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Chair of Oil-For-Food Inquiry Pledges Full Probe

Paul Volcker, Chair Of 'Oil-For-Food' Inquiry, Pledges Full Probe

Paul Volcker, the former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve System, today pledged a thorough inquiry into allegations of impropriety in the administration and management of the United Nations Iraq Oil-for-Food Programme.

"I didn't agree to do this lightly but I think there are very important accusations made about the UN, accusations about the administration of the Programme, accusations about activities outside the UN, which need to be resolved," Mr. Volcker told a press briefing in New York.

"The UN is an important institution, and these questions, once raised, have to have a deliberate and full investigation and an answer, so that the UN in fact can fulfil the responsibilities and take advantage of the opportunities that arise to contribute to not only the situation in Iraq but situations that are bound to come along in the rest of the world."

Mr. Volcker also praised the qualifications of the other panel members: Justice Richard Goldstone of South Africa, who previously served as the Chief Prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and Mark Pieth of Switzerland, a Professor of Criminal Law and Criminology at the University of Basel with expertise in money-laundering.

Mr. Volcker hailed the passage today of a Security Council resolution requiring cooperation with the panel's work, saying it was important to "make sure that Member States knew what they were getting into," and stressing the critical importance of their cooperation.

He said the most urgent priority would be to deal with the specific allegations of corruption within the UN, "but there are broader questions about the administration of the programme, and without rising to the level of illegality or criminal action, was there maladministration - let me call it that - which will have lessons for the future?"

"The investigation of events [and] developments related to the Oil-for-Food Programme but not inside the UN I suspect will maybe be the most time-consuming and the most difficult part," he observed.

Responding to press questions, he noted that the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the Governing Council have indicated that the records will be made available to the panel, "so I feel somewhat comforted on that score."

Mr. Volcker voiced confidence that the panel would have full UN backing. "Management of the United Nations I am convinced will do everything that's in their power to facilitate testimony, inquiries, investigation of individual United Nations [staff] members."

"I don't minimize the challenge in getting this done," Mr. Volcker said, noting that he would need "a variety of talents," including experts in forensic accounting, legal issues and investigations, to conduct the investigation.

Asked how long the effort would take, Mr. Volcker said, "We'll go as fast as we can consistent with doing a thorough job." He predicted that the investigation would in any case take longer than three months.

"There's always some damage in the accusations but what seems to be important is finding out whether there's any substance to those," he said. "If there's not, and we've done as good an investigation as we can, that helps repair the damage; if there is substance to them, get it out there, get it out in a hurry, and cauterize the wound."

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