Independent U.N. Oil-for-Food Probe 
FOX-News               March 19, 2004

UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Kofi Annan ^ sought Security Council approval Friday for an independent investigation into alleged corruption in the Iraq oil-for-food program.

Annan announced his decision to expand a current internal U.N. probe Friday night in a letter sent to the Security Council ^.

The U.N. chief said he wants "an independent, high-level inquiry to investigate the allegations relating to the administration and management of the program, including allegations of fraud and corruption."

Annan's letter didn't explain elaborate on how an independent probe would be handled.  Annan said he would send a further letter later with more detailed information on how such an inquiry would be organized. The U.N. is now conducting an internal investigation into the allegations.

Earlier Friday, Annan told journalists that such an investigation was needed into allegations that U.N. staff may have reaped millions of dollars from the oil-for-food program that helped Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions.

Annan told journalists that he has been talking with Security Council members about the scope of the investigation and the need for international cooperation to make it effective.

"I think we need to have an independent investigation, an investigation that can be as broad as possible to look into all these allegations which have been made and get to the bottom of this because I don't think we need to have our reputation impugned," he said.

The oil-for-food program was established by the U.N. Security Council in December 1996 to help the Iraqi population cope with U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait ^.

The program, which ended in November, allowed the former Iraqi regime to sell unlimited quantities of oil, provided the money went primarily to buy humanitarian goods and pay reparations to victims of the 1991 Gulf War.

The United Nations has already sent two letters to the Iraqi Governing Council and the U.S.-led coalition requesting evidence of corruption in the program — the latest a week ago.

In late January, the Governing Council asked the country's Oil Ministry to gather information on allegations that Saddam Hussein's regime bribed prominent foreigners with oil money to back his government.

The request followed publication in the Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada of a list of about 270 former Cabinet officials, legislators, political activists and journalists from more than 46 countries suspected of profiting from Iraqi oil sales.

The announcement comes a day after U.S. congressional investigators, in a separate set of allegations, charged that Saddam Hussein's government smuggled oil, added surcharges and collected kickbacks to rake in $10.1 billion in violation of the United Nations' oil-for-food program.

U.N. officials have said that they would not comment on the U.S. figure unless there was "a comprehensive investigation of all aspects of the oil-for-food program, not just U.N. personnel, but what governments and companies did."

"Any such investigation would require the support of the Security Council, and the secretary-general has already indicated this week he has been talking to members of the council" about expanding the inquiry, U.S. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Thursday.

During the program, Saddam's government decided on the goods it wanted, who should provide them and who could buy Iraqi oil.  The Security Council committee monitoring sanctions checked the contracts, primarily for dual-use items that could be used to make weapons.

"We certainly knew there was skimming by Saddam and his cronies but with regard to U.N. officials, no," a U.S. official told The Associated Press Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.  "We certainly hope there are no U.N. officials involved, but if there are some involved, then they should be held accountable."