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Panel: Documents Implicate Oil-for-Food Chief

A Senate panel will announce Tuesday it has acquired new Iraqi documents that show the former chief of the U.N. Oil-for-Food program (search ) made as much as $1.2 million through oil deals with Saddam Hussein's government.

The Senate Governmental Affairs investigations subcommittee will present more evidence that appears to implicate former Oil-for-Food executive director Benon Sevan (search). Sevan has been identified in Iraqi Oil Ministry (search ) documents as having participated in a scheme by Saddam to issue vouchers to people that let them profit from illicit sales of Iraqi oil.

Sevan has denied accusations that he profited from the program. Investigators say that Sevan was not only responsible for misconduct and conflict of interest, but also appears to have violated U.S. criminal laws because he directly received payments.

The Senate panel will also present newly uncovered information detailing abuses and gross negligence by U.N. officials and contractors that allowed Saddam's government to circumvent sanctions and amass millions through manipulation of the Oil-for-Food program.

Investigators will reveal Iraqi Oil Ministry documents and letters that show that an inspector employed by Saybolt International BV, the Dutch company contracted to monitor oil exports under the program, accepted a $105,819 bribe to allow an illegal oil sale worth more than $9 million in violation of U.N. sanctions against Iraq.

If substantiated, the payments would be the first documented case of a U.N. inspector having been bribed by the Iraqi regime. Investigators estimate that Saddam smuggled $9.7 billion in oil outside the Oil-for-Food program. The illegal oil exports were sent via pipeline to Syria, by truck to Jordan and Turkey and by ship through the Persian Gulf.

Lawmakers are expected to ask Saybolt General Counsel John Denson, who will be a witness at Tuesday's hearings, whether the employee who allegedly took bribes was acting on his own or on behalf of the company. Saybolt officials say that they have been examining the allegations against employee Armando Carlos Oliveira of Portugal since they were first raised in October.

Also on hand at the hearings will be Robert Massey, chief executive officer of Cotecna Inspection S.A., the firm that the U.N. hired to monitor goods entering Iraq under the Oil-for-Food program. Cotecna has been widely accused of failing to inspect shipments and allowing rampant overcharging.

The Swiss company finds itself at the center of the scandal because of persistent charges of nepotism involving former employee Kojo Annan (search ), the son of the U.N. secretary-general, and Cotecna winning the lucrative contract for the program.

Subcommittee investigators say that Kojo Annan told them last week that he could not recall details of his 15-day visit to New York during the 1998 U.N. General Assembly. Cotecna was awarded the contract soon after Kojo Annan's trip. The secretary-general's son has denied having anything to do with the U.N. program and the awarding of the contract.

Subcommittee staff, who briefed reporters on condition they not be identified, said they interviewed Kojo Annan and he could not explain the meaning of a cryptic internal memo he wrote before his visit. That memo said he had put together a "machinery," centered in New York, "that will facilitate the continuation of contacts established and assist in developing new contacts for the future."

Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said that his committee's hearings "will peel away more of the layers that continue to conceal the sheer magnitude of the scandal" surrounding the seven-year Oil-for-Food program. Coleman has called for the resignation of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search).

Several other U.S. congressional committees and the Justice Department are also investigating the Oil-for-Food program.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.