NEW YORK – U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) said he won't take disciplinary action against his former chief-of-staff who shredded documents related to the Oil-for-Food scandal.
Meanwhile, lawyers for former Oil-for-Food chief Benan Sevan (search) are furious that the United Nations won't pay Sevan's legal fees. And France's former interior minister on Friday denied any involvement in suspected corruption benefiting Saddam Hussein in the program and said the detention of his former aide in an investigation into the program did not concern him.
Regarding Annan and the paper shredding issue, the secretary-general wrote in an April 19 letter to Iqbal Riza (search) — which was released Thursday — that while he said his former staffer's acts were "careless," "I do not believe they can be construed as deliberate attempts to impede the work of the Independent Inquiry Committee."
That committee, led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker (search), criticized Riza for giving approval to the shredding of three years of files on April 22, 2004 — the day after the Security Council authorized an investigation into the Oil-for-Food (search) program. The files — which Riza said were duplicates — contained documents related to the program that were unavailable in the U.N. records file, a report by the Volcker committee said in March.
"I accept your apology and assure you that I still have great faith in your professionalism and well known integrity," Annan wrote.
Annan said Volcker found Riza had acted imprudently and did not follow his own directive but he found no violations of staff rules. Riza retired as Annan's chief-of-staff at the end of last year and was later replaced by Mark Malloch Brown (search).
No Legal Fees for Sevan
Meanwhile, Annan spokesman Stefane Dujarric, told reporters Thursday that the United Nations would not pay the legal fees of Sevan, the former Oil-for-Food chief who was accused of serious wrongdoing in his handling of the $64 billion program.
U.N. officials revealed in March that Annan had agreed to pay Sevan's legal fees but the decision was reversed after the IIC accused Sevan of a "grave conflict of interest." It said his conduct in soliciting oil deals from Iraq "seriously undermined the integrity of the United Nations."
"We did receive a letter from Mr. Sevan's lawyer earlier this month asking us to reconsider our position about the payment of his legal fees. The secretary-general's position on that is unchanged and his legal fees will not be paid for by the United Nations," Dujarric said.
In a statement late Thursday, Sevan's attorney, Eric L. Lewis, said his client had received a "binding commitment" from the United Nations and personally from Annan, and that, "the promise to pay was absolute and unconditional."
Payment was in return for Sevan staying in the United States to cooperate in the Volcker investigation, Lewis said in the statement. Malloch Brown, in his former position as administrator of the U.N. Development Programme, even encouraged Sevan to seek out the reimbursement commitment, Lewis said.
"It is troubling that the organization would renege on a clear, repeated, and unambiguous commitment in the face of criticism from the media," Lewis added.
A letter from Malloch Brown to Sevan dated Feb. 23 said that the United Nations agreed only to pay for only his services in direct connection with the IIC inquiry. The letter said Sevan would be reimbursed for those activities up until Feb. 3, the date the Volcker committee issued its first interim report. That report found Sevan responsible for some mismanagement — which led Annan to accuse him of "major breaches" of staff regulations and rules. Malloch Brown said in the letter that "in light of the IIC's findings," "we are no longer prepared" to reimburse Sevan for any costs incurred after Feb. 3.
On March 31, Lewis wrote to Malloch Brown saying his firm was "surprised and disappointed" to learn from the media on March 28 that the United Nations "had decided to breach its clear commitment to reimburse" Sevan. He added that the agreement was "unconditional" and that it was not agreed that legal expenses allowed to be reimbursed were confined to those directly connected to the IIC inquiry.
The French Connection
And in another turn in the long and winding road to get to the bottom of the Oil-for-Food scandal, France's former interior minister, Charles Pasqua, told The Associated Press that he's not involved in the scandal and said the detention earlier this week of his former aide, Bernard Guillet (search), in a French judge's investigation of the program "does not concern me."
Pasqua, who headed the Interior Ministry in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was named in a report last October by U.S. arms inspector Charles Duelfer (search) as one of several officials who allegedly benefited from corruption in the humanitarian program. The politicians and officials cited in the report were mainly from Russia, France and China.
Asked about claims that he traded in Iraqi oil, he said: "Of course not. All of that is ridiculous."
"I have said and thus I confirm that I have strictly nothing to do with this affair. I never received anything. I never took part in any sales," he said in the telephone interview.
Pasqua, who in his current post as senator has immunity from prosecution, suggested he was unwittingly implicated in Duelfer's report.
"If my name crops up, then someone must have used my name," he said. "I have nothing to do with all of this."
The Oil-for-Food program was the largest U.N. humanitarian aid operation, running from 1996-2003. It was designed to let Saddam's government sell limited — and eventually unlimited — amounts of oil in exchange for humanitarian goods as an exemption from U.N. sanctions imposed in 1991 following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
Guillet, Pasqua's former aide was taken into custody on Tuesday and was presented Thursday before magistrate Philippe Courroye, who is investigating aspects of Oil-for-Food, judicial officials said. Guillet is under investigation for suspected influence-peddling and receiving misappropriated funds.
Pasqua said he and Guillet no longer work together. "Since 2001, Mr. Guillet has been living his life and he is no longer with me," the former minister said. "He is no longer my adviser."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.