March 29, 2005

Kofi's "Studied Bewilderment" Continues

The TV happened to be tuned to MSNBC (don't ask) when I walked in the house from work tonight and I was able to see Hardball reporting the news from the Volcker Committee Second Interim Report as follows: banner headline across the bottom of the screen "Kofi Annan Cleared of Wrongdoing in U.N. Oil For Food Scandal".

Really?

The guest host repeated this same basic statement more than once as the lead-in to his guests' appearance. I knew better, but plainly the other hundred or so people watching MSNBC might not have. It seemed like an outrageous statement to make even if one twisted the actual words from the media reports today to take the benefit of the doubt Annan was getting on the one small, nepotistic sliver of this massive fraud with which the media coverage primarily dealt, and turn it into a "get-out-of-jail-free-card" for Annan's culpability for having presided over the whole corrupt enterprise.

The issue of Kofi's son Kojo and his employer Cotecna, has received much of the media attention, but even to say that Annan was "exonerated" of the charge that he knew his son's employer was bidding for a lucrative Oil-For-Food inspection contract, is stretching the words of the report to the point of distorting them.

The first paragraphs of an AP story on the reports findings said, in part...

Investigators of the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq said Tuesday there was not enough evidence to show that Secretary-General Kofi Annan knew of a contract bid by his son's Swiss employer. However, they criticized the U.N. chief for not properly investigating possible conflicts of interest in the matter...

...The report released Tuesday also accused the company, Cotecna Inspection S.A., and Annan's son, Kojo, of trying to conceal their relationship after the contract was awarded. It also faulted Kofi Annan for conducting a one-day investigation into the matter, saying it should have been a more rigorous, independent probe.

Exoneration? That same AP report contained this quote from Volcker:

"Our investigation has disclosed several instances in which he might, or could have become aware, of Cotecna's participation in the bidding process," Volcker said. "However, there is neither convincing testimony to that effect nor any documentary evidence.

It's easy to understand how documentary evidence may have been hard to come by when one hears of the letters sent by Benon Sevan and endorsed personally by Annan to pressure Cotecna to withhold documents from the various investigators, or how certain U.N. officials were ordering their subordinates to shred documents by the boxful in advance of the probes.

We are to believe, just for starters, that the fact Cotecna employed the 23 year-old son of the U.N. Secretary General at the same time Cotecna was trying to land a huge contract with the United Nations, was a coincidence. And that after Kojo had worked for this company for over two years, his father had no idea that his son's employer was attempting to do business with the U.N. by bidding on a contract. I believe in the Tooth Fairy, and I don't buy this.

Roger Simon has been one of the bloggers who has been on the Oil-For-Food story from the early days, well over a year ago, and his recent exclusive on the comings and goings of Kofi and Kojo in 1998, the year that culminated in the award of the inspection contract to Cotecna, sheds some new light on the matter. Rogers reporting now makes it even more difficult to swallow the notion that Kofi was oblivious to his son's business affairs. Here's a taste of what Roger came up with, but go and read his whole post; (and this follow up as well)... (ellipses mine - Ed.)

The committee has been interviewing Pierre Mouselli, a businessman in Paris who was Kojo's business partner. Their relationship started in 1998 when then 45-year old Mouselli met young Kojo (then 23) at a Bastille Day Party in the French Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria...

...Previously unrevealed private meetings between Kojo and two separate Iraqi Ambassadors to Nigeria, arranged by Mouselli in or about August 1998. At these meetings Kojo presented the business card of Cotecna, which subsequently won the lucrative oil inspection contract for Oil-for-Food. Cotecna had previously been blacklisted from doing business in Nigeria for alleged arms trafficking.

...A trip in September 1998 by Mouselli and Kojo to the Non-Aligned Nations Movement Conference in Durban, South Africa during which they traveled with the Secretary General's entourage and later had a private lunch with Kofi Annan. In Mouselli's view, the purpose of the lunch was to make the Secretary General aware of the various business dealings in which he and Kojo were engaged, in order to get the Secretary General's "blessing". It was Mouselli's understanding at the time that Kojo had previously discussed the Iraqi Embassy visits with his father, though he does not recall specific statements regarding the UN inspection contracts.

I too have been blogging on Oil-For-Food since January, 2004 , and one of the many things that are beyond serious dispute is the fact that Kofi Annan was intimately involved in nearly every aspect of the Oil-For-Food program. It was the biggest aid program in the history of the U.N., and it was Annan's baby. From Claudia Rosett's essential Oil-For-Food primer in Commentary Magazine, come these excerpts discussing Annan's role in, and responsibility for the program:

Introduced as an ad-hoc deal, Oil-for-Food soon took on the marks of a more permanent arrangement. It was a project in which Annan had a direct hand from the beginning. As Under-Secretary General, he had led the first UN team to negotiate with Saddam over the terms of the sales under Oil-for-Food. The first shipment went out in December 1996; the following month, Annan succeeded Boutros-Ghali as Secretary-General.

Nine months later, in October 1997, Annan tapped Benon Sevan, an Armenian Cypriot and longtime UN official, to consolidate and run the various aspects of the Iraq relief operation under a newly established agency called the Office of the Iraq Program (but usually referred to simply as Oil-for-Food). Sevan served as executive director for the duration, reporting directly to Annan. The program was divided into roughly six-month phases; at the start of each phase, Sevan would report and Annan would recommend the program’s continuation to the Security Council, signing off directly on Saddam’s "distribution plans."

...If final responsibility lay anywhere at all, it lay with the Secretariat (Annan's office -Ed.). It was this body that fielded a substantial presence in Iraq....The Secretariat was the keeper of the contract records and the books, and controller of the bank accounts, with sole power to authorize the release of Saddam’s earnings to pay for imports to Iraq. The Secretariat arranged for audits of the program, was the chief interlocutor with Saddam, got paid well for its pains, and disseminated to the public extremely long reports in which most of the critical details of the transactions were not included...

...Annan’s studied bewilderment is itself an indictment not only of his person but of the system he heads. If anyone is going to take the fall for the Oil-for-Food scandal, Sevan seems the likeliest candidate. But it was the UN Secretary-General who compliantly condoned Saddam’s ever-escalating schemes and conditions, and who lobbied to the last to preserve Saddam’s totalitarian regime while the UN Secretariat was swimming in his cash.

Annan has been with the UN for 32 years. He moved up through its ranks; he knows it well. He was there at the creation of Oil-for-Food, he chose the director, he signed the distribution plans, he visited Saddam, he knew plenty about Iraq, and one might assume he read the newspapers. We are left to contemplate a UN system that has engendered a Secretary-General either so dishonest that he should be dismissed or so incompetent that he is truly dangerous—and should be dismissed.

Amen, Claudia.

Oil-For-Food Links

Friends of Saddam blog

"The Oil-for-Food Scam: What Did Kofi Annan Know, and When Did He Know It?", by Claudia Rosett

Wizblog Oil-For-Food posts

UPDATE 3/30: More from the Wall Street Journal on the Kofi-Kojo-Cotecna connections.

Posted by dan at March 29, 2005 9:29 PM