France to start 'ethics' committee for diplomats

28th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 27 (AFP) - France said Thursday it would establish an "ethics committee" for its diplomats following the launch of criminal investigations against two former ambassadors suspected of having benefited from alleged corruption of the UN oil-for-food programme for Iraq.

PARIS, Oct 27 (AFP) - France said Thursday it would establish an "ethics committee" for its diplomats following the launch of criminal investigations against two former ambassadors suspected of having benefited from alleged corruption of the UN oil-for-food programme for Iraq.

Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy wrote in the Liberation newspaper that the body was being created "to protect the integrity and the reputation of the diplomatic and consular agents."

It would, he said, ensure that ministry staff knew their obligations, both on-duty and off and after leaving the service, so that Paris could "avoid in the future any dysfunction contrary to the spirit of public service."

The initiative was unveiled the same day the UN Security Council was to hear the fifth and final report of an inquiry into the scandal surrounding the oil-for-food programme.

According to US media reports, the head of the inquiry, former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, is to detail widespread corruption in which thousands of companies and individuals around the world were involved in illegal transactions linked to the programme.

The New York Times newspaper, speaking to three unnamed investigators on Volcker's team, said the report would show that "the country with the most companies involved was Russia, followed by France."

Such an allegation would cause great discomfort for France, where two top diplomats have been put under judicial investigation on suspicion of having received oil vouchers from Baghdad as compensation for their perceived sympathy towards Saddam's regime.

The two are: France's representative on the UN Security Council from 1991 to 1995, Jean-Bernard Merimee, 68, who was put under investigation this month; and Serge Boidevaix, 77, a former number two at the foreign ministry who carried the title "ambassador" and who was placed under investigation last month.

Both are accused of "influence-peddling" and "active corruption of foreign officials" in breach of the oil-for-food programme which was run by the UN from 1996 to 2003 as a way of ensuring Iraq's sanctions-hit population had access to food and medicine through supervised oil sales.

The French foreign ministry has sought to distance itself from the two, saying it had nothing to do with their "private activities" -- despite Boidevaux telling Le Monde that he had been in "constant touch" with the ministry, which he said was fully aware of his Iraqi activities.

French officials have rejected any link between the investigations and France's firm opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Volcker is reportedly to urge deep reform at the United Nations after concluding that violations of the oil-for-food programme were widely known by member states but not stopped.

"This part of the investigation, looking at the manipulation of the programme outside the UN, strongly reinforces the case that the UN itself carries a large part of this responsibility and needs reform," he told the New York Times.

According to unclassified US State Department documents, obtained and reported upon by CNN in February, the US government "knew about, and even condoned" Iraqi oil sales outside the programme to Turkey and Jordan that generated billions of dollars for Saddam's regime.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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