Oil-for-food investigator criticizes panel

/ Source: The Associated Press

A former senior investigator from the independent probe into allegations of corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program confirmed Saturday that he had resigned to protest a report clearing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan of meddling in the operation.

In his first public comments since leaving the investigation, Robert Parton, one of two investigators who resigned from the Independent Inquiry Committee led by former Fed chief Paul Volcker, criticized his former employer Saturday for misrepresenting the grounds of his resignation.

Resignation based on ‘principle’
Parton, who was in charge of investigating Annan, confirmed a report by The Associated Press earlier this week that he and another investigator had resigned to protest recent findings by the committee that cleared the secretary general of meddling in the $64 billion program.

“Contrary to recent published reports, I resigned my position as Senior Investigative Counsel for the IIC not because my work was complete but on principle,” Parton said Saturday in a statement e-mailed to AP.

Reflecting possible schisms within the committee, two of the three committee members gave conflicting explanations earlier this week for why the investigators had left.

One committee member, Mark Pieth, confirmed to AP that Parton and the other investigator, Miranda Duncan, had left after disagreeing with how the committee handled facts that were uncovered concerning Annan’s dealings with a Swiss company contracted under the program, which once employed Annan’s son, Kojo.

The investigators were said to be upset because they believed the report was too soft on the secretary general.

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 hasty, 24-hour investigation relating to his son and found nothing wrong.

But the interim report cleared the secretary general of trying to influence the awarding of the $10 million-a-year contract and said he didn’t violate U.N. rules. The oil-for-food program was set up to help ordinary Iraqis cope with crippling U.N. sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein’s regime after his 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Shortly after the report was released on March 29, Annan said at a news conference that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing by the committee.

Infighting on panel
Following Pieth’s statement, another committee member, Richard Goldstone, discounted reports that the two investigators had left the Independent Inquiry Committee because they believed the report was too soft on the secretary general.

Goldstone told CNN earlier this week that that Parton and Duncan had left because their work was complete.

A person close to Parton said his contract ran until August and he left because he was upset with conclusions in the report and disagreed with how the committee reached those findings. Speaking on condition of anonymity at Parton’s request, he also said Parton, a lawyer and former FBI agent, issued his statement because he believed that Goldstone had knowingly misrepresented the reason he left.

Responding to Parton’s statement, a spokesman for the committee accused the former employee of trying to expand his mandate Saturday.

“It is the responsibility of investigators only to gather facts and bring them to the committee, not to provide opinion,” Mike Holtzman said. “It is the committee that renders judgment on the facts and to put it bluntly, the investigators were not paid for their opinions.”

‘No facts are being dismissed’
Holtzman added that all the facts uncovered by the investigators were included in the report and the three committee members were unanimous in its conclusions.

“If you read the report, the work of the investigators is completely at the heart of these reports, no facts are being dismissed or avoided,” Holtzman said.

But Parton, who was assigned to write two drafts of the report, believes that the final version ommitted material facts, the person close to him said.

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

Reflecting the stakes in the controversy over the committee’s report, a State Department spokesman said earlier this week that the Bush administration did not view the report as an exoneration of the secretary general.

The statement from Mark Lagon, the deputy assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, was the first time the United States had rebutted Annan’s claim that he had been cleared by the committee.