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Former U.N. oil-for-food chief denies wrongdoing

Lawyer: Sevan 'is confident that he will be fully vindicated'

From Phil Hirschkorn

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The former U.N. oil-for-food chief is accused of profiting from corruption. Liz Neisloss reports.
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
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Kofi Annan
Benon V. Sevan
Charles Duelfer

(CNN) -- Dogged by allegations that he pocketed oil money from Saddam Hussein's government, Benon Sevan, the former head of the United Nations oil-for-food program, insisted this week that he had done nothing wrong.

The oil-for-food program was a multibillion-dollar arrangement under which Iraq, whose income was limited by economic sanctions, was allowed to sell oil to buy food and other humanitarian supplies.

"Mr. Sevan is cooperating fully with the Independent Investigative Committee," attorney Eric Lewis said in a statement to CNN released Thursday. "He has provided all the information that they have asked for, and he is confident that he will be fully vindicated."

It was the first statement in months from Sevan, 67, who is the U.N. official most publicly implicated in allegations of corruption surrounding the oil-for-food program.

Sevan was the executive director of the program from its launch in 1996 to its demise in 2003, when the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam's government.

At least six investigations are under way into the defunct oil-for-food program -- including several in the U.S. Congress and one by an independent U.N. panel headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. (Full story)

The Independent Investigative Committee was created by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in the program. Volcker is expected to issue an interim report next month.

Sevan's name appeared on a former Iraqi Oil Ministry list of people who received vouchers from Saddam's government to buy Iraqi oil. Under the program, Saddam personally chose the oil buyers.

Besides oil companies, "special allocations" or "gifts" went to numerous individuals, including members of governments, politicians and businessman, according to a recent CIA-sponsored report from former Iraq weapons inspector Charles Duelfer.

Duelfer reported to Congress in October that 13 million barrels of Iraqi oil were allocated to Sevan and seven million were lifted.

"Former Iraqi officials say he received his illicit oil allocations through various companies that he recommended to the Iraqi government, including the African Middle East Company," Duelfer reported.

The African Middle East Company is chartered in Panama. A man connected to company -- an Egyptian residing in Switzerland -- personally picked up Sevan's vouchers, Duelfer reported, citing the statements of a former top Iraqi oil official.

Sevan is a subject of interest to the House International Relations Committee, one of several congressional panels probing oil for food.

The committee is seeking Sevan's bank records in several countries and has sent investigators to his native Cyprus, to explore a potential money trail among family members' bank accounts.

The Iraqi oil voucher list included the governments of Namibia and Yemen, members of the Russian parliament, one-time Russian presidential candidate Vladmir Zhirinovsky, former French interior minister Charles Pasqua, and former Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Top voucher recipients by country were Russia, France and China, which combined were allocated more than half of the Iraqi oil exports.

Syria, Malaysia, Switzerland, Jordan and Egypt were the next most frequent recipients.

Annan's son also eyed in probe

Kojo Annan, the son of the U.N. secretary-general, has been the subject of accusations of wrongdoing in connection to the program. He says he had no involvement. (Full story)

Annan, 31, who lives in Lagos, Nigeria, once worked for Cotecna, a Switzerland-based company hired by the United Nations in 1998 to verify paperwork on imports bought by Iraq.

Critics have suggested the firm might have been favored in its U.N. bid because of the Annan family connection. Annan and Cotecna deny that. No formal charges of wrongdoing have been made against Kojo Annan.

A group of U.S. Republican legislators has urged Kofi Annan to quit his U.N. post, but the Bush administration has expressed support in his leadership of the 191-nation body.

CNN's Liz Neisloss contributed to this report.

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