The Cotecna Memorandum: End of the Road for Kofi Annan?


The Cotecna Memorandum: End of the Road for Kofi Annan?

June 15, 2005 9 min read
Nile Gardiner
Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow
Nile Gardiner is Director of The Heritage Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow.

The release this week of a memorandum written by a high-ranking official with the Oil-for-Food contractor Cotecna is deeply embarrassing to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and may herald the end of his tenure of office. The memorandum calls into question Annan's central claim that he was unaware of Cotecna's bid for a lucrative U.N. Oil-for-Food contract in 1998.[1] The memo indicates not only that Annan was personally aware of Cotecna's bid, but also that he actively intervened on behalf of the company, which employed his son Kojo from 1995 to 1998.[2]


This new, highly damaging evidence in the Oil-for-Food scandal reinforces the need for change in the leadership of the United Nations. Annan's position as Secretary-General has become increasingly untenable, and these latest revelations further undermine both his own credibility as well as that of the U.N.


The Cotecna memorandum is now being reviewed by the U.N.-appointed Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) headed by Paul Volcker, whose investigators are reportedly "urgently reviewing fresh evidence."[3] The Volcker Committee will have to reassess its earlier conclusion that it found "no evidence that the selection of Cotecna in 1998 was subject to any affirmative or improper influence of the Secretary General in the bidding or selection process."[4]


The Cotecna Memorandum

The memorandum, conveyed by email, is written by Michael Wilson, Cotecna's Vice President for Marketing Operations in Africa, and is addressed to senior Cotecna executives Elie Georges Massey (Chairman), Robert M. Massey (Chief Executive Officer), and Andre Pruniaux (Senior Vice President, Africa and Middle East Operations). It is dated December 4, 1998, and describes a meeting between Kofi Annan, his aides, and Mr. Wilson at the 20th French-African summit in Paris, which took place on November 25 to 27, 1998.[5] In a section entitled "United Nations - Iraq Programme," Wilson states,


We had brief discussions with the SG and his entourage. Their collective advice was that we should respond as best as we could to the Q&A session of the 1-12-98 (December 1, 1998) and that we could count on their support.[6]


This email clearly gives the impression that Kofi Annan ("SG") and his staff personally provided assurances to Mr. Wilson that Cotecna's bid would receive their backing. It ties Annan to the awarding of the Cotecna contract-a role that he has, until now, vociferously denied.


This memorandum was immediately followed by a second email, marked "Confidential" and sent just two minutes later, that details the December 1 meeting. According to the second email, Cotecna had been invited to a "Q&A session" in New York as one of three short-listed candidates in the bidding process for the U.N. contract to oversee the import of humanitarian goods into Iraq under the Oil-for-Food Program.


Cotecna was represented by "RMM, AEP, JAB and MRW" (presumably Robert M. Massey, Andre Pruniaux, John Broadhurst, and Michael Wilson.) The United Nations was represented at the meeting by several officials, including the Director, Office of the Iraq Program ("Ms. Shear"), the Legal Counsel for the Iraq Programme ("Mr. Armstrong"), and the Procurement Officer for the UN Procurement Division (Alexander Yakolev).


In this second memorandum, Wilson wrote,


Our chances of getting the contracts are very good. We presented a sound technical tender competitively priced. With the active backing of the Swiss Mission in New York and effective but quite (sic) lobbying within the diplomatic circles in New York, we can expect a positive outcome to our efforts.[7]


Ten days after the meeting at U.N. headquarters, Cotecna was awarded the Oil-for-Food contract.[8]


Kofi Annan and Cotecna

The Cotecna memorandum sheds new light on the relationship between Kofi Annan and Cotecna officials, a subject that received extensive though incomplete scrutiny in the Independent Inquiry Committee'sSecond Interim Report.


The IIC report revealed that Kofi Annan met twice with Elie Massey, the owner of Cotecna, before the U.N. awarded it the Iraq inspection contract. Their first meeting was in February 1997 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and the second was in September 1998, arranged by his son Kojo.


