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U.N. Chief's Son Agrees to Pay Duties on SUV

Kojo Annan doesn't plan to return a discount a dealer gave him in his father's name.

January 26, 2006|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — The son of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has announced that he intends to pay Ghana's government $14,301 in import duties on a Mercedes SUV that he had avoided paying by misusing his father's name.

Kojo Annan had obtained diplomatic discounts and tax exemptions on the luxury vehicle when he bought it in his father's name seven years ago. He does not intend to reimburse a German Mercedes dealership that gave him a $6,541 diplomatic discount, his lawyer said this week.

"The automobile was not for the secretary-general's own personal use and therefore the [import duties] exemption was not justified," William Taylor III, Kojo Annan's lawyer, said in a letter to Ghanaian officials last Thursday. "I write to inform you that Mr. Kojo Annan wishes to make full payment of the amount due to the government of Ghana."

A probe of the United Nations oil-for-food program revealed in September the false statements involving the car. Investigators initially suspected that the Mercedes was a payoff to Kofi Annan for awarding a U.N. contract to his son's employer, Cotecna Inspection. The investigators found a memo on the computer of an assistant to Annan that relayed Kojo Annan's request to approve the use of his name to obtain a diplomatic discount.

The secretary-general said that he gave his son $15,000 toward the purchase but that he did not realize that his name had been used to receive diplomatic discounts and tax exemptions.

On Wednesday, he welcomed news of his son's move. "It was the right thing to do," Annan told Reuters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "He knew I wanted him to sort it out, clean it up. It was between him, his lawyer and the government."

Asked whether he, as secretary-general, secured the tax break for his son, Annan said, "Absolutely not. It was done behind my back."

The investigative panel, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker, found no evidence of wrongdoing by the secretary-general. But journalists' persistent requests to the secretary-general's office for more information about the car roiled the elder Annan, who considered the matter closed and refused to address it.

At a news conference last month, Annan called a Times of London reporter "an embarrassment to his profession."

On Tuesday, Taylor announced that Kojo Annan would reimburse Ghana's government. The lawyer also said that the car was no longer in the secretary-general's name and that it had been totaled in a crash.

Ghanaian customs officials told the Times of London on Wednesday that they had received Kojo Annan's offer but that the attorney general had not decided whether to press charges.

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