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Memo's Author Backs Annan

An ex-Cotecna executive says he never discussed a U.N. contract with the secretary-general, as his recently revealed 1998 e-mail had indicated.

June 16, 2005|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — The former Cotecna executive who wrote a memo suggesting that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his aides assured him that his company would win a United Nations contract now denies he ever discussed the contract with Annan, his lawyers said in a statement Wednesday.

The executive, Michael Wilson, "never met or had any discussion with the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, on the issue of the bid for the U.N. contract by Cotecna at the Francophone Summit, during the bidding process, or at any time prior to the award of the contract," the statement said.

Wilson's 1998 memo, an e-mail he wrote to his bosses when he was a vice president at Geneva-based Cotecna Inspection Services, was provided by the company Monday to U.S. congressional investigators, one of whom described it as a "smoking gun."

Wilson is a longtime family friend of the Annans and helped the secretary-general's son, Kojo Annan, get a job at the company in 1995. In 1998, Cotecna won a $10-million-a-year contract to inspect Iraqi imports under the U.N. oil-for-food program. Two panels have been looking into whether Kofi Annan steered it to his son's employer.

Annan said Tuesday, as he had before, that he had not even known that the company was a bidder, and his spokesman said that U.N. trip logs had no record of any contact with Wilson. The U.N., Kojo Annan and Cotecna representatives have all said that Kofi Annan had nothing to do with the contract.

Wilson's memo describes a brief exchange with the secretary-general and his aides during a summit of French-speaking nations in Paris in late 1998. Kojo Annan, who'd set up previous private meetings among Wilson, his father and himself, was apparently with the Cotecna executive in Paris at the time.

"We had brief discussions with the SG [secretary-general] and his entourage," the e-mail said. "Their collective advise [sic] was that we should respond as best as we could to the Q & A session of the 1-12-98 [Dec. 1, 1998] and that we could count on their support." It was written Dec. 4, 1998, a week before Cotecna won the contract.

It is not the first time that Wilson has changed his story about contacts with Annan, a man he used to call "Uncle." In a January interview, he told investigators with a panel led by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker that in late 1998, he and Annan had discussed the potential conflict of interest if Cotecna bid for a U.N. contract while Kojo was still a consultant for the company.

Twenty minutes later, Wilson called the Volcker committee to say he remembered differently and had not discussed the matter with Annan until after Kojo had left Cotecna. An investigator noted that "this new recollection did not make sense in light of Mr. Wilson's earlier reference."

The Volcker panel concluded in March that there was insufficient evidence to show that Annan had improperly influenced the contract, and the U.N. chief declared himself "exonerated."

The Volcker committee said Tuesday that it would reexamine the matter.

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