May 14, 2009 / 5:27 PM / 10 years ago

Annan unfairly tainted by Iraq scandal - ex-aide

* Ex-spokesman defends Kofi Annan legacy in new book

* Eckhard says U.N. chief was victim of hypocrisy, deceit



By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, May 14 (Reuters) - Former United Nations chief Kofi Annan was unfairly tainted by the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal, which was whipped up by right-wing media in countries that backed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, his ex-spokesman said on Thursday.

Frederic Eckhard also accused the United States and other powers of hypocrisy for having turned a blind eye for years to illegal oil contracts with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Launching his book "Kofi Annan", he said the former U.N. secretary-general’s legacy should be based on many achievements over his 10-year tenure, such as fighting AIDS and putting human rights at the centre of the U.N.’s work.

"I began writing this book in 2006 because I was angry. I was angry that my boss ... was retiring under a cloud — a cloud created by the hypocrisy and political deceit of others," Eckhard told a news briefing in Geneva.

The American author speculated that an opinion poll conducted in the United States today would show that more than half of those questioned would say Annan was "corrupt."

This was despite a team of investigators led by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker having essentially cleared the Ghanaian of any wrongdoing in oil-for-food, Eckhard said.

The 1996-2003 humanitarian programme was designed to ease the impact on ordinary Iraqis of U.N. sanctions, imposed when Baghdad’s troops invaded Kuwait in 1990. Iraq was allowed to make limited oil sales to buy food, medicine and other goods.



"SCANDALOUS HEADLINES"

Volcker ultimately accused more than 2,200 companies in 66 countries of diverting some $1.8 billion in bribes and kickbacks to Saddam’s government under the $64 billion programme.

His panel said the U.N. secretariat, headed by Annan, mismanaged the programme and accused the former U.N. head of the programme of benefiting personally from it.

But the probe was overshadowed by attacks on Volcker’s integrity and "politicised investigators, hyper-active prosecutor types" on his team, according to Eckhard.

"So my thesis is oil-for-food needs a serious second look."

Volcker’s team tried to establish if there was a link between Annan and a contract awarded under oil-for-food to the Swiss-based Cotecna inspection firm which employed his son Kojo. They found no evidence of improper benefit to the U.N. chief.

"The press went after Kofi, however. If you look at the headlines from 2004, I think that they are scandalous," Eckhard said. "We took the biggest beating in the American, Australian and the British press. The positions of these different countries on the Iraq invasion was a big element too."

The book, based on interviews with 100 people including former British U.N. envoy Jeremy Greenstock and former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, is published in French but Eckhard is in talks about versions in English and German.

"When you cross the United States, the most powerful member, you can expect to be beaten up. I think that is exactly what happened," he quoted Wolfensohn as saying.

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)



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