U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan initially did not tell U.S. investigators in the oil-for-food probe that he met twice with representatives of his son’s employer as the Swiss company began soliciting United Nations business.
Annan’s omissions last November raised credibility concerns with the chief investigator, Robert Parton, that persisted even after Annan later provided his recollections about the meetings. Investigators had uncovered the contacts in calendars recovered from computers, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Associated Press.
Parton sought to make an issue of Annan’s veracity, concluding the U.N. chief wasn’t initially forthcoming and his story evolved as new facts emerged. Parton also noted Annan’s account sometimes conflicted with other witnesses deemed credible. Drafts of Parton’s report, however, were substantially revised.
The three-member committee that supervised Parton used a different tone when it laid out the discrepancies in the version of the report released to the public two months ago. “He had checked the records and now remembered the meeting,” the final report said about one of the meetings Annan hadn’t originally disclosed.
The final report also didn’t mention that Annan had originally denied knowing one of his son’s business associates with whom he had had lunch. Nor did it mention that the business associate testified that he specifically discussed Kojo Annan’s interest in doing business in Iraq with the U.N. chief.
Poor preparation blamed
Kofi Annan’s lawyer acknowledged Friday that his client didn’t provide or recall certain information about 6-year-old events during his first interview with investigators last November, blaming it on poor preparation.
“During many different meetings with the panel and its counsel, the Secretary-General took pains to answer questions truthfully and completely. In his first interview, however, Mr. Annan had no advance knowledge of the specific topics of greatest concern to the panel and had not prepared himself adequately,” attorney Greg Craig said.
“For later interviews, he reviewed his schedule, his calendar, his appointment logs and other records, and was able to provide additional information to the Committee.”
Parton’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, declined comment, citing a judge’s order barring him from disclosing any information recently provided to Congress under a subpoena.
Paul Volcker, the chief of the Independent Inquiry Committee, has acknowledged that there was debate among his investigators about how to interpret its findings on Annan, but denied leaving out any material facts.
Annan has maintained he didn’t know his son’s company got oil-for-food business until after it was awarded in December 1998 and a newspaper reported it the following month. The final version of the investigative report released March 29 concluded there wasn’t evidence the U.N. chief tried to influence the world body’s decisions to benefit his son’s business interests.
The House International Relations Committee is poring over boxes of documents and audiotapes that Parton provided this month under a subpoena after resigning in protest as the lead investigator in the case.
Parton was charged with determining how the U.N. came to award business from its oil-for-food humanitarian program in Iraq in December 1998 to Cotecna, the Swiss firm that employed Annan’s son Kojo.
Parton’s acrimonious departure from the U.N. probe has turned into a legal battle, with the U.N. trying, unsuccessfully, to stop its former investigator from complying with the subpoena to provide his investigative files to Congress.
Those files provide a detailed account of what Annan told investigators and when, and show the frictions over how to interpret evidence that ensued between Parton and the three-member committee, led by Volcker, that supervised his work.
In his first of four interviews with investigators, Annan did not disclose last November that he met in September 1998 with his son Kojo and Cotecna consultant Pierre Mouselli — and then, two weeks later, with Cotecna’s chief executive Eli Massey — as the company was gearing up to bid for business under the oil-for-food program.
Annan generally acknowledged in the first interview that he knew Massey — referring to him as “the old man” — and occasionally met with him, including once in 1999, several months after Cotecna won the U.N. contract.
In a subsequent interview in January after consulting the calendars that were turned over to Parton, Annan divulged he met twice with Massey before the Cotecna contract was awarded, including on Sept. 18, 1998.
But the U.N. chief testified that the meeting did not involve Cotecna’s pursuit of oil-for-food business. Instead, he said, the two discussed an idea Massey had for an international lottery to raise money for the U.N.; Annan said he referred Massey to another official to discuss the idea further.
The U.N. chief also indicated he didn’t recall a man named Pierre Mouselli, though he said he often doesn’t recall people he meets casually in his high-profile job. The final report makes no mention of Annan’s November denial about Mouselli.
During a March 17 interview, Annan was quizzed about a calendar entry indicating he had a “private lunch” on Sept. 4, 1998, with his son Kojo and “his friend” during a world conference in Durban, South Africa.
By that time, Parton had already learned that the friend was Mouselli, a businessman who, like Kojo Annan, was working as a consultant with Cotecna.
Parton also secured testimony from Mouselli stating that he and the Annans had discussed at the South African lunch that Kojo Annan and Mouselli were setting up companies and were interested in business, including Iraq. The final report said Mouselli’s account of the meeting couldn’t be verified elsewhere.
In the March interview, Kofi Annan said he did in fact remember a “brief encounter” he had in Durban with his son and a friend, whom he described as a Lebanese businessman whose first name might have been Pierre.
But despite his own calendar notation, the elder Annan insisted he still could not recall having lunch, the last name of the friend or any discussion of his son’s business endeavors during the encounter.
The final report also excluded detailed testimony from Mouselli that he and the Annans discussed their interest in Iraq business. “We discussed Iraq,” Mouselli told the AP in an interview this week. “We discussed about even my way to go to Iraq. ... We were joking if Kojo wants to come.”