Annan wins support after damaging oil-for-food report

Britain and other European governments were preparing to voice unified support for Kofi Annan last night amid concerns that a report on ties between his son and a firm contracted by the United Nations to work in Iraq may have left him more seriously damaged than expected.

Mr Annan "enjoys the continuing strong support of the British Government," said Sir Emyr Jones Parry, the British ambassador. Tony Blair telephoned Mr Annan on Tuesday night to offer support, as the European Union moved to focus on the secretary general's proposals for fundamental reforms of the UN to be considered at a summit in September.

But some diplomats acknowledged privately that the need to shore up the secretary general had become urgent following the release of the report, prepared by the former US Federal Reserve chairman, Paul Volcker. "He looks worse now than he did before it came out," a senior Western source commented. "A lot of this looks circumstantially very bad."

Making matters worse yesterday were leaks from yet another report, this time by an independent consulting firm, into personnel problems at the UN office for election assistance around the world. It allegedly found evidence of humiliation of staff, sexual harassment and misuse of agency funds.

The consultants said they had concluded that "constant sexual innuendo is part of the 'fabric' of the division". Fred Eckhard, the UN spokesman, said there had not been any decision on possible disciplinary action against the division's managers and its head, Carina Perelli of Uruguay.

Mr Volcker's report, published on Tuesday, forms part of his investigation into corruption in the oil-for-food programme. It focused on Kojo Annan's employment by the Swiss company, Cotecna, which was chosen in late 1998 to inspect humanitarian goods going to Iraq. The report concluded that there was no evidence that the secretary general had influenced the awarding of the contract. But the 94-page document chastised the secretary general for not taking stronger steps to query his son's activities. It included a revelation that his former chief of staff, Iqbal Riza, had ordered significant documents to be shredded.

* The UN Security Council is expected to vote today on a resolution authorising the referral of suspects accused of war crimes in Darfur to the International Criminal Court.

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