Thursday , December 16, 2004
WASHINGTON —Documents seen by FOX News suggest a conflict of interest may exist between Kofi Annan's (search) son, the Swiss company he worked for and the United Nations.
Congressional investigators are examining those records and thousands of pages of others as part of their probe into the controversial U.N. Oil-for-Food (search) program. FOX News was permitted to review some documents but not make copies.
Kojo Annan (search), the son of the U.N. secretary general, claims he has never been involved directly or indirectly with any business related to the United Nations. And Cotecna Inspection S.A., the company Kojo worked for, also maintains that the younger Annan was never asked to deal with the United Nations and that there was never any conflict of interest.
Cotecna is a Swiss-based company that inspected freight shipments going into Iraq on behalf of Oil-for-Food; it employs 4,000 people in 100 countries. Both the company and the elder Annan have said that Kojo had nothing to do with the troubled U.N. program.
But a Cotecna management fax reviewed by FOX News appears to direct Kojo to get involved with U.N. officials.
The Aug. 28, 1998, fax praises Kojo's work at a meeting of world leaders in South Africa and adds: "Your work and the contacts established at this meeting should ideally be followed up at the September 98 UN General Assembly in New York."
Also, congressional investigators want Kojo to explain a hotel bill for the Holiday Inn Garden Court in Durban, South Africa, in September 1998. His registration card reads: "K Annan, United Nations." That hotel charge was billed to Cotecna as a business expense.
Investigators are also probing Kojo Annan's phone records. His AT&T calling card was billed to Cotecna as a business expense and shows a series of calls to a number that begins 212-963-XXXX. Nearly all U.N. offices in New York have that same area code and prefix, a coincidence investigators are now studying closely.
But, in his first public comment on the subject, Kojo told CNN in a written statement this week: "I have never participated directly or indirectly in any business related to the United Nations."
The United Nations hired Cotecna — which the younger Annan worked for from late 1995 to late 1997, then later as a consultant — in 1998 to verify paperwork on imports purchased by Iraq. Critics have suggested the firm might have received special treatment because of the Annan family connection — a suggestion both the Annans and Cotecna deny.
"Kojo Annan's sole responsibilities were in Africa," said Cotecna spokeswoman Ginny Wolfe. "He had nothing to do with any U.N. discussions and work."
Kofi Annan told reporters on Nov. 29 that he was unaware his son received $30,000 a year for over five years from Cotecna. The secretary-general said that he had been working on the understanding that payments to his son stopped in 1998 "and I had not expected that the relationship continued."
Annan has said his son joined Cotecna at the age of 22 as a trainee in Geneva, before his father was secretary-general. "He is an independent business man. He is a grown man, and I don't get involved with his activities and he doesn't get involved in mine," the U.N. chief said last month.
Asked whether he was disappointed and angry with his son for taking the money and not disclosing it, Annan replied: "Naturally I was very disappointed and surprised, yes."
On Thursday, Kofi Annan will meet outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and his successor Condoleezza Rice during a one-day trip to Washington. Oil-for-Food is not a topic on the agenda.
The U.N. chief was invited to address the Council on Foreign Relations and will hold talks with the top U.S. foreign policy officials ahead of his speech on U.N. renewal and U.S.-U.N. relations, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Tuesday.
Eckhard said "the administration expressed an interest in discussing Iraq with him and he would like to discuss with them a number of other issues that the U.N. and the U.S. are working closely on — Afghanistan, Sudan, Haiti."
Jan Pronk, the top U.N. envoy to Sudan, told reporters Tuesday he hopes Annan and Powell will discuss "how to guarantee the peace" between the government and southern rebels who have promised to sign an agreement ending their 21-year civil war by Dec. 31.
After his speech in Washington, Annan is scheduled to fly to Brussels to attend the European Union Summit on Friday, after which he will return to New York.
The Oil-for-Food program, which began in 1996, permitted Iraq to sell oil, provided that the revenue went for food, medicine and other necessities. At the time, Iraq under Saddam Hussein was laboring under tough U.N. economic penalties.
FOX News' Jonathan Hunt and The Associated Press contributed to this report.