Oil Probe Looking At Annan Again

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan speaks to reporters after a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Ivory Coast at UN headquarters Saturday, Nov. 6, 2004.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is back in the spotlight over the scandal-tinged oil-for-food program after two e-mail memos dating from 1998 appeared suggesting he may have known about a multimillion-dollar U.N. contract awarded to the company that employed his son.

One of the e-mails describes an alleged encounter between Annan and officials from Cotecna Inspection S.A. in late 1998 during which the Swiss company's bid for the contract was raised.

The second, from the same Cotecna executive, expresses confidence that the company would get the bid because of "effective but quiet lobbying" in New York diplomatic circles.

The previously unknown e-mails will be a new distraction for the U.N. secretary-general, who had claimed he was exonerated by an interim report released in March by the Independent Inquiry Committee, chaired by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. Annan had hoped that the committee was finished investigating his personal involvement.

"The discovery of emails directly linking meetings of the Secretary General with the awarding of the contract to company which employed his son contradicts earlier statements and, if corroborated, directly links Kofi Annan to the corruption scandal," said CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk from the U.N.

If accurate, the new details would cast doubt on a major finding the U.N.-backed committee made in March — that there wasn't enough evidence to show that Annan knew about efforts by Cotecna, which employed his son Kojo, to win the Iraq oil-for-food contract. The Associated Press obtained the e-mails Tuesday.

Through his spokesman, Annan said he didn't remember the late 1998 meeting. He repeatedly has insisted that he didn't know Cotecna was pursuing a contract with the oil-for-food program.

The $64 billion oil-for-food program was aimed at helping ordinary Iraqis suffering under U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, but it has become the target of several corruption investigations since the Iraqi leader was ousted.

A key issue has been whether Annan was guilty of a conflict of interest because the United Nations awarded the $10 million-a-year contract to Cotecna while Kojo Annan was a consultant for the company.

In the interim report in March, Volcker's committee accused Cotecna and Kojo Annan of trying to conceal their relationship after the firm won the contract. It said Kofi Annan didn't properly investigate possible conflicts of interest but cleared him of trying to influence the contract or violating U.N. rules.

"The investigation of these emails by the Volcker Commission, which had found no link between the Secretary General and the scandal raises questions about the independence of the U.N.-appointed commission," said Falk, "it has the ring of the fox guarding the chicken coop to investigators on Capitol Hill."

In a statement, the committee said it was "urgently reviewing" the two e-mails, which it received from Cotecna on Monday night.

"Does this raise a question? Sure," said Reid Morden, executive director of the probe.