The committee probing the UN oil-for-food program announced it will again investigate Secretary-General Kofi Annan after two previously unknown e-mails suggested he may have known more than he claimed about a multimillion-dollar UN contract awarded to the company that employed his son.
One e-mail described an encounter between Annan and officials from the Swiss company Cotecna Inspection SA in late 1998 where its bid for the contract was raised. A second from the same Cotecna executive expressed his confidence that the company would get the bid because of "effective but quiet lobbying" in New York diplomatic circles.
If accurate, the new details could cast doubt on a major finding the UN-backed Independent Inquiry Committee made in March -- that there wasn't enough evidence to show that Annan knew about efforts by Cotecna, which employed his son Kojo, to win the Iraq oil-for-food contract.
Through his spokesman, Annan said he didn't remember the late 1998 meeting. He has repeatedly insisted that he didn't know Cotecna was pursuing a contract with the oil-for-food program.
In a statement Tuesday, the Independent Inquiry Committee said it was "urgently reviewing" the two e-mails, which Cotecna discovered recently and turned over on Monday night.
"Does this raise a question? Sure," said Reid Morden, executive director of the probe.
The oil-for-food program was established in 1996 to help ordinary Iraqis suffering under UN sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. It allowed Iraq to sell oil provided most of the proceeds were used to buy humanitarian goods.
It has since become the target of several corruption investigations in the United States and abroad. Annan appointed the Independent Inquiry Committee, led by former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, in an effort to settle the issue for good.
A key issue then was whether Annan was guilty of a conflict of interest because the UN awarded the US$10 million-a-year contract to Cotecna while Kojo Annan was a consultant for the company.
In an interim report in March, Volcker's committee accused Cotecna and Kojo Annan of trying to conceal their relationship after the firm won the contract. It said Kofi Annan didn't properly investigate possible conflicts of interest but cleared him of trying to influence the contract or violating UN rules.
The new e-mails will be a new distraction for the UN secretary-general, who had claimed he was exonerated by that report. He had hoped that the committee was finished investigating his personal involvement.
Morden said investigators with the probe had planned to interview Annan soon as part of its investigation into management of oil-for-food. "This certainly adds another topic," he said of the Cotecna e-mails.
In a statement released earlier on Tuesday, Cotecna again denied wrongdoing in getting the contract to certify deals for supplies Iraq imported under oil-for-food.
The first Dec. 4, 1998 e-mail from Michael Wilson, then a vice president of Cotecna and a friend of both Kofi and Kojo Annan's, mentions brief discussions with the secretary-general "and his entourage" at a summit in Paris in 1998.
He wrote that Cotecna's bid was discussed and Cotecna was told it "could count on their support."
UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said UN officials reviewed the records of Annan's Paris trip and found no record of any exchange with Wilson. He said Annan also didn't recall talking to Wilson then.