The Magazine

"Hell, No"--He's Not Exonerated

From the April 11, 2005 issue: Kofi Annan and the Oil-for-Food investigation.

Apr 11, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 28 • By CLAUDIA ROSETT
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Kofi Annan first dealt with Cotecna during U.N. talks in the early 1990s over setting up an Oil-for-Food type program--before the program finally began in 1996. It was Kofi Annan who, via a Cotecna employee named Michael Wilson, son of an old Annan family friend, helped young Kojo land his original job with Cotecna back in 1995. Annan Senior met twice with Cotecna CEO Elie Massey, first for cocktails in Switzerland in 1997, and, more suggestively, in September 1998 at U.N. headquarters in New York, a time when Kojo Annan was pressing Cotecna business at U.N. gatherings. For this appointment, the preliminary entry on Kofi Annan's calendar read: "Kojo--Mr. Massey (private)."

When a report surfaced in the London Sunday Telegraph in early 1999 that Kojo had remained on the Cotecna payroll while the company was submitting its winning bid in late 1998 for the U.N. contract, it was the old Annan family chum, Wilson, at Cotecna--not an impartial oversight body--to whom Kofi Annan turned first for information. The secretary general then asked his staff to look into the matter. They turned around a report that same day, clearing Kojo of any questionable or continuing dealings with Cotecna. The press--as late as last year--was told by Annan's office to lay off, that the 1999 U.N. internal report was the final word.

As it turns out, Kojo, by Volcker's account, then received from Cotecna some $484,492 over the next five years, coincident with the company's work for the U.N. Cotecna claims the payments came to no more than $160,800. Whatever. We are treated in this report to Annan's vague speculation that he himself might have somehow been the source for the U.N. internal report clearing his own son. Asked about this possibility by the Volcker team last December, Annan gave an answer that belongs right up there in the pantheon with President Clinton's definition of "is." "It's possible that I did--I don't recall," said Annan, adding, "I sort of may have mentioned that this is what I have been told."

The oddities detailed in this report hardly end there. It turns out, for example, that--never mind Kojo--the head of Cotecna, Elie Massey, sent Kofi Annan a letter in 2002, asking that the secretary general intervene to stop Ghana from dropping a Cotecna contract. Annan's response was not to ignore or return the letter--but to forward it to the ambassador of Ghana. This was an action that by any ordinary lights implied an endorsement from the U.N. secretary general. The exonerating circumstances in this case seem to be that Ghana in any event went ahead and scrapped its Cotecna contract. We are left with a scene in which the secretary general engaged in a clear conflict of interest, but is implicitly excused on grounds that it did not pay off.

Then there was Kojo Annan's habit, recorded in this report, of dropping by the U.N. Procurement Division, where he liked to tinker with the computers and visit another old family friend, Diana Mills-Aryee, who worked there. While Volcker found no evidence Kojo did anything wrong during these visits, he did turn up an intriguing email from Kojo to Mills-Aryee (whom he liked to address as "Dear Aunty"), dated June 1999, informing her that one of his companies, Sutton Investments, "currently consult for or are associated with" Cotecna, and concluding, "Don't worry Aunty your son will structure your early retirement."

Such is a sampling of the contents of this report, with which Kofi Annan now deems himself cleared in relation to Oil-for-Food. At the "Hell, no" press conference, Annan took precisely three questions before announcing he had "lots of work to do," and departing the room at speed. How much more of this man's work can the U.N. survive?

Claudia Rosett is journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.