Calls for a re-investigation come after two previously unknown emails suggested Annan may have known more than he claimed about a multimillion-dollar UN contract awarded to the company that employed his son.
But the sender of the two emails – an executive of the company that employed Annan’s son and was awarded a lucrative UN contract – denied on Wednesday that he ever discussed the firm’s bid with the UN chief.
The memo written by Michael Wilson describes a brief encounter in which officials from the Swiss company Cotecna Inspection SA discussed the company’s bid for the contract with the secretary-general “and his entourage” during a summit of French-speaking nations in Paris in late 1998.
The London law firm Schillings issued a brief statement on
behalf of Wilson, who was a vice-president of Cotecna at
the time and is a friend of both the secretary-general and
his son, Kojo, in response to press reports about the memo.
“Mr Wilson never met or had any discussion with the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, on the issue of the bid for the UN contract by Cotecna at the Francophone Summit, during the bidding process, or at any time prior to the award of the contract,” the statement said.
One email described an encounter between Annan and an official 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.
Unaware of contract
Through his spokesman, Annan said he did not remember the late 1998 meeting. He has repeatedly insisted that he did not know Cotecna was pursuing a contract with the oil-for-food programme.
In a statement on Tuesday, the independent inquiry committee said it was “urgently reviewing” the two emails, which Cotecna discovered recently and turned over on Monday night.
Volcker was appointed by Annan
“Does this raise a question? Sure,” said Reid Morden, executive director of the investigation.
The oil-for-food programme 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 become the target of several corruption investigations.
Annan appointed the independent inquiry committee, led by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, in an effort to settle the issue.
Conflict of interest
A key issue was whether Annan was guilty of a conflict of interest because the UN awarded the $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 did not properly investigate possible conflicts of interest but cleared him of trying to influence the contract or violating UN rules.
The new emails will be a fresh distraction for the UN chief, who had said he was exonerated by that report. He had hoped that the committee was finished investigating his personal involvement.
Morden said investigators planned to interview Annan soon.
The programme was for Baghdad
In a statement released earlier on Tuesday, Cotecna again denied wrongdoing in getting the contract to certify deals for supplies Iraq imported under the UN programme.
The first 4 December 1998 email from Wilson, then a vice-president of Cotecna and a friend of both Kofi and Kojo Annan, 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 that Cotecna was told it “could count on their support”, in the email that was first reported by The New York Times.
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 did not recall talking to Wilson then.
Wilson‘s memo also refers to a “KA” who made courtesy calls to African leaders at the Paris summit. That could be Kojo Annan, then a Cotecna consultant.
Eckhard said it would be reasonable to assume that Kofi and Kojo Annan would have met in Paris if Kojo Annan were there, although he knew of no record of it.
The second email from Wilson, sent minutes after the first, discussed a meeting that took place three days earlier with UN procurement officials to talk about the contract bid.
Under a section labelled “conclusion”, it said: “With the active backing of the Swiss mission in New York and effective but quiet lobbying within the diplomatic circles in New York, we can expect a positive outcome to our efforts.”
Most telling about that email was a brief mention in which Wilson said Annan’s approval of the bid was required.
UN rules in fact did not require Annan to approve those decisions, something officials have repeatedly stressed.