"Investigators to Review Hint of Annan Role in Iraq Oil Sales

Published: June 15, 2005

The United Nations panel investigating the oil-for-food program in Iraq said Tuesday that it had begun "urgently reviewing" a newly disclosed memo that seems to contradict Secretary General Kofi Annan's denials of any involvement in the awarding of a major contract to his son's employer.

The memo was written on Dec. 4, 1998, by Michael R. Wilson, an Annan family friend who then worked with Mr. Annan's son, Kojo, at Cotecna Inspection Services of Switzerland.

It says that during a brief encounter Mr. Wilson had a few days earlier with the secretary general and his entourage, the company's efforts to win the contract were discussed and he was assured that "we could count on their support."

According to the memo, which Cotecna provided to the panel last night, the encounter occurred at a summit meeting in Paris of Francophone nations about a week before Cotecna won the $10-million-a-year contract to inspect goods entering Iraq as part of the $65 billion oil-for-food program. The program allowed Iraq to sell some oil and use the revenue to buy food and other basic provisions for its people.

Through his spokesman in New York, Mr. Annan said he had "no recollection" of such a meeting with Mr. Wilson. Fred Eckhard, the spokesman, said Elisabeth Lindenmayer, the trip coordinator, also had no recollection of such an encounter. Records of the trip made no mention of such a meeting, he said.

But Mr. Eckhard added that Mr. Annan might well have met privately with his son if Kojo had been in Paris during the meeting, and that such a "personal" meeting with him, or with Mr. Wilson, whom the United Nations panel said was so close to the secretary general that he referred to Mr. Annan as "uncle," might not have been recorded.

In a report in March, the investigating panel concluded that although Mr. Annan had known his son worked for Cotecna, Mr. Annan had not influenced the awarding of the contract to the company.

Reid Morden, executive director of the panel, said in an interview on Tuesday that his investigators would try to interview Kofi and Kojo Annan and Mr. Wilson once more.

"There is no question that we'll have to try to see as many of the people who are germane to this, including Cotecna," Mr. Morden said.

For its part, Cotecna pledged continuing cooperation with the panel, which is led by Paul A. Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, and with several Congressional committees investigating the program.

In a statement on its Web site, Cotecna reiterated that it had underbid its competitors by $1 million and had won the contract "fairly and on the basis of price."

Accused along with Kojo Annan by the Volcker panel of trying to hide the duration of their business relationship, the company said it had acted "at all times appropriately and ethically."

It also said a new internal audit showed that Cotecna had not made the $306,305 in payments that the panel said might have gone to Kojo Annan.

Mr. Morden said the panel met Tuesday with Cotecna representatives and would review its claims. "