Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Paul Volcker has asked the UN to instruct a former investigator probing the Oil For Food Program not to comply with a Senate subpoena to provide it with information on the Oil for Food program . Fox News reports:

Volcker said Friday that Congress has to restrain itself from requiring certain acts and information from current or former IIC members as it conducts hearings into Oil-for-Food. "It is essential that it also protect the integrity and the confidentiality of the independent investigating committee," Volcker told reporters in New York, saying the probe involved "highly sensitive matters."

"Lives of certain witnesses are at stake," he added. "We're not playing games here, we are dealing, and let me just emphasize this, in some cases, with lives." In a later question-and-answer session, Volcker did not elaborate too much on who may be threatened if too much information about who has cooperated is publicized, saying, "I couldn't tell you specifically who was threatening witnesses."

The two reports so far issued by Paul Volcker have dealt with the formal remit of the Oil For Food Program; the procedures under which bids were let; the dubious relationship between Kojo Annan and Cotecna and the possible but isolated malfeasance of Benon Sevan. By his own account, Vocker found ineptitude but not criminality. While he cannot exonerate the Secretary General, nothing in the Volcker reports so far can put a smoking gun in Kofi Annan's hands. So far, it has been a story of incompetence without a crime or a criminal mastermind; of people who resemble conspirators without being members of a conspiracy.

Volcker's implicaton that the "lives of certain witnesses are at stake", though he would not name who specifically "was threatening witnesses" clearly indicates that despite his first two reports, something criminal, indeed murderous lies within the Oil for Food universe. Something that could get people killed. Having excluded the possibility of a criminal conspiracy in his first two reports, Volcker now wants to prevent former investigator Robert Parton from divulging certain undisclosed details to the US Congress because he fears that the "lives of certain witnesses are at stake". That which was denied is now invoked.

There are two possible scenarios at this juncture. The first is that Volcker himself intended to uncover the criminal elements he now warns against in his final report and fears that Parton will jeopardize his careful strategy. The second is that Volcker considered these criminally-related aspects irrelevant to investigation.

Volcker's appeal to the United Nations to prevent the Parton from testifying does not look good since he is asking Kofi Annan, the very man under investigation to prevent the release of information that is part of the probe. Was not the very purpose of the IIC to uncover possible criminal activity in the Oil for Food Program? The UN has only accepted the charge of incompetence, but not criminality in the management of the Oil For Food Program. At a UN press conference following the second Volcker report, Kofi Annan's chief of staff Mark Malloch Brown had this exchange with journalists, after Annan had left the room.

Question: Since you keep raising the “he’s-no-crook” defence, let me ask you about management. By now, the guy that he handpicked to run oil-for-food was found totally discredited; his Chief of Staff was cited in this latest report for doing something that the report finds not credible -- his explanation is not credible; the head of OIOS was found to be lacking in his investigation of oil-for-food; his son was found to be lacking; and his relatives were found to be lacking. Is the circle closing, and is it time -- is Mr. Annan, indeed, as Richard asked, the man to lead this huge undertaking of reform at the UN?

Mr. Malloch Brown: Let’s first agree: I’ll answer the question “Is the circle closing?” if you’ll answer the question “Has the ground moved?” Are you giving up on what I would characterize as the “he’s-innocent-so-lay-off” defence? He’s not a crook.

Question: That’s what Richard Nixon said, too.

Mr. Malloch Brown: Well, that’s why I’m saying -- in other words, let’s first agree that the story has probably moved decisively on today, from probably a final slaying of the ghosts on “there was corruption in this by the Secretary-General” to a second issue, which is, was the management effective enough? And on that, he’s the first to acknowledge it evidently wasn’t. A number of individuals have now been cited in ways which are enormously damaging to the Organization and to all of us who work for it.

But hence, again, the important bit of Volcker, which is the forward-looking bit of Volcker, which is, having disposed of any charges of criminality and corruption against the system as a whole and against the Secretary-General, but having pinpointed failings by others, how do we, moving forward, put in place the management reforms that address that? And I would argue, the kind of things we’re doing on more open, high-quality selection of senior staff, the reform of procurement and audit, the strengthening of OIOS going forward -- all of these issues are a very serious response to the issues raised and show that the Secretary-General takes this very seriously.

We have Annan's and Malloch Brown's categorical assurance on that Volcker found nothing criminal in combing through the UN system. What is there in Parton's box of documents that may be worth killing witnesses for?