Roger L. Simon


Ugo Betti’s Corruption in the Palace of Justice was first performed in 1949. For all the times this drama has been repeated in real life lately, the late Italian playwright’s royalty account must be bulging. Ditto residual accounts for the work of another great Italian, director Elio Petri whose 1970 film Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion seems ripped from today’s headlines.

Of course I am talking about the various court processes and investigations we have had over the last decade from the OJ trial onwards. Most recently we have had a spate of nearly comical “internal investigations.” CBS’ look at their own Rathergate scandal (under the guidance of a former Attorney General of all things) was unable to conclude that the National Guard documents were forged, something a reasonably bright high school student can do on his or her laptop in a matter of minutes.

Now we have the Volcker Committee investigation into the United Nations Oil-for-Food program paid for (great Betti’s ghost!) by the Oil-for-Food program. This blog has had a special look inside at how this investigation has been working.

Most of the heavy-lifting, the interviewing of witnesses, has been conducted by three attorneys – Michael Cornacchia, Robert Parton and Miranda Duncan. All three are Americans and relatively unknown (at least via Google). They are also, reportedly, not skilled in foreign languages (Duncan speaks some French) – a handicap in an investigation where knowledge of Arabic at the minimum would seem to be valuable.

Cornacchia is the lead investigator, though Parton is apparently the one doing the more serious questioning. Parton is not a happy camper, however, and seems to have threatened to resign a few weeks ago because the committee was not pursuing leads they thought went outside their purview. To have had an investigator quit at that point would have created a mini-scandal of its own and a compromise was worked out to keep him. This could account for some of the equivocal language in the report.

It could also account for the displeased reaction of businessman Pierre Mouselli at having been characterized in the report as “unstable” by two former Iraqi Baathist ambassadors after the committee – notably Mr. Parton – had called him a cooperative and credible witness. Adrian Gonzales-Maltes, Mouselli’s lawyer, has written a formal letter of protest to the committee, denying that Mouselli has made “conflicting” statements as the report vaguely alleges. This again seems like a compromise on the committee’s part, inserted in order not to ruffle too many feathers. The all-important lunch meeting among Kofi and Koji Annan and Mouselli in Durban, South Africa has been particularly obscured. Mouselli was clear about his assumption that Kofi knew about his son’s visits to the Iraqi embassy in Lagos; the committee apparently was not.

Gonzalez-Maltes has also provided the committee with a wealth of new details about Kojo’s and Mouselli’s business dealings (company names, documents, etc.), which open up many possible avenues for investigation. More questions are sure to be raised by mainstream media reports known to be in preparation. The committee – and others – better be ready to answer them.

The over-riding question is whether this committee is truly qualified to conduct this inquiry – and not just for reasons of language insufficiency or “fear of flying” to the Third World. Perhaps they are simply over their heads. These three American lawyers were apparently startled when confronted by the reality of Nigerian jurisprudence. As I reported earlier, Mouselli’s lawyer in Lagos, known thereabouts as “Chief Johnny,” refused to relinquish Mouselli’s file, including his contract with Cotecna. I have just found out that the committee already has in its possession an earlier version of that contract, but it has been revised. Those revisions were made for a reason, of course, but so far only “Chief Johnny” knows why. And since he doesn’t want to be “collateral damage” (his words), he’s not talking. Who can blame him?