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Independent panel has begun inquiry into UN's Oil-for-Food, chairman says

Independent panel has begun inquiry into UN's Oil-for-Food, chairman says

Paul Volcker briefs press on panel's work
Work has begun by an independent panel investigating the United Nations Oil-for-Food programme for Iraq, and its focus is to "get after" allegations of corruption and misconduct within the UN itself and, more broadly, the question of possible maladministration of the humanitarian operation, its Chairman said today.

In the event of maladministration, questions related to why that maladministration occurred, where responsibility for it lay, and what lessons learned could be drawn would also be addressed, Paul A. Volcker told a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York.

The longest and most difficult aspect of the investigation by the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) would relate to what went on in Iraq itself in terms of contractors, overcharging and undercharging, kickbacks and smuggling, "which is peripheral to our investigation but I don't think we can help but touch upon it," he added.

Mr. Volcker, a former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve System, stressed it was crucial for the panel to establish a degree of control over the very important records held in Iraq, if its investigation was to be satisfactory.

A team had been sent to Baghdad to make contact with the Bureau of the Supreme Auditor, which had responsibility for collecting and consolidating those records. That team would explore ways of achieving and maintaining sufficient influence over and accessibility to those records.

The Oil-for-Food programme began operating in 1996. Under its terms, sanctions-bound Iraq was allowed to use a portion of its oil revenues to purchase humanitarian relief. The effort was monitored by the Security Council "661" committee, which included representatives from all 15 countries on the Council.

Until its termination in November 2003, the programme was the largest-ever, in financial terms, administrated by the UN. It oversaw the delivery of some $39 billion worth of humanitarian assistance to about 22 million people, many of whom were largely dependent on outside aid to survive since normal economic activity was severely constrained by sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.


Video of the press briefing [47mins]