A May 6 Wall Street Journal editorial misquoted United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in an effort to rebut Annan's claim that a recent report by the independent committee investigating the U.N. oil-for-food program was an "exoneration."
The Journal offered a defense of the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC), led by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul A. Volcker, from allegations that it has gone too easy on Annan. The IIC's March 29 interim report addressed allegations that Annan improperly influenced the U.N. contracting process to help Cotecna Inspection Services SA, a private firm that employed his son, Kojo. But in citing the IIC's adverse findings concerning Annan, the Journal misquoted Annan's response to the committee's March 29 interim report:
[W]e understand how reasonable people can differ on how much Mr. Annan really knew about the bidding by a company called Cotecna that employed his son and won Iraqi Oil for Food contracts. ... But the Volcker Committee decided that it had found no smoking gun and so concluded that it had found "not reasonably sufficient evidence." Mr. Annan took that judgment from the interim report and claimed "exoneration" -- when of course it was no such thing.
In fact, Annan did not claim "exoneration" based on the committee's inconclusive judgment, which the Journal quoted, about whether Annan knew that Cotecna was seeking an oil-for-food contract. Rather, Annan's claim was based on the committee's conclusive, unequivocal judgment that -- regardless of whether he knew that Cotecna was vying for a contract -- "There is no evidence that the selection of Cotecna in 1998 was subject to any affirmative or improper influence of the Secretary-General in the bidding or selection process." Here's what Annan said at a March 29 press conference following the release of the report:
ANNAN: After an exhaustive 12-month investigation, the report states clearly that "there is no evidence that the selection of Cotecna in 1998 was subject to any affirmative or improper influence of the Secretary-General in the bidding or selection process." After so many distressing and untrue allegations have been made against me, this exoneration by the Independent Inquiry obviously comes as a great relief.
Volcker has since said that he does not consider the report an "exoneration" because it also criticized Annan for failing to initiate a thorough and independent investigation of potential conflicts of interest arising from the Cotecna contract in 1999, after conflict-of-interest allegations surfaced in 1999, when Annan acknowledges he did know that Cotecna had won the contract [p. 78].
Media Matters for America has also documented Fox News correspondent Eric Shawn's confusing the IIC's two contrasting findings concerning Annan and Cotecna in order to attack Annan.