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Suspension of officials: Oil-for-Food programme

Suspension notices sent to UN officials linked to Iraq Oil-for-Food programme

Two United Nations staff members – including the former head of the Iraq Oil-for-Food programme – have been sent formal notification of the administrative charges against them arising from a recent preliminary report by an independent panel probing allegations of corruption and mismanagement in multi-billion dollar relief effort.

Benon Sevan, who formerly headed the Office of the Iraq Programme, and Joseph Stephanides, who at the time served as Chief of the Sanctions Branch and Deputy Director of the Security Council Affairs Division, will have two weeks to respond, spokesperson Marie Okabe told the daily briefing in New York Headquarters today.

The UN announced plans earlier this week to suspend the two officials with pay – which in the case of Mr. Sevan amounts to the token $1 per year he is receiving in order to stay on past a planned retirement to cooperate with the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) headed by former United States Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker.

According to the IIC report, Mr. Sevan repeatedly solicited allocations of oil under the programme and by so doing "created a grave and continuing conflict of interest." The report did not rule on whether the UN official had personally profited. Through his lawyers, Mr. Sevan has denied any wrongdoing.

The findings about Mr. Stephanides, considered far less grave than those concerning Mr. Sevan, concern a UN Steering Committee which "prejudiced and pre-empted the competitive process in a manner that rejected the lowest qualified bidder" with the "active participation" of Mr. Stephanides, the IIC report said.

After receiving the responses of the two officials, Secretary-General Kofi Annan will decide on what action to take, Ms. Okabe said. His options range across a variety of disciplinary measures, including summary dismissal.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General's new Chef de Cabinet, Mark Malloch Brown, was in Washington, DC, today to meet with Congressional lawmakers. Ms. Okabe said Mr. Malloch Brown would be "in listening mode" while in the US capital.

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