The following is a statement attributable to the spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general on the issue of payment of Benon Sevan's legal fees:
The Independent Inquiry Committee agreed to permit Mr. Benon Sevan, the head of the Office of the Iraq Programme, to have legal counsel during his interviews with the IIC. As we understand, the decision was taken on an exceptional basis due to the importance that the Committee placed on Mr. Sevan’s cooperation to the conduct of the inquiry and the fact that he was a retired staff member who was not subject to the Secretary-General’s instruction to all staff to cooperate with the IIC on pain of dismissal.
Mr. Sevan, who retained counsel of his own choosing, then requested that any legal fees incurred as a result be reimbursed by the United Nations. In October 2004, the UN Office of Legal Affairs advised Mr. Iqbal Riza, then the Chef de Cabinet, that such a step was in the interests of the UN that the IIC investigation operate smoothly with the full cooperation of Mr. Sevan. As a result, a verbal undertaking was given to Mr. Sevan that reasonable legal fees as determined by the United Nations would be paid by the Organization. Payment was to be made from the "2.2 percent account" from which administrative expenses for the administration of the overall Oil for Food Programme had been drawn. No other present or former UN staff member who has been interviewed by the IIC has either sought or received such a commitment. So there is no ambiguity, this statement also applies to both the current and the former Secretary-General.
On February 23, 2005, Mark Malloch Brown, who replaced Mr. Riza as Chef de Cabinet on January 19, 2005, wrote to Mr. Sevan. He informed Mr. Sevan that while the commitment made to him would be honoured, given the adverse findings of the IIC Interim Report of February 3, 2005 against Mr. Sevan, the UN was not prepared to reimburse the costs of his appearance before the IIC or any other legal costs subsequent to that date. Although Mr. Sevan has subsequently submitted legal fees the amount he is seeking is currently being questioned by the United Nations on the grounds that not all costs relate to his cooperation with the IIC. No payments have yet been made.
If, as a result of the findings of the IIC, charges brought against Mr. Sevan are vindicated, the UN also reserves the right to seek recovery of any money transferred.