UNITED NATIONS – Two senior investigators in the probe of corruption in the U.N. Oil-for-Food program have resigned because they believed a report that cleared Kofi Annan (search) of meddling in the $64 billion operation was too soft on the secretary-general, a panel member confirmed Wednesday.
The investigators felt the Independent Inquiry Committee, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker (search), played down findings critical of Annan when it released an interim report in late March related to his son, said Mark Pieth, one of three leaders of the committee.
"You follow a trail and you want to see people pick it up," Pieth told The Associated Press, referring to the two top investigators who left. The committee "told the story" that the investigators presented, "but we made different conclusions than they would have."
The investigators were identified as Robert Parton and Miranda Duncan.
Parton, as the senior investigative counsel for Oil-for-Food (search), had a wide purview. He was responsible for investigations into the procurement of companies under the Oil-for-Food program and he was the lead investigator on issues pertaining to allegations of impropriety relating to the secretary-general and his son Kojo Annan (search). Duncan worked on Parton's team.
Parton, a lawyer and former FBI agent who has worked on a hostage-rescue team abroad, confirmed to AP on Wednesday that he resigned a week ago, but he declined further comment.
Duncan did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages left at the Rockefeller Family Fund, where she is a member of the board. She is a granddaughter of billionaire David Rockefeller.
The committee's interim report last month faulted Annan's management of the Oil-for-Food program, which was set up to help ordinary Iraqis cope with crippling U.N. sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein's regime after his 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The report also said Annan didn't properly investigate possible conflicts of interest surrounding a U.N. contract awarded to the Swiss employer of Kojo Annan. The investigators criticized Kofi Annan for refusing to push his top advisers further after they conducted a hasty, 24-hour investigation relating to his son and found nothing wrong.
But the interim report cleared the secretary-general of trying to influence the awarding of the $10 million-a-year Swiss contract and said he didn't violate U.N. rules.
Annan said the report exonerated him — something Pieth denied at the time — and the secretary-general said he had no plans to resign. The investigation into Kojo Annan continues. Volcker has promised to deliver a final Oil-for-Food investigation report in mid-summer.
The Oil-for-Food scandal has been among a series of problems that have plagued the United Nations in recent months. U.N. peacekeepers have also been accused of sexual misconduct in Congo and other missions, while the former U.N. refugee chief was accused of sexual harassment.
Annan's spokesman Fred Eckhard said the resignations were an internal committee matter and refused to comment. U.N. officials have repeatedly said the report speaks for itself.
A spokeswoman at Volcker's committee, who would speak only on condition of anonymity, said the resignations came after the investigators had completed the work they signed on to do.
Pieth acknowledged disagreements within the committee about how to interpret the evidence on Annan, but he denied investigators were censored. He also praised the work of Duncan and Parton.
"I have high esteem for both Robert and Miranda," Pieth said. "It's not a bad parting. I think they are very capable people."
Pieth added, however, that he believed the two investigators got "personally very involved" in the probe and so grew upset. "Again, this is the nature of things," he said.
The inquiry committee has more than 70 investigators probing all aspects of Oil-for-Food, and Duncan and Parton were two of its most senior investigators.
The investigators report their findings to the three committee members — Volcker, Pieth and former Yugoslav war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone — who then make conclusions.
Pieth said the committee had deliberately created an atmosphere where investigators felt comfortable dissenting with others.
"I am also quite happy that there are people who dare to speak their mind because that is one of the problems with the U.N. — that you have these guys nodding their heads," Pieth said.
"We reproached the secretary-general that he was satisfied with his top guys, who told him after 24 hours that everything was fine," he added, referring to the internal probe of Kofi Annan. "It's not a good thing to have these guys who only say what you want to hear."
The Oil-for-Food program, which ran from 1996 to 2003, let the Iraqi government sell limited — and eventually unlimited — amounts of oil primarily to buy humanitarian goods.
But Saddam's government had authority to decide who would have the right to purchase oil and it is believed to have extracted kickbacks ranging from an estimated $9 billion to $21 billion.