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Investigation Into Iraqi Oil-For-Food Programme

Investigation Continues Into Iraqi Oil-For-Food Programme, Un Spokesman

New York, March 17 2004 6:00PM

The United Nations auditing office is continuing its investigation into allegations of corruption within the Iraq Oil-for-Food programme, interviewing a number of former employees of the largest-ever UN humanitarian operation, a spokesman for the world body said today.

Spokesman Fred Eckhard said the Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is proceeding as best it can with its probe, talking to UN and former Oil-for-Food personnel, as well as people outside the Organization.

"It isn't just that they're waiting for the Governing Council to provide copies of the documentary evidence that some members of the Council indicated that they had," Mr. Eckhard said at the daily press briefing, adding that "we don't yet know whether we will ever get this evidence from Baghdad."

Established by the Security Council in 1996, the Oil-for-Food programme allowed the Government of Iraq to sell oil for food and humanitarian supplies, and served as the sole source of sustenance for 60 per cent of Iraq's estimated 27 million people. The operation, the largest-ever in financial terms, became obsolete when last May the Council lifted sanctions imposed on the country for its 1990 invasion and subsequent occupation of Kuwait.

Mr. Eckhard noted today that Secretary-General Kofi Annan did not have "the authority to investigate some of the other allegations that have been made in the media about wrongdoing by governments or companies."

Asked whether Mr. Annan would favour the Security Council's possible appointment of a commission to investigate the programme, the spokesman said the Council would have to decide what it wanted to do.

Responding to a question about whether Mr. Annan trusted the programme's administrator, Benon Sevan, the spokesman said the Secretary-General did. "At the same time," Mr. Eckhard added, "as a responsible administrator, [the Secretary-General's] got to investigate these allegations against Benon and others, and he's doing that through OIOS."

As for whether any alleged corruption regarding oil-for-food contracts was something that the programme itself should have had the responsibility to investigate, Mr. Eckhard said it had no mandate to oversee or investigate those kinds of charges reported in the media.

"It would be something for the Security Council through the Sanctions Committee - the 661 Committee - to look into," the spokesman replied. "It would be something for governments, either individual governments to investigate their own national companies, or the Security Council collectively to look at the actions of companies or governments for that matter, in relation to the Oil-for-Food programme."


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