updated 4/30/2005 12:57:27 AM ET 2005-04-30T04:57:27

The Senate may force the testimony of a senior investigator who resigned from the independent committee probing the U.N. oil-for-food scandal because he considered an interim report too soft on Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a senator said Friday.

The committee’s chairman, former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker, has been calling senators and congressmen, urging them not to subpoena the investigator, Robert Parton. Volcker has emphasized the confidentiality agreement in Parton’s contract and the U.N.-appointed committee’s diplomatic immunity, said Mike Holtzman, a spokesman for the Volcker committee.

But Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who chairs the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and has repeatedly called for Annan to resign, released a statement saying that he has ordered his staff to issue subpoenas as soon as possible to Parton and Miranda Duncan, a second investigator who also quit.

“I spoke with Mr. Volcker yesterday and expressed my grave and growing concerns about the credibility and independence of the investigation into the criminal misconduct that occurred in the U.N. oil-for-food program,” Coleman said.

At least two other congressional committees are considering subpoenas for the investigators, said Tom Costa, a spokesman for Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., one of the congressmen Volcker called.

Probe too soft on Annan?
The disagreement highlights the tension between the world body and some members of Congress who believe the report was too easy on the secretary-general. It cleared Annan of interfering in the awarding of a $10 million-a-year U.N. contract to the Swiss employer of his son, Kojo Annan, but faulted Kojo for hiding the extent of his own involvement.

The report said Annan didn’t properly investigate possible conflicts of interest surrounding the contract, criticizing him for refusing to push top advisers further after they conducted a 24-hour probe relating to his son and found nothing wrong.

Volcker’s interim report, released March 29, said the secretary-general didn’t violate U.N. rules. The $64 billion oil-for-food program was set up to help Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein’s regime after his 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Late Friday, Parton’s lawyer issued a statement that made no comment on the threatened subpoena.

“Mr. Parton respects the Congressional Committees and their work. He hopes that Mr. Volcker, the U.N., and the Congress can work this out. Beyond that, we can’t comment,” his attorney, Lanny Davis said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press. Mark Pieth, one of Volcker’s two colleagues on the committee, told the AP that Parton and Duncan resigned this month because they were upset because they believed the report was too soft on the secretary-general.

Immunity in question
As senior investigative counsel, Parton was responsible for investigations into the procurement of companies under the oil-for-food program and was the lead investigator on allegations of impropriety relating to Kofi and Kojo Annan. Duncan worked on Parton’s team.

The investigators on the Volcker committee signed nondisclosure clauses, agreeing not to discuss their work for the committee.

Shays said the United Nations and Volcker’s committee had refused to waive immunity for Parton and Duncan.

“This lack of transparency is part of the problem,” Shays said in a statement e-mailed to the AP. “We are conferring with lawyers to determine our next steps.”

Holtzman said the Volcker committee was merely protecting the investigators.

“The committee has done everything possible to be transparent, consistent with conducting a fair and impartial investigation, he said. “We draw the line at exposing an investigator.”

But Coleman criticized Volcker’s Independent Inquiry Committee for not adequately explaining the investigators’ departure.

“Robert Parton and Miranda Duncan’s resignation from the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC), and a lack of adequate explanation for their departure, only fuels concerns about the credibility of the IIC led by Mr. Volcker,” Coleman said in the e-mail.

Volcker also called Rep. Henry Hyde, R.-Ill., said Hyde’s spokesman, Sam Stratman.

The House International Relations Committee, which Hyde chairs, has been among the most assertive of several congressional committees investigating the oil-for-food scandal. Shays chairs the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations.

Also Friday, the former head of the U.N. oil for food program, Benon Sevan, had his law firm release correspondence suggesting that Annan might lift Sevan’s U.N. diplomatic immunity, making Sevan subject to U.S. investigations and inquiries.

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