June 21, 2005
by Claudia Rosett
One of the mysteries shaping up in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal is, who is "KA"?
Those initials appear in the memo that surfaced last week, implicating Secretary-General Annan, apparently referred to in the document as "the SG," in the lobbying process with which a Swiss-based company, Cotecna Inspections SA, in late 1998 went about obtaining a fat U.N. oil-for-food contract. It did this while employing as a consultant the secretary-general's son, Kojo Annan.
If those initials, KA, refer to Kojo Annan -- as an unnamed Cotecna official told the New York Times last week appears to be the case -- then the senior Annan may have to explain how this squares with his statement to investigators and the public that he had no idea in late 1998 that Cotecna, while employing his son, was bidding on a U.N. contract to inspect oil-for-food imports into Saddam Hussein's U.N.-sanctioned Iraq.
The KA reference comes in the context of numerous evasions, denials, and -- it now appears -- overlapping travel agendas for the secretary-general and his son. While the secretary-general suggested last year that his son's business was confined to West Africa, and therefore could have had no bearing on the U.N.'s Iraq program, it now looks likely that in the three months just prior to Cotecna's winning the U.N. contract, Kofi and Kojo Annan met not in West Africa, where Kojo was based, but in at least three cities on three different continents, all at U.N.-related functions.
For at least two of these meetings, it is already documented that Kojo Annan came to lobby for Cotecna - at a Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Durban, South Africa, and at the opening of the General Assembly in New York. The question now is whether he was present and doing the same at a Paris summit of African francophone nations, attended by his father, in late November 1998, less than three weeks before Cotecna on December 11 won the U.N. contract.
The memo in question was an in-house communication apparently written by one of Kojo Annan's closest associates at Cotecna, Michael Wilson. A Cotecna spokesman said the company had not turned it over earlier to investigators because Cotecna had only recently discovered it in the course of auditing archived documents.
Addressed to three of Cotecna's top officials, the one-page memo ticked off activities Mr. Wilson said not just he, but "we," had engaged in at the Paris meeting. The memo recounted in reference to "United Nations - Iraq Programme" that "we had brief discussions with the SG and his entourage. Their collective advise [sic] was that we should respond as best we could to the Q&A session of the 1-12-98 and that we could count on their support."
Following the New York Times's disclosure last week of this memo, Secretary-General Annan denied "absolutely" that he would resign, and deflected questions to the Volcker investigation. The Volcker committee last Tuesday issued a statement that it is "urgently reviewing" what its spokesman called "newly disclosed information" in the memo.
On Wednesday, lawyers in London for Michael Wilson, the apparent author of the memo, put out a statement denying the section of the memo mentioning the "SG" - or Kofi Annan. Mr. Wilson's lawyers, speaking on his behalf, said he "never met with or had any discussion with the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the issue of the bid for the U.N. contract by Cotecna at the Francophone Summit, during the bidding process, or at any time prior to the award of the contract."
In light of Mr. Wilson's denial that he personally spoke with Mr. Annan, the question looms of who else he was referring to when he reported in the memo that "we" received assurances of support from the secretary-general and his entourage.
That's where the question of KA's identity enters the picture. The next item in the memo, under the heading "Courtesies," recounts that "KA paid courtesy greetings to the Presidents of ..." - and though the names of the nations have been crossed out in the copy of this memo seen by The New York Sun, still legible are "Ghana, Mozambique" and "Niger."
KA is how Cotecna, in other internal memos, often referred to Kojo Annan, who reported in one of his own memos to the Cotecna top brass on his efforts to establish ties with assorted African political leaders and had earlier that year been instructed by Cotecna, in yet another memo, to cultivate connections at the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York with half a dozen African rulers as well as "Any other Presidents or other personalities you deem important and useful for our future work."
