UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 29 -- U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said Monday that he was unaware his son, Kojo, received as much as $150,000 in payments from a Swiss company while it profited from the U.N.-run oil-for-food program in Iraq.
Annan said he recognized that the payments created a "perception of conflict of interests and wrongdoing" and that he was "very disappointed and surprised" that his son had not disclosed them to him.
Kojo Annan's ties to the company, Cotecna Inspection Services SA, are the subject of U.S. congressional probes and a U.N. investigation into influence peddling and mismanagement in the oil-for-food program. The latest disclosure of the younger Annan's relationship with Cotecna comes after allegations that the head of the U.N. program, Benon Sevan, received certificates to purchase millions of barrels of oil at a favorable rate. Sevan has denied the allegations.
Annan said he thought his son had severed financial links to Cotecna in 1998, shortly before the company received a contract to oversee U.N.-managed trade with Iraq. He also denied any wrongdoing, saying he had played no role in granting U.N. contracts to Cotecna or any other companies.
"Naturally, I have warm, family relations with my son, but he is in a different field," Annan said. "He is an independent businessman. He is a grown man, and I don't get involved with his activities and he doesn't get involved in mine."
The oil-for-food program began operating in December 1996 to allow Iraq to export oil to purchase humanitarian goods for its people. The United Nations oversaw the export of $64 billion in oil before the program was transferred to U.S.-led authorities in Iraq in November 2003.
Allegations of wrongdoing by U.N. officials surfaced after the fall of Saddam Hussein, triggering investigations by Congress and U.S. prosecutors into the diversion of billions of dollars in oil money and kickbacks from the U.N. program to Hussein's government. Annan appointed Paul A. Volcker, the former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman, to investigate U.N. misconduct. He urged reporters to be patient until Volcker, who has been looking into Kojo Annan's relationship with Cotecna, concludes his inquiry.
John C. Danforth, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Monday that the United States takes the allegations of U.N. misconduct "very seriously" but that there should be no "rush to judgment until all of the facts are in." Danforth also pressed Volcker to release 55 internal U.N. audits and other documents to congressional probers as "quickly as possible."
Volcker said in a recent interview that he had reached an agreement with Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, to hand over the audits after he finishes the first stage of his investigation in January.
Kojo Annan worked for Cotecna, first as a trainee and later as a consultant in Africa, from December 1995 to December 1998. The United Nations had previously asserted that his commercial relations with Cotecna ended in December 1998, the same month the company received a $4.8 million contract to monitor the import of humanitarian supplies to Iraq for the United Nations.
The Wall Street Journal reported in September that Cotecna began paying Kojo Annan $2,500 a month provided he did not disclose anything about his employment with the company to competitors. The United Nations confirmed a report Friday in the New York Sun that those monthly no-compete payments continued through February 2004.
Kojo Annan declined to comment on the case through an attorney in London. Lawyer Clarissa Amato said that "at the moment Kojo Annan is cooperating with the Volcker inquiry. Aside from that he is really not willing to discuss the allegations any further."