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U.N. seeks to bar lawyer over oil-for-food details

Colum Lynch Washington Post

UNITED NATIONS – A former U.N.-appointed investigator probing corruption in the Iraq oil-for-food program on Monday defended his decision to retain official documents after he quit the inquiry and give them to a congressional committee.

Robert Parton, former senior counsel of the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC), said he resigned last month in frustration with the panel, which is headed by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, for not providing a tougher account of how U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan handled the $64 billion program.

In response to a subpoena from the House International Relations Committee, Parton turned over several boxes of papers and audio tapes to the committee, one of several conducting inquiries into the U.N.-administered program. Parton, a former FBI offi-cial, said he had kept the documents to prove he had disputed the IIC’s findings. Although Parton was subject to U.N. confidentiality and diplomatic immunity agreements, he said he felt “legally obligated to comply” with a congressional subpoena from the committee chaired by Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill.

Parton’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, released the statement after the Volcker committee sought a federal court order blocking Parton from providing two other congressional committees with additional documents or testimony. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and the House Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, chaired by Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., had set a Thursday deadline for Parton to provide additional documents and testify.

Late Monday, lawyers representing Volcker, Parton, Shays and Coleman agreed to a 10-day delay while they try to reach an agreement that would enable Parton to cooperate with the congressional committees without jeapordizing Volcker’s ongoing investigation.

The U.N. oil-for-food program was established in 1996 to exempt Iraq’s government from sanctions to sell oil to buy food, medicines and other humanitarian goods. Saddam Hussein’s government abused the program.

A March 29 Volcker report cleared Annan of allegations he used his influence to direct oil-for-food business to a company that employed his son. But the report faulted Annan for not conducting an adequate investigation into reports of possible conflicts of interest.

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