Last April, bowing to intense pressure, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan named a supposedly independent panel to investigate charges that the world bodys administration of the Oil-for-Food program was corrupt.
Annan made headlines by naming Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, to lead the panel. Observers of all political stripes hailed Annans choice of Volcker, whose credibility and integrity are unblemished and unchallenged. Annan promised complete U.N. cooperation with Volckers investigation, and Volcker and his colleagues promised a thorough investigation.
Eight months later, the world has learned a great deal more about the Oil-for-Food scandal, but none of the information has come from Volckers investigation. More important, the U.N. continues its stonewalling of U.S. Congressional investigations while at the same time erecting critical barriers to hamper Volckers efforts.
Last week in Washington, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who are leading the U.S. Senates investigation of the scandal, sent a scathing letter to Volcker and Annan. In it, they sharply criticized the United Nations for refusing them access to critical documents, forcing Oil-for-Food contractors to clam up and preventing U.N. employees from talking with Senate investigators.
Previously, Annan dragged his feet for months before establishing a budget for Volckers panel, thus delaying investigators work. And when he did finally provide a budget, Annan announced that the world body would pay for Volckers work with Oil-for-Food money, thus continuing the U.N. misuse of funds intended to help Iraqis.
In their letter, Senators Coleman and Levin charge that the U.N. is trying to have it both ways. "We are concerned that the U.N.s non-disclosure policy is being used as both a sword and a shield, i.e., sharing internal records when it favors the U.N., but then declining to do so when such a disclosure could have negative implications."
At the center of the U.N.s duplicity is the Volcker panel. Its increasingly clear that the world body is playing the former central bankers investigation as the patsy. On one hand, the United Nations can deflect questions about improprieties by claiming that an investigation is underway, while on the other, it uses the panel as an excuse to prevent disclosure of damaging information.
This week, Mr. Volcker continued to play his role as the pawn perfectly, declining the request from Senators Coleman and Levin to turn over critical information. Does Volcker really think that his U.N.-sponsored investigation ― which relies solely on the good will of U.N. staffers and contractors is in a better position to find the truth than a full-fledged Congressional investigation with subpoena power? If so, he's deceiving himself.
In light of this abuse and the U.N.s evident intent to continue stonewalling, and with his own credibility now at stake, Mr. Volcker should step down.
By continuing to serve masters who are so obviously corrupt and allowing himself to be used to prevent the truth from coming out, Mr. Volcker is risking his sterling reputation for integrity. That would be far too high a price for him to pay to see his work through to what will likely be an unsatisfactory conclusion.
In fact, the disintegration of the Volcker probe could renew the pressure on the United Nations to disclose, and we might be able to learn, once and for all, the extent of the corruption and how high in the U.N. leadership it went. The plodding U.N. investigation will most likely lead nowhere, whether Volcker is at the helm or not.November 18, 2004