U.N.: Defiant U.N. Sleuth Hands over Iraq Oil-for-Food Papers to U.S. Congress

A former investigator for an independent inquiry into the U.N. oil-for-food program handed over potentially explosive documents to a U.S. congressional committee, triggering outrage from inquiry head Paul Volcker.
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WASHINGTON - A former investigator for an independent inquiry into the U.N. oil-for-food program handed over potentially explosive documents on Thursday to a U.S. congressional committee, triggering outrage from inquiry head Paul Volcker.

Robert Parton, a lawyer and former FBI agent who resigned last month as senior investigative counsel for the inquiry, gave the documents to U.S. lawmakers even though he signed a confidentiality agreement when he was hired and certified when he left that he possessed no documents related to his work.

Congressional investigators speculate the documents could show that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan misled Volcker, a former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, during the investigation.

Annan has repeatedly insisted he committed no wrongdoing, was truthful and withheld nothing from investigators.

Parton has told associates he felt Volcker's inquiry had been too soft on Annan when it looked into whether the U.N. chief interfered in the awarding of a lucrative contract in Iraq to the Swiss firm Cotecna, which employed his son Kojo.

But Volcker, in a statement and a series of letters made public late on Thursday, said his probe had overlooked no relevant evidence.

Volcker has argued that his investigation would be damaged if it could not be conducted in complete secrecy. He has promised to eventually turn over all his evidence, once secrecy was no longer required.

His investigators were initially expected to wrap up their work by June but now may go several months beyond that date.

The United Nations said Annan had withheld nothing.

"I don't know what Mr. Parton has handed over, but it is clear that the secretary-general has been extremely open with the Volcker investigation," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. "They have had access to him a number of times, They have had access to all his files. He has given them everything."

Susan Ringler, Volcker's counsel, accused Parton and his lawyer, Lanny Davis, of ignoring her directives and said the committee was "reviewing this matter and its options."

"I am confident that our report contains all the relevant factual information gathered by my investigative team concerning Secretary-General Annan and his son," Volcker said. "It is only the inferences drawn from those facts that are subject to different conclusions."

U.N. officials said Parton, as a lawyer, could be disbarred for violating his confidentiality agreement or sued by the Volcker panel for providing the documents without permission.

Rep. Henry Hyde, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee, which has been probing the now-defunct $67 billion humanitarian program for Iraq, said Parton gave his committee the papers after getting a subpoena last Friday.

Attorney Davis said Parton had been told he would be held in contempt of Congress if he informed the Volcker panel or the United Nations of the subpoena before providing the documents.

Hyde provided no details about the papers' contents but said he hoped there would be no attempt by the Volcker panel or the United Nations to punish Parton.

The Volcker panel's most recent interim report, issued March 29, concluded there was no evidence Annan had interfered in the Cotecna contract award although it said he had been lax in looking into whether there had been a conflict of interest.

The report triggered a running battle between Annan critics and supporters over whether he had been exonerated or not.

The United Nations and several congressional committees looking into the oil-for-food scandal have been sparring for months over access to documents and witnesses.

The oil-for-food program, which began in late 1996 and ended in 2003, was set up by the U.N. Security Council to ease the impact of sanctions imposed on Iraq after Saddam Hussein's troops invaded Kuwait in 1990. Baghdad was allowed to sell oil to buy basic goods and could negotiate its own contracts.

After the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Iraqi documents turned up listing hundreds of groups and individuals apparently bribed by Saddam to try to get the sanctions lifted.

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