Published June 15, 2005
NEW YORK – The executive who wrote an e-mail memo suggesting that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search ) may have known about a U.N. contract awarded to the company that employed his son says that he never, personally, discussed the firm's bid with the U.N. chief, his lawyers said Wednesday.
The memo written by Michael Wilson describes a brief encounter in which officials from the Swiss company Cotecna Inspection S.A. (search) discussed the company's bid for the contract with the secretary-general "and his entourage" during a summit of French-speaking nations in Paris in late 1998.
The London law firm Schillings issued a brief statement on behalf of Wilson, who was a vice president of Cotecna at the time and is a friend of both the secretary-general and his son, Kojo.
"Mr. Wilson never met or had any discussion with the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, on the issue of the bid for the U.N. contract by Cotecna at the Francophone Summit, during the bidding process, or at any time prior to the award of the contract," the statement said.
Faced with two e-mails from 1998 that raise questions about what Annan knew about a lucrative Oil-for-Food contract, investigators said they were "urgently reviewing" fresh evidence.
Cotecna, a Swiss firm that won the pivotal contract to inspect goods going into Iraq, has given new documents to investigators with the Independent Inquiry Committee. The U.N.-approved panel, headed by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, is charged with looking into corruption associated with the Oil-for-Food program.
The documents are e-mails from Wilson to other executives at Cotecna describing a meeting in Paris just weeks before the Oil-for-Food contract was awarded. Wilson supervised the work of Kojo Annan (search), who worked as a consultant for Cotecna.
One e-mail refers to the U.N. program and says: "We had brief discussions with the SG [the acronym for secretary-general] and his entourage. Their collective advise [sic] was that we should respond as best as we could to the Q-and-A session of the 1-12-98 and that we could count on their support." The contents of that e-mail were first reported by The New York Times.
The numbers "1-12-98 " refer to a Dec. 1, 1998, meeting between Cotecna executives and U.N. officials in New York at which the contract was discussed.
The second e-mail from the same Cotecna executive, sent minutes after the first, discussed a meeting that took place three days earlier with U.N. procurement officials to talk about the contract bid and expressed his confidence that the company would get the bid because of "effective but quiet lobbying" in New York diplomatic circles.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Tuesday that U.N. officials reviewed the records of Kofi Annan's 1998 Paris trip "and there is no mention in that trip record of any exchange with Michael Wilson."
Annan, who was in Paris on Tuesday, also had "no recollection of any such exchange," Eckhard said.
In an interview with France's Le Figaro newspaper to be published Thursday, Annan said he has no intention of resigning and is determined to press for approval of a sweeping reform proposal unveiled in March to enable the United Nations to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
"I take seriously the allegations against me," he was quoted as saying.
"That is why I wanted the Independent Inquiry Committee chaired by former Federal Reserve President Paul Volcker to carry out an in-depth investigation of this affair," the secretary-general told the paper.
"We all want the truth," said Annan, who did not specifically mention the e-mails or make any direct reference to his son in the comments to Le Figaro.
The Volcker panel said it's examining the documents.
In a statement released Tuesday, panel spokesman Michael Holtzman said investigators were "urgently reviewing" the two e-mails, which the committee received from Cotecna on Monday night.
"This information was first provided to the IIC late last evening," the statement said. "The IIC will conduct additional investigation regarding this new information."
"Does this raise a question? Sure," said Reid Morden, executive director of the probe.
The previously unknown e-mails will be a new distraction for the U.N. secretary-general, who had claimed he was exonerated by the interim report and had hoped that the committee was finished investigating his personal involvement.
Morden said investigators had planned to interview Annan soon as part of the investigation into management of Oil-for-Food. "This certainly adds another topic," he said of the Cotecna e-mails.
Annan told Le Figaro he found it "regrettable that Mr. Volcker cannot conduct his work in serenity — and that is because of constant leaks to the press and incessant attacks against me, against the U.N. and against the committee itself."
Asked whether he had ruled out resigning, Annan replied: "Absolutely."
The first Dec. 4, 1998, e-mail from Michael Wilson, then a vice president of Cotecna and a friend of both Kofi and Kojo Annan, mentions brief discussions with the secretary-general "and his entourage" at a summit in Paris in 1998.
He wrote that Cotecna's bid was discussed and Cotecna was told it "could count on their support."
Wilson's memo also refers to a "KA" who made courtesy calls to various African leaders at the Paris summit. That would appear to be Kojo Annan, then a Cotecna consultant.
Annan spokesman Eckhard said it would be reasonable to assume that Kofi and Kojo Annan would have met in Paris if Kojo Annan were there, though he knew of no record of it.
The e-mails from Wilson add to doubts about Kofi Annan's denials of familiarity with the Cotecna contract.
In March, a report from the Volcker panel concluded there was no evidence the U.N. chief tried to influence the world body's decisions in order to benefit his son's business interests. The panel reached its conclusion despite Annan's own omissions about his contacts with Cotecna.
Annan at first did not tell investigators that he had met twice with Cotecna representatives as the Swiss company began soliciting U.N. business. One investigator for Volcker reportedly was so concerned with Annan's veracity that he sought to make note of it in the report.
But the final report toned down the language offered by Robert Parton. He and another member of the IIC quit the panel following the report's release.
Kofi Annan "had checked the records and now remembered the meeting," the final report said about one of the two meetings Annan did not initially disclose.
FOX News' Jonathan Hunt, Per Carlson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.