Times journo hits back at Kofi Annan. Or tries at least

The Times journalist James Bone castigated by Kofi Annan at the UN end-of-year press conference has fired back, inevitably, with a story today.

It's clear Mr Bone felt slapped down – hardly surprising since Mr Annan said he was a disgrace to his profession. It is also clear, from my perspective, that Mr Bone knows this. But in the best tradition of British journalism he doesn't give that much of a shit and he will probably do the same again.

The story begins: “As a journalist, I expect my share of verbal abuse. But it is not everyday that I have my professionalism impugned by the world's top diplomat on global TV.”

Bit egotistical. Plus, unfortunately, the story itself – which purports to explain why he was right to press Annan on the same story all over again – is a damp squib and would never had appeared had it not been for his public dressing-down.

In fact, if anything the story shows that Mr Annan was right to complain about the press being “lead in one direction” by “people with agendas”.

The story – reprinted below – just has too many people involved, too many semi-questions and too much hopeful extrapolation for it to be true. I would be very surprised if others newspapers decided to follow it up.

I also expect that Mr Bone will see himself taken off the UN beat because, having been mocked by the secretary-general, his ability to function effecitvely will be massively curtailed.

Oh well.

The Times     
December 23, 2005

Oil-for-Food questions UN has still not answered…

From James Bone in New York

AS A journalist, I expect my share of verbal abuse. But it is not everyday that I have my professionalism impugned by the world's top diplomat on global TV.

The advantage is that I have not felt as young for years as I do now that Kofi Annan has described me as an “overgrown schoolboy”. The disadvantage – rather more serious – is that the UN Secretary-General continues to refuse to respond to the still-unanswered questions about his role in the Oil-For-Food corruption scandal.

For months journalists were told that the UN could not answer any questions because the scandal was under investigation by the Volcker inquiry. Since the Volcker panel issued its last report in October, the UN has refused to answer any questions because it says the matter has already been investigated. Yet the inquiry raised more questions than it answered, the most important being: what did Kofi Annan know and when did he know it?


Mr Annan's 31-year-old son, Kojo, was employed by a Swiss company, Cotecna. In December 1998 Cotecna won a multimillion-dollar UN contract to monitor humanitarian imports into Iraq during the sanctions regime. The UN Secretary-General insists that he did not know his son’s company was bidding for UN contract until the Sunday Telegraph reported the fact on January 24, 1999 — a month after the contract was awarded.

The Volcker inquiry said that Mr Annan “could have been alerted” to the potential conflict of interest beforehand.

It reported Michael Wilson, a Cotecna executive who is the son of a former Ghanaian ambassador and a long-time friend of the Annans, saying that he had discussed the bid with the Secretary-General, though he later changed his story. An e-mail from Mr Wilson reported on an apparent meeting between Mr Annan and a Cotecna representative in Paris in November 1998: “We had brief discussions with the SG (Secretary-General) and his entourage,” it said. Mr Annan had “frequent ” telephone conversations with his son at that time.

The Volcker panel ultimately concluded that “the evidence is not reasonably sufficient” to prove that Mr Annan knew of his son's efforts to win the contract. Mark Pieth, a panel member, told The Times that he “got the benefit of the doubt”.


What triggered Mr Annan's outburst was a question about a sporty green Mercedes jeep that Kojo Annan bought in his father’s name with diplomatic discounts a week before the UN contract was awarded to Cotecna.

The jeep was bought with a $3,000 deposit from Michael Wilson. Eventually, the full price of $39,056, including deposit, was paid by Kojo Annan with the help of $15,000 from his father. By using his father’s name Kojo Annan secured a $6,541 diplomatic discount off the purchase price and a $14,103 diplomatic exemption from Ghanaian import duties.

The UN denies that Kofi Annan claimed the diplomatic discount or tax exemption. But the Volcker inquiry found a memo on his personal assistant’s computer, asking for him to authorise a letter to Mercedes. “Sir, Kojo asked me to sent the attached letter re: the car he is trying to purchase under your name. The company is requesting a letter be sent from the UN. Kojo said it could be signed by anyone from your office. May I ask Lamin to sign it?” the assistant wrote. Neither Kofi Annan, his aide Lamin Sise, nor his assistant, Wagaye Assebe, can recall what happened, and the original documents have disappeared — but somehow the Mercedes was purchased with the diplomatic discount.

The tax exemption was arranged by Abdoulie Janneh, then the UN Development Programme's representative in Ghana. He says he did not check with headquarters before applying for the exemption. The UN initially refused to say whether he was still with it, but it later emerged that he had become head of the Economic Commission for Africa.

Kojo Annan told the Volcker inquiry that he wanted the Mercedes for his personal use in Nigeria, where he lives. So it is unclear why it was sent to Ghana, his father's homeland. Kofi Annan, the apparent owner of the car, refuses to say where it is now.


The Volcker inquiry also revealed that in the summer of 2002 Mr Annan interceded with Ghana's UN ambassador in an apparent effort to help Cotecna to keep a government contract there. The UN chief originally told the Volcker inquiry that he remembered meeting Cotecna's founder, Elie Massey, only once — “briefly” — in 1999. Faced with UN records, he later agreed that he had met Mr Massey twice before that.

Mr Annan also insists that he did not know that his son remained on Cotecna's payroll after December 1998.

Why, in 2002, would the UN Secretary-General help out a private businessman he remembered meeting only once and whom he thought had not employed his son for more than three years?

…and the Annan response

“THE Independent Inquiry Committee into the Oil-for-Food Programme (IIC) headed by Paul Volcker, one of the most respected experts in international finance and audit, produced numerous in-depth reports totalling thousands of pages.

The other members of the Committee were Richard Goldstone, the first prosecutor for the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and Mark Pieth, an internationally renowned expert on money- laundering.

During the course of its work, the IIC had complete and unfettered access to United Nations documents and personnel.

The IIC also had at its disposal a budget of more than $35 million and more than 50 investigators. In fact, no other international organisation has ever opened itself to such intense scrutiny.

The Secretary-General co-operated fully with the IIC. He answered all of its questions during numerous interview sessions, including those related to his son and the purchase of the car, and made all his personal records available.

As far as the United Nations is concerned, the IIC’s reports are the final word on the management of the Oil-for-Food Programme.

The reports uncovered possible financial wrong-doing by more than 2,500 companies, much of which is the subject of on going national investigations.

The work of the IIC is exhaustive and we have nothing to add to it. For any further questions relating to Mr Kojo Annan and the car referred to in the article, the Secretary-General has directed Mr Bone, and other journalists, to his son’s lawyers.”