WASHINGTON – Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent the following letter to Mark Malloch Brown, chief of staff for the executive office of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan:
February 8, 2005
Mr. Mark Malloch Brown
Chief of Staff
Executive Office of the Secretary-General
United Nations Secretariat
One United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
Dear Mr. Brown:
As I am sure you are aware, the House Energy and Commerce Committee ("the Committee") is conducting an investigation into the United Nations' Oil-for-Food Program ("the Program"). In fact, the Committee has sent several letters to the United Nations ("U.N.") seeking its cooperation in the investigation. Unfortunately, the U.N.'s response to each of these requests has been to assert that, at least for the time being, it has limited access to relevant U.N. documents and witnesses only to the Independent Inquiry Committee chaired by Paul Volcker ("the Volcker Committee"). That is why I was somewhat surprised by your statement during a news interview last Friday that the U.N. is cooperating with Congressional investigators.
On October 18, 2004, the Committee sent a letter to Secretary General Annan requesting, among other things, U.N. internal audits of the Program and "[a]ll records relating to alleged bribes, kickbacks, and surcharges under the Program." Secretary General Annan responded on October 29:
"I have also instructed that all documents related to the Oil-for-Food Programme in the possession of the United Nations be secured and directed that all United Nations staff fully cooperate with the [Volcker] inquiry. The Independent Inquiry Committee has now commenced its investigation and has taken charge of all documents related to the Oil-for-Food Programme....
"I trust that you will appreciate the importance of my refraining from taking any action that might be contrary to or interfere with the policies of the Independent Inquiry Committee. For that reason, I am not in a position to accede to your request for documentation and I would suggest that you direct your inquiry to Mr. Volcker."
After seeing a letter from Edward Mortimer, the U.N.'s Communications Director, in the November 24, 2004 edition of The Washington Post, I again contacted the U.N. and asked that "the U.N. Secretariat reconsider its position and voluntarily make available all documents and witnesses relating to alleged abuses under the Program." Mr. Mortimer responded on December 9, instructing the Committee to seek information directly from Mr. Volcker.
Now comes your statement during a news interview last Friday afternoon that "we promise them [Congress] cooperation, and the documents they sought, principally the audits, were released to them some weeks ago. The whole issue is one that Washington well understands, which is the sequence in which information is shared between overlapping investigations. Whenever you have a special prosecutor in Washington, there's always a debate between him and her, and the congressional committees as to who gets what when, so as not to compromise each other's investigations. That's what's happening here, but we are cooperating."
In light of the U.N.'s repeated refusals to provide this Committee with specific relevant documents and witnesses, the assertion that "we are cooperating" with Congressional investigations is puzzling, if not disingenuous. No special prosecutor exists in this case, and there is no credible threat that the Volcker panel might compromise a Congressional inquiry, or vice versa. In fact, as noted above, this Committee has requested far more from the U.N. than merely the internal audits, which the Volcker Committee released to the public several weeks ago. To date, however, the U.N. has not produced to this Committee any other responsive documents, nor has it made available any U.N. officers or employees with knowledge of the Program.
Once again, I respectfully urge the U.N. Secretariat reconsider its position of asserting cooperation in public while withholding it in practice. No valid reason exists for the United Nations to refuse the United States Congress prompt access to essential information on this important matter.
The Honorable John D. Dingell, Ranking Member
The Honorable Ed Whitfield, Chairman Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
The Honorable Bart Stupak, Ranking Member Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations