Should Annan Resign From U.N.?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Dec. 1, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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UNITED NATIONS SPOKESMAN: ... his substantive agenda; he's strong, he's committed to it, he has heard no calls for resignation from any member state.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: United Nations spokesman saying Kofi Annan (search) has no plans to step down as U.N. Secretary General, but Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman (search) says it is time for Kofi to go.

Senator Coleman is investigating the Iraq Oil for Food scandal. He joins me now from St. Paul, Minnesota.

Senator, the big question: so, why should Kofi Annan resign as the U.N. secretary-general?

SENATOR NORM COLEMAN (R), MINNESOTA: Because he was in charge of the secretariat as the Chief Executive at a time when Saddam Hussein (search) ripped off Oil for Food program; violated the sanctions to the tune of over $20 billion. And if we're ever to get to the bottom of this, Paul Volcker, who's investigating, is going to issue a report to the secretary-general.

You need to have someone who is a disinterested party; the guy that was in charge of the program when the massive fraud took place is certainly not the guy to clean up the program.

GIBSON: Senator, you write in today's Wall Street Journal under the headline "Kofi Annan Must Go" in the body of your argument, you write, "As long as Mr. Annan remains in charge, the world will never be able to learn the full extent of the bribes, kickbacks, and under-the-table payments." — I'll just remind everybody, that amounts to over $20 billion — "that took place under the U.N.'s collective nose."

Do you think Kofi Annan is covering up?

COLEMAN: I don't know if he's covering.

What's interesting is — and I'm the first to admit — there's a lot we don't know. What's going to happen — and you saw it yesterday with allegations about his son being paid until very, very recently by the company that was supposed to oversee part of the Oil for Food program.

A couple of weeks before that, stories about oil-for-food money being used to pay families of terrorist bombers. A couple weeks before that, stories that said this wasn't a $10 billion fraud, but a $20 billion. This is going to keep playing itself out again and again and again.

We're going to learn more and more. And Kofi Annan was the guy at the charge; he was the helm when all this occurred. If this was any business, other organization other than the United Nations, the board would be clamoring to say, "OK. You got to step down; we got to clean this up."

Part of the problem, John, we have, is that the board, which includes members of the Security Council, including France and Russia and China, they were benefiting from Saddam's fraud and abuse. They were the ones that were having favors put at their doorstep and their folks were making lots of money here.

GIBSON: Senator, you are saying it nicely, although with great energy, but you are saying it nicely. Saddam was bribing the Security Council, was he not?

COLEMAN: I think that's a very reasonable inference. What I'm not saying is this: I'm not pointing the finger of accusation at Kofi right now. I don't know that. But I do know under his nose, the guy, that by the way, he appointed, Benan Sevan (search), is clear evidence that the guy that was running the program for the United Nations, was benefiting from Saddam's influence peddling to the tunes of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

That we know. That allegation's out there. That information's out there. Kofi Annan cannot be the guy to root out the fraud and corruption. If the U.N. is to have any credibility, he's to step down. I think he has to know that.

GIBSON: Senator this other thing that is gnawing at people, Paul Volcker (search) is investigating. And let's say he finds out Sevan took money or that even Kofi Annan's son took money, is there a prosecutorial mechanism or is the U.N. a safe haven for thieves?

COLEMAN: First, you have to back up and say, "What can Volcker do?" And I have great respect for Paul Volcker, but he doesn't have subpoena power. He's going to issue his report to Kofi Annan: the guy that was in charge of this entire program when the fraud and the abuse took place.

We know it took place; we know he was in charge. So, Paul Volcker's got to report to him. In the end, I don't think it's very clear as to what consequences will be paid for what's gone on.

There's one consequence that I think is easily understandable by the world, and that is, the guy that was in charge should step aside so that Volcker can do what he does, so that my committee can investigate. We need to get to the bottom of this.

GIBSON: Suppose you and Volcker discover "x" person in the U.N. hierarchy, including Annan himself, just fattened up a bank account in Switzerland by hundred of millions of dollars. Can you either recover the money or prosecute? Is there any legal mechanism for putting the long arm of the law on a U.N. official?

COLEMAN: The U.S. attorney is looking at it. I actually believe that we have an ability to do that, when we get all this put together. My concern is, are we ever going to get to the bottom of this and can you get to the bottom of it if the guy that was in charge of the whole problem; in charge of the secretariat, when all the fraud, the abuse, the corruption took place if he's still there today?

To me, again, if this was not the U.N., any other organization would say the guy that was in charge when $21 billion was pilfered under our nose; $21 billion, by the way, which funded terrorists, which imported weapons, which curried favor; simply that guy has to go.

I believe actually, there can be some consequences, but I'm worried about our ability to get there if Kofi Annan is still sitting there in charge as secretary-general.

GIBSON: Senator Norm Coleman, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and a member of the Senate, obviously. Senator, thanks very much. Appreciate you coming on.

COLEMAN: Thank you.

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