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SLUG: 2-324453 Congress-Oil For Food (L-only)









HEADLINE: New U.N. Oil for Food Documents in Hands of Congressional Investigators

INTRO: A key committee of the U.S. Congress is intensifying its investigation of corruption in the former United Nations Oil-for-Food Program. New documents from a former U.N. investigator are now in the hands of a House of Representatives panel as part of congressional efforts to obtain more information about abuses of the program. More from VOA's Dan Robinson on Capitol Hill:

TEXT: (Republican) Congressman Henry Hyde, says his House International Relations committee is reviewing the documents from Robert Parton, a former senior legal counsel with the Independent Inquiry Committee into the U.N. Oil for Food Program.

Congressman Hyde says the documents are receiving what he calls careful examination, as lawmakers press on with their investigations into the siphoning of billions of dollars from the program during its existence from 1996 to early 2003.

In a written statement Thursday, the lawmaker adds that he expects Mr. Parton will not be subject to sanction (punishment) by either the United Nations or the independent inquiry which is headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

Speaking with VOA Thursday, a committee aide declined to characterize the documents provided to the House panel, as to quantity of content. They were provided in response to a subpoena issued to Mr. Parton, who reportedly provided the documents earlier this week.

(Republican) Senator Norm Coleman, who chairs the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, had also been preparing a subpoena for Mr. Parton, and another former investigator, Miranda Duncan.

Both resigned from the Independent Inquiry Committee in April, accusing it of downplaying U.N. Secretary General Annan's role in the Oil-for-Food scandal.

In its second interim report last March, Mr. Volcker's independent inquiry committee said it found no wrongdoing by Mr. Annan, but questioned why he didn't properly investigate possible conflicts of interest involving his son, who was employed part-time by a Swiss firm awarded a contract in Iraq.

In a statement issued Thursday, Mr. Volcker questions whether Mr. Parton's action in turning over documents sought by congressional investigators violates a confidentiality agreement he signed with the independent inquiry committee.

Mr. Volcker and Congressional committees have been arguing over requests from lawmakers that the two former investigators be permitted to testify before congressional committees.

(Republican) Congressman Christopher Shays, in a letter to Mr. Volcker and Secretary General Annan this week, said refusal to do so undermined confidence in the independent inquiry and raised questions about transparency.

But in his reply Thursday, Mr. Volcker said that investigations involving serious allegations of fraud, corruption, misuse and mismanagement must enjoy, what he calls, a degree of secrecy as evidence as being gathered to preserve the ability of the inquiry to do its work.

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The United Nations Oil for Food Program was set up in the mid-1990s to provide food and medicine to help Iraqis cope with United Nations sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein sent his military forces to seize Kuwait.

Billions of dollars are estimated to have been skimmed from the program by Saddam Hussein or members of his regime, and probes have also focused on possible wrongdoing by contracting companies. (signed)


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