WASHINGTON – A federal judge blocked a former investigator from giving Congress documents from the probe into the U.N. Oil-for-Food scandal Monday, granting the United Nations a victory in its effort to keep material from the investigation from making its way into U.S. lawmakers' hands.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington issued the temporary restraining order after the United Nations filed a petition to block congressional subpoenas for Robert Parton (search). The ex-FBI agent quit the U.N.-appointed Independent Inquiry Committee in April, reportedly because he believed it ignored evidence critical of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The court order freezes the legal issues, giving the two sides a 10-day window to attempt to resolve the matter.
Last Wednesday, Parton handed over documents relating to the investigation after he was issued a subpoena the previous week by the House International Relations Committee. The day after Parton turned over the documents, a second panel — the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations — also issued a subpoena.
On Friday, committee chairman Paul Volcker (search) asked Congress to return records Parton handed over and appealed to lawmakers not to subpoena information or testimony. Volcker said the integrity of the probe into the $64 billion Oil-for-Food program was at stake and lives may be in jeopardy if details of the investigation are leaked.
"We went to court today to restrict Robert Parton from disseminating the documents he stole from the IIC," Michael Holtzman, a spokesman for the committee, told FOX News.
But Parton, in a statement to FOX News, said that the committee forced him to take the action he did.
"I had hoped never to have to reveal the materials and have made every effort to maintain their confidentiality," said Parton, adding that comments made by IIC members got everyone to this place. The comments spurred media interest in his resignation, which then led to lawmakers' interest and finally to congressional subpoenas.
The lawsuit said that Parton, a former FBI agent, signed a letter of agreement with the committee on July 6 to become a "senior investigative counsel" and he began work on Aug. 9. On Aug. 18, Parton signed an agreement with the United Nations that included a clause prohibiting him from communicating with the media or with any government about material that the committee had not made public.
Parton was in charge of an investigative team that focused on the conduct of the secretary-general in connection to Cotecna Inspection S.A. (search), the Swiss company that employed Kojo Annan and which won one of the most lucrative Oil-for-Food contracts. Kojo Annan is the son of Kofi Annan.
In the panel's March 29 report — the second to be issued by the committee — investigators said there was not enough evidence to show that Kofi Annan knew of the controversial contract bid by Cotecna. But the report criticized the U.N. chief for not determining the exact nature of his son's relationship with the Swiss firm.
The report accused Kojo Annan and Cotecna of trying to conceal their relationship from both the U.N. secretary-general and the IIC and said the investigation was still probing "significant questions" surrounding Kojo Annan's business dealings with Oil-for-Food.
In his statement to FOX News, Parton said he kept copies of some documents because he was concerned "that the investigative process and conclusions were flawed."
"Although I sought to avoid any public discussion of these issues, I had repeatedly voiced my concerns internally to the IIC and wanted to retain a record of my efforts so that, if it ever became necessary, I could establish that I was not associated with the path the IIC committee chose to take and I could be in a position to defend myself against risks that I knew existed as a result of the IIC committee's actions," Parton said.
On Friday, after Volcker asked for the documents to be returned, Rep. Henry J. Hyde (search), R-Ill., refused. Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said he appreciated the gravity of Volcker's concerns but that his committee is obligated to continue its own investigation.
"I consider Mr. Parton to be an honorable and courageous man who responded to a congressional subpoena as any citizen must," Hyde said.
The evidence Parton provided to lawmakers includes audiotapes of interviews conducted with Annan, FOX News has learned. Sources had previously said that the evidence shows inconsistencies in the story Annan told investigators about his knowledge of his son Kojo's work for Cotecna.
Volcker said Friday that Congress has to restrain itself from requiring certain acts and information from current or former IIC members as it conducts hearings into Oil-for-Food (search).
"It is essential that it also protect the integrity and the confidentiality of the independent investigating committee," Volcker told reporters in New York, saying the probe involved "highly sensitive matters."
"Lives of certain witnesses are at stake," he added. "We're not playing games here, we are dealing, and let me just emphasize this, in some cases, with lives."
FOX News' J. Jennings Moss, Jonathan Hunt and Per Carlson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.