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Audits ignite debate on Iraq’s oil-for-food

Desmond Butler Associated Press

NEW YORK – Internal U.N. audits sent to the director of the Iraq oil-for-food program uncovered extensive mismanagement of multimillion-dollar deals with contractors and fraudulent paperwork by its employees, according to copies of the some of the reports obtained by the Associated Press.

An independent panel investigating corruption in the humanitarian program released the 55 internal audits on its Web site on Sunday, a day earlier than originally planned after some of the reports were leaked to news media.

The panel led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who was appointed in April by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to investigate the growing scandal, was given access to the audits that were conducted throughout the duration of the program, along with other relevant documents.

The oil-for-food program was created as a humanitarian exemption to sanctions imposed on Iraq after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which led to the 1991 Gulf War. Beginning in 1996, it allowed Saddam Hussein’s government to sell oil and use the proceeds to buy food, medicine and other items.

The contention over access to the audits led some congressional investigators to accuse the United Nations of stonewalling outside investigations of alleged corruption at the program. At least five congressional probes are running separately from Volcker’s.

In November, Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., accused U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan of trying to cover up the extent of fraud at the program and called for his resignation.

Now that the internal audits are being released, the two sides disagree about what they show.

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