Even if Mr. Wilson is telling the truth that he never spoke with the secretary-general about the Cotecna bid prior to the company winning the U.N. contract, there remains the question of whether - if Kojo Annan was also present in Paris - it was Kojo himself who might have spoken with Kofi Annan and relayed the information to Mr. Wilson, in whose name the memo was sent to Cotecna. According to the Volcker committee's March 29 interim report, U.N. records show that Kofi Annan was in Paris during the November dates in question, but his "official itinerary" shows no meeting with his son or Mr. Wilson.
A meeting between the secretary-general and his son would not necessarily have turned up on the official itinerary. It took delving by investigators over the past year to establish that the two spoke often and that Kojo Annan, while visiting New York in late September and again in October of that same year, had stayed at the secretary-general's official residence.
There is also considerable evidence that the Annans had close ties to Michael Wilson, who, according to the Volcker report, regarded Kofi Annan as "uncle." It was Kofi Annan who helped Kojo land his job at Cotecna in 1995, via Michael Wilson, who joined the company that same year. In 1997, in a fax to Kojo marked "urgent and confidential," Cotecna Vice President Andre Pruniaux instructed him: "You will work closely with Michael Wilson."
The younger Mr. Annan and Mr. Wilson later shared seats on the board of directors of a company called Air Harbour Technologies, owned by the son of a former Saudi Arabian oil minister. Today, they are issuing their statements - and refusing to speak with the press - via the same London-based law firm, Schillings.
Clearing up the KA mystery may require hearing from Kojo Annan himself, who since meeting with the Volcker committee in October has refused to speak with investigators or clarify matters to the press. It might also require an explanation from the secretary-general of why last year he dismissed out of hand reports of a possible conflict of interest involving his son's work for Cotecna, telling the press that Kojo "had left the company and was working for them mainly in West Africa, in Nigeria and Ghana, and the process as reported was completely above board, and they reviewed all the bids and went through their processes and selected a winner."
It now appears that every element of that statement by the secretary-general was inaccurate. The Volcker inquiry has reported that whatever Cotecna's merits, the United Nations violated fair-bidding procedures in awarding the contract to the company. It is by now also clear that Kojo Annan's work and travel for Cotecna was far from confined to West Africa.
It has also since emerged that though Kojo Annan resigned from Cotecna on December 31, 1998 - the same day the company signed its U.N. contract - he continued to receive "noncompete" payments from Cotecna for more than four years after he resigned, with the final payment going through just a few weeks after the United Nations closed out its role in the oil-for-food program.
Here, again, the timing bears watching. Cotecna's noncompete contract with Kojo is dated January 11, 1999. Two weeks after that, when the story of Kojo's potential conflict of interest via Cotecna turned up in London's Sunday Telegraph, Kofi Annan phoned Cotecna. The person he phoned there, according to the Volcker report, was Michael Wilson, because, as the senior Annan told the Volcker committee, "He's the one I really knew at the company." Following that conversation, the secretary-general's staff issued a report in a single day, finding no conflict of interest - though at the time, the noncompete contract, with its continuing flow of payments to Kojo Annan, had already been approved by Cotecna.
A source described as "close to the investigation" told the Wall Street Journal last week that in the wake of the Wilson memo, Kofi Annan is in deep trouble unless there is "plausible disaffirmation." But unless additional surprise evidence pops up, possibly from the secretary-general's "entourage" referred to in the Wilson memo, the U.N.-Cotecna-Kojo-Kofi saga may yet boil down to nothing more than a fresh slew of evasions and denials.
And, implausible though it may be, talk is now making the rounds at the United Nations that it would be foolish to rule out the possibility of at least one more silent witness to the Paris meeting attended in November 1998 not only by Mr. Wilson, but by the mysterious KA. A source close to the U.N. jokes that in light of the fracas last year about possible eavesdropping at the United Nations, one has to wonder if, when the secretary-general visits Paris, there are any authorities listening in - or whether, at least, the French, who played a large role in oil-for-food, might be in a position to know more than the secretary-general might like about the identity of the mysterious KA.
This article appeared in the New York Sun on June 20, 2005.
Claudia Rosett was formerly an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute.
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