Over the past few days, we have written about the investigation Norm Coleman’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations is carrying out into the United Nations’ “oil for food” scandal; see “Coleman Is On the Case” and “New Disclosures on U.N. Fraud Due Monday.” This morning, Robert Novak weighs in. Novak considers Coleman’s investigation to be the biggest threat yet to the legitimacy of the U.N.:
“The extent of the corruption is staggering,” Sen. Norm Coleman told me. He is a freshman Republican from Minnesota completing his second year in Washington, and he was talking about the United Nations and its pious secretary-general, Kofi Annan. Coleman’s comments are not the mere musings of an insignificant rookie senator, but the considered judgment of a committee chairman whose careful investigation reached the hearing stage today.
Coleman said this week’s hearings will show that ”the scope of the ripoff” at the U.N. is substantially more than the widely reported $10 billion to $11 billion in graft. But more than money is involved. These hearings also should expose the arrogance of the secretary-general and his bureaucracy.
Coleman has been joined in rare bipartisan cooperation by the subcommittee’s fiercely liberal ranking Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan. Coleman sent Levin a draft of a tough letter to Annan, and Levin signed it. The bipartisan letter demanded access to U.N. internal audits and key U.N. personnel. … A major point of dispute is the U.N.’s flat refusal to permit Lloyd’s Register, hired by the U.N. to inspect Iraq’s oil-for-food transactions, to provide any documents to the Senate.
The reaction by the U.N. bureaucracy has been an intransigent defense of its stone wall. Edward Mortimer, Annan’s director of communications, publicly sneered at the Coleman-Levin letter as ”very awkward and troubling.” Privately, Annan’s aides told reporters that they were not about to hand over confidential documents to the Russian Duma and every other parliamentary body in the world.
But the U.S. Senate is not the Russian Duma. These are not just a few right-wing voices in the wilderness who are confronting Kofi Annan. ”In seeing what is happening at the U.N.,” Coleman told me, ”I am more troubled today than ever. I see a sinkhole of corruption.” The United Nations and its secretary-general are in a world of trouble.
I suspect that Kofi Annan has no idea what a formidable adversary he has in Norm Coleman.