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IRAQ: Annan waives official’s immunity after Oil for Food inquiry report

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

DUBAI, 9 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday waived the immunity of a former UN procurement officer accused of looking for kickbacks under the former Oil-for-Food Programme for Iraq, and said he would do the same for another high-ranking official implicated.

Expressing “deep concern” at the latest findings of an independent commission investigating the operation of the programme, released on Monday, Annan promised to act quickly to strengthen controls on UN procurement.

Following a request from the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, the UN said on Monday, Annan had lifted the immunity of procurement officer Alexander Yakovlev, found by the committee to have been involved in a “corrupt” scheme.

The Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC), in its third interim report, said it had found that Benon Sevan, executive director of the UN Office of the Iraq Programme, wrongly derived profit from the Oil-for-Food programme.

Acting with Efraim (Fred) Nadler and Fakhry Abdelnour of the African Middle East Petroleum Company, the committee said, Sevan had profited from the sale of oil allocated to him by the Iraqi authorities.

“The participants had knowledge that some of the oil was purchased by paying an illegal surcharge to Iraq, in violation of United Nations sanctions and [the] rules of the programme,” the IIC stated in a press release.

Sevan announced his formal resignation from the UN on Sunday, in advance of the ICC findings, saying through his lawyer that he had lost confidence that he would be treated fairly by the inquiry or the UN.

The ICC also found that Yakovlev had – in procuring an independent oil inspection for the Oil-for-Food Programme in 1996 – “participated in a corrupt scheme” with French businessman Yves Pintore “to solicit a bribe from SGS, a bidder for that contract”.

The committee recommended that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan should waive the immunity applying to Sevan and Yakoklev as UN officials if properly requested to do so by law enforcement agencies.

It also recommended that the UN make available to those agencies the information needed for the possible investigation and prosecution of Nadler, Abdelnour and Pintore.

Kofi Annan’s chef de cabinet, Mark Malloch Brown, said on Monday that the UN Secretary-General would waive the immunity for Sevan “as soon as he receives any properly supported request from an appropriate law enforcement authority”.

The UN had not just been in contact with law enforcement officials, but was cooperating closely with them on this matter, Malloch Brown said. “It’s not just the waiving of immunity; it’s active collaboration,” he added.

Malloch Brown said there remained “a real need for serious, deep-rooted management reform” of the UN, but that this does not yet seem to be fully accepted by all member states.

The Oil-for-Food investigation, he said, raised the possibility that the IIC could “lift this issue above politics” and help the UN achieve the badly-needed strengthening of its management systems.

At the same time, Malloch Brown paid tribute on Monday to “the great successes the Oil-for-Food Programme had achieved in sustaining the Iraqi people”.

The programme, which allowed the government of Iraq to sell oil for food and humanitarian supplies, was established in 1996 to address the negative effects on Iraqi civilians of the international sanctions regime against Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

During its operation, the programme managed $46 billion of humanitarian assistance, supplies and projects.

As early as 2000, UN oil overseers alerted the Security Council to suspicions of illegal oil surcharges by the Iraqi government.

Kofi Annan also drew attention to the problem in a 2001 report to the Security Council.

The UN ended the programme, in November 2003, transferring operational responsibility to the then Coalition Provisional Authority, run by the United States. Responding to increasingly serious allegations of corruption in the programme, Annan established the Independent Inquiry Committee in April 2004.

Despite the well-publicised concerns about corruption and flawed management systems, the UN says, the Oil-for-Food Programme achieved its core mission in providing humanitarian relief to 27 million Iraqis at a time of great hardship for Iraqis.

In particular, it cites achievements in reducing malnutrition rates, clearing landmines, immunising for polio and drastically reducing the incidence of other diseases, such as cholera, malaria, measles, meningitis and tuberculosis.

A much broader report on the administration of the Oil-for-Food Programme, expected to include specific conclusions about different UN agencies and recommendations for action, is currently being prepared by the IIC.

The committee expects to release that in early September, committee chairman Paul Volcker said on Monday.

Before concluding its work, he said, the committee intended to undertake a more detailed analysis of the companies who participated in the programme, whether in the purchase of oil or the sale of humanitarian goods.

The IIC also intends to conduct “a more detailed analysis of the manner in which Iraq and its vendors and oil purchasers manipulated the programme,” Volcker added.


 Theme(s) Other
Other recent IRAQ reports:

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ZIMBABWE: Health budget fails to address brain drain, 16/Dec/05

CENTRAL & EASTERN AFRICA: IRIN-CEA Weekly Round-up 309 10-16 December 2005, 16/Dec/05

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