NEW YORK – The Justice Department criminal probe into the U.N. Oil-for-Food program is focusing on several individuals, among them U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's (search) son, FOX News has learned.
Kojo Annan (search), the secretary-general’s son, was employed by a U.N. contractor that monitored food and medicine shipments that were flowing into Iraq as part of the multibillion-dollar program created in late 1996.
The Oil-for-Food program is now being probed by the Justice Department and Congress as a boondoggle that enriched Saddam Hussein (search) and others. A report delivered last week by Charles Duelfer found that Saddam was able to "subvert" the $60 billion U.N. Oil-for-Food program to generate an estimated $1.7 billion in revenue outside U.N. control from 1997-2003.
The Justice Department investigation is looking into Kojo Annan’s conduct and determining whether Annan and others can be prosecuted for any crimes in the United States, according to law enforcement sources.
Kojo Annan was a consultant for Cotecna, a Swiss-based company, and helped manage the firm’s operations in Nigeria. He ended his assignment with the firm just months after it got a $4.8 million U.N. contract to monitor goods coming into Iraq.
At congressional hearings last week, Cotecna officials said they were unable to do their job properly because of Saddam's relentless manipulation of the U.N. system that let him bilk an estimated $11 billion from the program.
Cotecna issued a statement that in part states “at no time did Kojo Annan have anything to do with Cotecna’s operations relating to the United Nations or Iraq.” The company noted that Kojo Annan was hired a year before the Oil-for-Food program began and before his father was elected secretary-general.
FOX News was unable to locate Kojo Annan for comment but his father told reporters at the United Nations earlier this year that there was no connection.
"Neither he nor I had anything to do with contracts for Cotecna. That was done in strict accordance with U.N. rules and financial regulations and these are also part of the issues that the panel investigating this issue will look into,” Annan said April 28.
Another person under investigation is Samir Vincent, an American citizen who was born in Iraq. Vincent's name was listed in the CIA report released last week that cited the Oil-for-Food scandal extensively in its discussion of Saddam's ambitions as one of three U.S. citizens who were allowed to profit by selling Iraqi oil or the right to trade it.
The Duelfer report said that Vincent, a Virginia-based businessman, received about $4 million worth of Oil-for-Food vouchers over four years. In a faxed statement to FOX News, Vincent said it was his company, Phoenix International, which received oil vouchers legally under the program.
In 2000, Vincent led Iraqi religious leaders on a tour of the United States to push for an end to sanctions against Saddam. Among the people who the group met with was former President Jimmy Carter.
The Justice probe, centered in the Southern District of New York, is considered a full investigation, in other words it has gone on far beyond an initial inquiry. It has been going on for several months, sources said, but there is no indication whether prosecutors plan to seek any indictments.
Besides the Justice Department investigation, committees in the House and the Senate are also examining what happened with Oil-for-Food. Plus, the United Nations has appointed former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to lead its own independent investigation.
The scandal also is spilling over the campaign trail. Both President Bush and Vice President Cheney began to cite Oil-for-Food last week as another reason why the decision to go to war with Iraq was the right move.
FOX News' Eric Shawn, Jonathan Wachtel, Anna Persky and Per Carlson contributed to this report.