Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Press reports abound over U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's eruption in anger at his year-end press conference when questioned about a tax angle in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal. A central element of the investigation is the role of Annan's son Kojo in the award of a U.N. contract to a Swiss firm (Cotecna Inspection SA). Times of London reporter James Bonne asked Kofi Annan about press reports that Kojo Annan had used his father's name in importing a Mercedes into his native Ghana in order to obtain a diplomatic discount and tax exemption totalling more than $20,000. Here is the exchange from the U.N. transcript:
- Question: [C]ould you use your time now to clear up the many questions people keep asking about this Mercedes? Did you use your offices to give, and authorize, a diplomatic discount for your son in this matter?
- Annan: [On the car,] it is part of the report. I know you are all obsessed about the car. My son and his lawyers are dealing with it. If you want to know more about it, please direct the questions to his lawyer or to him. I am neither his spokesman nor his lawyer....
- Question: It had the word “Mercedes” in, but I took it out. Just to comment on the Mercedes before I ask my question. The Volcker report says that the Mercedes was bought in your name, so as the owner of the car, can you tell us what happened to it and where it is now? Now, my question is that, it’s true that we missed a lot of stories in the oil-for-food scandal, and the UN hasn’t made it easy. And even your answer today on the Mercedes so far hasn’t made it easy. Some of your own stories -- your own version of events -- don’t really make sense. I’d like to ask you particularly --
- Annan: I think you are being very cheeky here.
- Question: Well, let me -- Sir, let me ask my question.
- The Secretary-General: No, hold on. Hold on. Listen, James Bone. You have been behaving like an overgrown schoolboy in this room for many, many months and years. You are an embarrassment to your colleagues and to your profession. Please stop misbehaving, and please let’s move on to a more serious subject.
- Question: (inaudible) my question.
- Annan: No, move on to a serious –
- Question: There are inconsistencies --
- Annan: No, move on to serious journalists.
For press coverage, see:
See James Bonne's op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal, Where Is the Car? Why Kofi Annan Said I'm Not a "Serious Journalist":
The Mercedes was purchased by Kojo Annan in his father's name four days before the Hotel de Crillon meeting--and about two weeks before Cotecna won the U.N. contract. The use of the U.N. chief's diplomatic status qualified the car for a $6,541 discount on the purchase price and a $14,103 tax exemption when it was imported to his native Ghana. Mr. Volcker's investigators found a memo on the computer of Mr. Annan's personal assistant asking him to authorize a letter to Mercedes. "Sir, Kojo asked me to send the attached letter re: the car he is trying to purchase under your name. The company is requesting a letter be sent from the U.N. 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 anyway. Abdoulie Janneh, the U.N. official who arranged the tax exemption in Ghana was recently promoted to U.N. under-secretary-general, in charge of the Economic Commission for Africa.
Amid the clutter of unanswered questions, one query has the virtue of simplicity: Where is the car? I have been asking this for weeks at the U.N.'s daily briefing. It was this question that triggered Kofi Annan's outburst. He clearly wants me to shut up. I'm afraid, Mr. Secretary-General, that would be the wrong thing for me to do. Every schoolboy knows that.