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Proof In Oil-For-Food Probe Shifts To Accusers

Burden Of Proof In Oil-For-Food Probe Shifts To Accusers Now, UN Official Says

It is now no longer up to the United Nations to prove its innocence of wrongdoing in the Oil-for-Food programme for Iraq, but for its accusers to prove its guilt, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Chief of Staff said today following the release of the latest interim report by an independent committee of inquiry.

"I think that the onus is now on those of you who wish to continue to pursue this; the burden of proof has shifted," Mark Malloch Brown told a news conference after the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC), headed by former United States Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, reported that there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Annan in the award of a contract to a Swiss firm that employed his son.

"Mr. Volcker has given his view and it's a very clear one. As he has throughout said, it is always a little hard to prove a negative. You don't get much clearer than no evidence," Mr. Malloch Brown said of allegations that Mr. Annan improperly influenced the awarding of a contract to Cotecna to monitor the now defunct multibillion dollar programme that allowed the sanctions-bound Iraqi regime to sell oil in exchange for humanitarian supplies from 1996-2003.

"Let's first agree that the story has probably moved decisively on today from a probably, a final slaying of the ghosts [that] there was corruption in this by the Secretary-General to a second issue which is, 'Was the management [of the programme] effective enough?'" he said at another point.

"On that, [Mr. Annan] is the first to acknowledge it evidently wasn't. A number of individuals have now been cited in ways that are enormously damaging to the organization," he added.

He stressed that "the important bit of Volcker" is the "forward-looking bit of Volcker, which is: having disposed of any charges of criminality and corruption against the system and against the Secretary-General but having pinpointed failings by others, how do we move forward to put in place the management reforms that address that."

Asked about the shredding of some documents that dated from the time when the contract with Cotecna was awarded, Mr. Malloch Brown said: "The point is surely: Volcker looked, he looked under every stone, he threw millions of dollars of investigation at this and concluded 'No Story.'"

But, the Chief of Staff added, it was "an issue we have to look very carefully into because it is clearly deeply damaging to any investigation to have documents destroyed, particularly after an instruction has gone out to preserve documents.

"But as the report says, there appears – and the report appears to side with this – [that] there is a very reasonable explanation for this," he said, noting that the shredded documents were duplicates that were destroyed for reasons of space.

Asked about reports of meetings between Cotecna executives and Mr. Annan, he replied: "Whatever Cotecna's aspirations in terms of developing a relationship with the Secretary-General, it was a dud, they didn't, and there was no influence over that contract."

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