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Swiss firm releases documents in UN oil-for-food scandal

The Swiss trade inspection firm Cotecna, involved in the UN "oil for food" scandal, said on Tuesday it had handed over documents to investigators from the U.S. Congress who are probing the case, and that it had been vindicated by two audits.

"Cotecna once again confirms that it acted at all times appropriately and ethically in its bidding for, winning and performing" its 1998 contract to verify the shipment of humanitarian goods into Iraq.

The company said it gave U.S. investigators "relevant documents" related to that contract, but did not make the details public.

"The company is committed to continuing to work closely with all investigations to assist them in gaining a full understanding of the facts," Cotecna added. Revelations about wrongdoing in the UN's $64 billion oil-for-food program, which oversaw oil sales by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, have repeatedly embarrassed the United Nations.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan created an Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC), but U.S. lawmakers are also running their own probe.

An interim report by the IIC released earlier this year cleared Annan from improperly influencing the awarding of a contract to Cotecna, which employed his son Kojo.

But it said Annan's investigation into a possible conflict of interest was "inadequate" and that Cotecna's contract would likely not have been renewed if a thorough investigation had been done.

Cotecna also said it had given the IIC copies of two audits, and also planned to hand them over to the U.S. investigators.

The first, an audit of Cotecna's bank accounts in Switzerland by the accounting firm BDO, checked for payments from 1996 to 2004 to Kojo Annan, Cotecna said.

Earlier this year, Cotecna said it had paid a total of $370,000 to Kojo Annan during and after the end of his contract - half the sum in exchange for a noncompetition pledge after he stopped working for the Geneva-based firm in 1998.

The IIC report identified other suspected payments, but the audit showed that $306,305 of those "are not attributable to Cotecna," the company said on Tuesday, adding that it "looks forward to the IIC's correction of their error." The second audit, carried out by a forensic accounting firm, Forensic Risk Alliance, was even more detailed.

It reviewed over 700,000 transactions in order to identify conclusively all payments made to Kojo Annan and related entities from 1995 to 2004, Cotecna said.

That audit found payments were "fully consistent" with figures already released by Cotecna, the company said.

Beirut,06 20 2005
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