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World Opinion Roundup by Jefferson Morley

Annan Survives -- But Will U.N. Reform?

By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, March 31, 2005; 6:00 AM

Embattled United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is "not out of the woods yet," says the Sydney Morning Herald.

Many online commentators agree. Not only is Annan's job tenure in danger, they say, so is his recently announced agenda for reforming the international body.

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An interim report issued Tuesday by former Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker cleared Annan of direct involvement in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal. Investigators concluded Annan had not used any influence to help a Swiss firm that employed his son Kojo get any contracts with the government of Saddam Hussein in the late 1990s. Asked if he would resign, the normally formal Annan responded, "Hell no."

At the heart of the scandal is 31-year-old Kojo Annan. According to The Australian, a conservative daily, Kojo is "part of an international 'brat pack' of privileged young men from famous families." He was educated at private schools in Britain and Geneva and "once dreamt of playing rugby for England." Now he reportedly lives in an upscale neighborhood of Lagos, Nigeria, where he works for Petroleum Projects International, an oil trading company.

Volcker's report, many observers note, raises new questions about Annan's handling of the matter.

"Kofi Is Cleared, But What about the UN?" asked Spiegel Online the German newsweekly. The U.N.'s credibility has been "shaken," said the Morocco Times.

The Financial Times of London acknowledges the lack of evidence against the secretary general, but notes questionable activities by Annan's subordinates.

"On the one hand, the report found no evidence to support the central case against Mr. Annan: that he helped steer a contract to Cotecna, an inspection firm, at the behest of his son, Kojo. It also says that Kojo Annan intentionally deceived his father, and that Cotecna disguised its relationship with him," said the FT.

"On the other, it says the UN's chief of staff shredded documents pertaining to the period under investigation, and raises questions about how much Mr. Annan knew, and when."

The Times Online, also in London, reported that Volcker's investigation found that Annan's chief of staff, Iqbal Riza, had ordered the shredding the day after the Security Council approved the oil-for-food inquiry last April, and that the shredding continued until December.

The conservative London daily says the documents "covered the crucial period from 1997 to 1999 when [Cotecna] . . . was awarded a lucrative UN border-inspection contract in Iraq." Just 10 days before the shredding, the Times notes, Riza "had sent the heads of nine UN-related agencies a directive asking them to 'take all necessary steps to collect, preserve and secure all files, records and documents . . . relating to the Oil-for-Food programme.'"

Mark Peith, a Swiss law professor who assisted Volcker's probe, told the Swissinfo Web site, that he believes Annan "failed to deal properly with a potential conflict of interest involving his son."

Peith said that when Annan learned that Cotecna was involved in a criminal investigation, he had "very quickly, maybe understandably as the father of his son, decided there was nothing to look into."

"We are saying that he is not just a father, he is also the head of this organisation and he should have been more prudent and taken adequate action. He was not dishonest but this was a bad management decision," Peith said.

Annan is "one of the most respected, dedicated and reform-minded individuals ever to hold the top UN post," said the liberal editors of the Toronto Globe and Mail. Nonetheless, he should resign, they wrote Wednesday.

"If he were the leader of a democratic country, his constituents would be demanding that he step down. And if he were the chief executive of a publicly held corporation, his board of directors would have shown him the door long ago. If he truly cares about reforming his beloved United Nations, he will depart soon, because he no longer has the credibility needed for such a gargantuan task."

"Let Kofi stay," says the rival Toronto Star

Volcker "failed to turn up evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Annan, or even of egregious bad behaviour."

The Star urged Annan "to press his plans to reform the Security Council, clean up the secretariat and better equip the U.N. to battle poverty, genocide and terror. It is the best way to restore the U.N.'s damaged credibility and make the institution a force for good again."

China's ambassador to the U.N. echoed that argument. The People's Daily Online in Beijing quoted Ambassador Wang Guangya as saying the secretary general was cleared of any personal wrongdoing and should not be the sole focus of attention.

"This year is important both to the United Nations and to member states," Wang said. "We should continue to support the work of the secretary general, and to work together to reform the United Nations."

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