to the deadlock on that issue.

Volcker's panel is due to issue an initial report in January and a full report by mid-year, Reuters reported.

Republican Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, introduced a bill November 17 that demands heightened U.N. accountability.

Reuters reported Hyde as saying that U.N. audits he had obtained "identified mismanagement and uneconomical' arrangements" by Cotecna.

Asked if Kofi Annan should resign, Danforth was quoted by Reuters as saying, "I don't think that the United States government rushes to judgment until all the facts are in."

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