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Annan vows prompt action on Oil-for-Food report

Annan again vows prompt action on Oil-for-Food report

Declaring that he did not want a shadow to hang over the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today again pledged prompt action after an interim report by an independent panel faulted the official in charge of the UN-managed Iraqi Oil-for-Food Programme for "ethically improper" conduct.

Mr. Annan told reporters that his lawyers are working on the disciplinary action that he said yesterday would be taken against the defunct programme's head, Benon Sevan, who has now retired from the UN, and Joseph Stephanides, another official involved in the multi-billion dollar initiative – the world body's largest ever – under which Iraq, then sanctions-bound, was allowed to sell oil for food and other humanitarian supplies.

"Obviously, there were some hard knocks in the report, and we are concerned about it, and this is why we intend to take action promptly," Mr. Annan said in reply to reporters' questions on arrival at UN Headquarters in New York.

"We are as determined as everyone to get to the bottom of this. We do not want this shadow to hang over the UN, so we want to get to the bottom of it, get to the truth, and take appropriate measures to deal with the gaps."

The report by the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC), named by Mr. Annan last year and headed by former United States Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker, concluded that Mr. Sevan's actions "presented a grave and continuing conflict of interest" and his conduct "was ethically improper, and seriously undermined the integrity" of the UN.

Asked whether the report was as bad as critics make it out to be, Mr. Annan replied: "I think for an organization like the UN, any hint of corruption and misbehaviour and that sort of disrespect for rules is harmful, and is dangerous and we cannot dismiss it, and we do take it seriously."

Asked whether he felt betrayed by Mr. Sevan's actions in the report, he said: "I think I'm not the only who was shocked by what we read in the report. He has been here working with many of us for quite a time and we had not expected anything of the sort."

In a letter to all UN staff, the Secretary-General said he hoped the positive achievements of the programme would not be forgotten, that despite having "to work with a corrupt and despotic Iraqi regime under almost impossible conditions," it delivered food rations sufficient to feed all 27 million Iraqis.

"However serious the flaws revealed in this report, it does not support many of the wilder allegations made against the programme, such as that it was responsible for the alleged $21 billion of illicit revenue allegedly gained by Saddam Hussein through smuggling and other means between 1991 and 2003," he wrote.

"I remain convinced that there is no higher calling than the work of the United Nations, and I feel greatly privileged, as I always have done, to lead an Organization that commands the loyalty of so many brilliant and devoted men and women," he concluded.

"I firmly believe that together we can come through this crisis, and emerge better able to fulfil the trust and expectations that our member states and their citizens have placed in us."

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