NEW YORK – Along with the release Thursday of a report detailing all the companies that did business in the U.N. Oil-for-Food program, Secretary-General Kofi Annan acknowledged the growing scandal has hurt the United Nations' credibility.
Annan said he doesn’t believe the U.N. Security Council was bought by Saddam Hussein. But he said if it was, it would be a "very sad state" for the Security Council and for the world.
His comments came as Paul Volcker, who is leading an independent investigation of Oil-for-Food that was commissioned by the United Nations, released a list of the 248 companies that bought Iraqi oil as well as the 3,545 companies that sold Iraq humanitarian items such as food and medicine.
The program was created in late 1996 as a way to get such supplies to the Iraqi people by selling Iraqi oil. It was designed as a replacement for the strict sanctions placed against Saddam following the first Gulf War.
The list could shed more light on exactly who profited from the billions that flowed through Oil-for-Food. To do business with Saddam, people allegedly had to pay kickbacks or bribes and the former dictator is believed to have made billions through payoffs, smuggling and his own front companies.
Most of the firms are from the Middle East; some are in Pakistan, India and Italy. Some of the companies are from France, Russia and China — three permanent members of the Security Council that opposed U.S. action in Iraq leading up to the 2003 war.
Among the companies listed that received Iraqi oil were four American companies: Texaco and Chevron, now ChevronTexaco Corp.; Mobil, now Exxon Mobil Corp.; and a third company listed as Phoenix International.
ChevronTexaco and Exxon Mobil have been subpoenaed by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office for a grand jury investigation into the Oil-for-Food program.
Among the thousands of companies listed as exporting goods to Iraq were a handful of American ones. They included Baker Atlas, an oil service company owned by Baker Hughes Inc.; Cargill Inc.; and Continental Grain, now owned by Cargill.
Annan admitted the allegations of widespread wrongdoing have already damaged the United Nations' reputation.
"There is no doubt the constant campaign has, and the discussions have, hurt the U.N. This is not something we would like. And that’s why we want to get to the bottom of it and clear it as quickly as possible. It has done damage, yes," Annan said.
Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve who was appointed in April to examine the program, said he thinks his investigation eventually will help return funds to the Iraqi people. The probe is expected to wrap up sometime next year.
He told a news conference that some of the names on the list might be dummy or front corporations but that being on the list doesn't necessarily imply guilt.
"We know some of them are essentially temporary companies. They may be front companies. They may [have] existed only for this purpose," Volcker said. "We don't know everything about every company on this list, and if there is information ... we would welcome it."
He cited friction at the French bank BNP Paribas, where the Oil-for-Food program had its account, saying, "they have been cooperative up to a point" with information.
"We're entitled to have the information, and I think we're going to get it, but it hasn't been volunteered quite as rapidly as we might have wished," Volcker said.
The committee has also "run into a little trouble in Baghdad" with the American accounting firm Ernst & Young, which was hired by the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit to review more than 20,000 files from Saddam's regime related to the Oil-for-Food program, he said.
Lisa Miller, spokeswoman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that its chairman, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, will send a letter Friday to French President Jacques Chirac asking for "his country's full cooperation with the committee's Oil-for-Food investigation."
The panel on Thursday said it would investigate how the Oil-for-Food program was designed, administered and monitored.
It made clear the panel would examine not only the corruption at the U.N. agency, which ran the Oil-for-Food program, but also the supervision of the program by the Security Council and the Iraq sanctions committee.
An accounting by the Independent Inquiry Committee showed that the 248 companies — which span the globe — paid Iraq the equivalent of $64.2 billion for oil, and that the 3,545 companies that exported goods to south and central Iraq received payments totaling the equivalent of $32.9 billion.
The committee also named a further 941 companies that had contracts to supply goods to then Kurdish-ruled northern Iraq under a separate arrangement administered by U.N.-related agencies.
Volcker repeatedly refused to discuss any allegations against individuals or companies.
Two weeks ago, the top U.S. investigator in Iraq, Charles Duelfer, made allegations of widespread corruption in the program, accusing the top U.N. official overseeing the program, Benon Sevan, of accepting bribes in the form of vouchers for Iraqi oil sales. Sevan has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Learn more about the Duelfer report by reading it for yourself through the links below:
Asked when he expected to complete the investigation of Sevan, he called the accusation of corruption within the U.N. "a priority."
Reminded that early on he said the investigation of Sevan would take about three months, Volcker replied, "You begin turning over the leaves and you find more and more complications."
FOX News’ Eric Shawn and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
For details about how the program operated as well as the investigations taking place to determine what happened to the money, read through this series of recent FOXNews.com articles.
Click on the highlighted headlines below to read the full stories.
The roots of the Oil-for-Food scandal date back to 1991, when a U.N.-backed and U.S.-led coalition expelled Saddam from Kuwait following his hostile takeover of the neighboring country. Although Saddam lost the war, he walked away with important victories — he got to stay in power in Iraq and he ultimately got to pocket millions, if not billions, of dollars.
Read more here.
The United Nations first tried a series of sanctions to make Saddam bend to its will following the successful 1991 war to oust him from Kuwait. Then it attempted to find a way for Iraqi citizens to get needed medicine and other supplies through the sale of Iraqi oil — an approach that failed.
Read more here.
Buried in some of the United Nations' own confidential documents are clues that a link could have existed between Saddam and the Al Qaeda terror group — clues leading to a locked door in a Swiss lakeside resort.
Read more here.
U.S. Treasury officials have already identified 11 front companies and nearly 200 Iraqi-controlled firms that they suspect were part of Saddam's secret and illegal network. They say that's only the tip of the iceberg.
Read more here.
In the Saddam era, Baghdad's Al Rashid Hotel was the main stop on the Oil-for-Food tour. Regime-friendly types would stay there when visiting Baghdad. They'd stop and say hello to Saddam or a crony, snag a voucher good for a load of Iraqi crude and, conveniently enough, there were oil traders in the lobby of that hotel who could turn those vouchers into cash.
Read more here.
The Al Mada weekly in Iraq published a list of the names of some 270 people and organizations that purportedly received Oil-for-Food vouchers from Saddam. One of those names was the same as the last name of the U.N. official who ran the Oil-for-Food program.
Read more here.
Some of the above stories were originally seen on FOX News' "Breaking Point."