Significantly, when Kofi Annan was first interviewed by the Independent Inquiry Committee in Novem­ber 2004, he denied meeting with Mr. Massey before the awarding of the Cotecna contract. He retracted that statement when he was re-inter­viewed in January 2005, after "a review of the com­puter of the Secretary-General's assistant, (where) the Committee found information reflecting that the Secretary-General had met with Elie Massey on two occasions prior to the award of the inspection contract to Cotecna."[9] In addition, Annan met with Elie Massey once in Geneva in 1999, after Cotecna had been awarded the U.N. contract.[10]


The relationship between Kofi Annan and Michael Wilson was close. The IIC investigation reveals that the Secretary-General was "a long-standing friend of Mr. Wilson's father, who had been Ghana's ambassador to Swit­zerland." The report states,


Mr. Wilson also knows the Secretary-General well and, in the Ghanaian tradition, considers him like an "uncle." Shortly after Kojo Annan graduated from university, the Secretary-General and Mr. Wilson spoke about the possibility of Kojo Annan working at Cotecna.[11]

The second interim report gives details of a meeting between Kofi Annan and Wilson in Geneva in January 1999, as well as a possible meeting in Paris between the two in November 1998.[12]

In addition to his contacts with Michael Wilson and Elie Massey, the IIC also notes:

[Kofi Annan] already was familiar with Cotecna and its prior interest in doing business with the United Nations. In 1991, while he served as the United Nations Controller and Assistant Secretary-General for Programme Planning, Budget and Finance, he had been involved in negotiations with Iraq about initial proposals for an Oil-for-Food arrangement, and Cotecna had written to him, at that time, about its interests in the inspection services contract. He had passed the information on to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the department then in charge of the Iraq Programme.[13]


The Cotecna memorandum may prove to be the 'smoking gun' that forces the resignation of the Secretary-General. If the assertions made in Wilson's memo are confirmed by either the Independent Inquiry Committee or by congressional investigators, the memorandum will demonstrate that Kofi Annan was not only aware of Cotecna's bid for the Oil-for-Food contract, but that he and his aides actively intervened in the bidding process. This would represent a massive abuse of power at the heart of the U.N. system. It would also show that Kofi Annan consistently lied to a U.N.-appointed investigation, as well as to every U.N. member state.


The Cotecna memo will undoubtedly also result in fresh scrutiny of Annan's glaring failure to order a comprehensive, independent inquiry in 1999 by the U.N.'s Office of Internal Oversight Services into allegations of conflict of interest arising from Cotecna's employment of his son Kojo. In addition, further questions will arise regarding the extraordinary decision by Annan's former Chief of Staff to shred thousands of documents, many of which related to the Oil-for-Food Program. This gives the impression of a major cover-up on the part of the leadership of the United Nations.


These latest revelations cast another cloud over the Secretary-General's credibility. They undermine public confidence in his much ballyhooed but so far empty promises to make the U.N. accountable and transparent. It is difficult to see how a U.N. leader whose own integrity is in doubt could pursue fundamental reform of a rapidly declining institution. Kofi Annan himself has become a symbol of the U.N.'s disdainful, arrogant ancien regime, resistant to reform while clinging desperately to power. It is time for new leadership at the U.N. and for the U.N.'s culture of impunity to be brought to an end.


Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Fellow in Anglo-Ameri­can Security Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for Inter­national Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. The author is grateful to James Dean, Deputy Director, For­eign and Defense Policy, in the Government Relations Department at The Heritage Foundation, for his advice and suggestions.

[1]The Office of the Secretary General continues to maintain this position. In response to the Cotecna memorandum, Annan's spokesman Fred Eckhard stated that

"The secretary general has no recollection of any such exchange with Mr. Wilson and the views attributed to him in the memo that he was supportive of Cotecna receiving a contract could not have come from him because he had no knowledge that Cotecna was up for a contract."

Quoted by Francis Harris, "Anti-Sleaze Team Examines Annan Meeting Memo," The Daily Telegraph, June 15, 2005.

[2]From 1999 to 2004, Kojo Annan had a non-competition agreement with Cotecna, which barred him from working for competitors, in return for monthly payments of $2,500. In total, Kojo Annan received more than $300,000 from Cotecna. See Claudia Gatti, "Cotecna Link to Kojo Annan Under Scrutiny," Financial Times, March 23, 2005.

[3] "E-Mail Contradicts Annan on Oil-for-Food", Fox News Online, June 14, 2005.

[4] Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Oil-for-Food Programme, Second Interim Report, March 29, 2005, at, p.77.

[5] Annan spoke at the opening ceremony of the summit along with French President Jacques Chirac. It was attended by both French and English-speaking African leaders.

[6] Michael Wilson, Memorandum re. "Mission to Paris During the 20th Meeting of Francophone Leaders," December 4, 1998, 3.12pm.

[7] Michael Wilson, Memorandum re. "Mission to the UN Iraq Oil-for-Food Programme," 1-2 December 1998, December 4, 1998, 3.14 pm.

[8] Harris, "Anti-Sleaze Team Examines Annan Meeting Memo."

[9] IIC Second Interim Report, pp.40-42.

[10] IIC Second Interim Report, p.72.

[11]IIC Second Interim Report p.26.

[12] IIC Second Interim Report, pp.52-56.

[13] IIC Second Interim Report, p.27.


Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow