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24.01.2006 General News

Annan son offers to pay duties

By Reuters
Annan son offers to pay duties
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...on UN mystery car... $14,000? UNITED NATIONS - The son of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, will pay back import duties improperly waived by Ghana for the purchase of a luxury car in his father's name, Kojo Annan's lawyer said on Tuesday.

By using his father's name in buying the Mercedes Benz car and importing it to Ghana in 1998, Kojo received a $6,541 discount from Mercedes and saved $14,103 in import duties, a U.N.-appointed commission reported last September.

Both price breaks were granted on grounds the car was said to be intended for an international diplomat's personal use.

Investigators from the panel, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, stumbling on the transaction, initially suspected the car may have been a payoff to Kofi Annan by Swiss firm Cotecna S.A. -- which had employed Kojo -- for granting a multimillion-dollar U.N. contract under the oil-for-food program for Iraq.

But they dropped the matter after finding no evidence of any improper benefit to Kofi Annan, who assured them he had no idea his son had bought the car in his name.

Following their report, the United Nations clamped a lid of secrecy on the details of the transaction, refusing to say where it had ended up or who actually owned it, prompting weeks of bitter exchanges between journalists and U.N. spokesmen at the world body's daily media briefings.

The dispute peaked last month when the secretary-general lost his diplomatic cool at his annual year-end news conference, calling a reporter who raised a question about the lingering mystery an "overgrown schoolboy" and "an embarrassment ... to your profession."

U.N. officials continued turning away questions on the subject for another month.

Then on Tuesday, Kojo Annan's attorney, William Taylor, released a letter to the Ghanaian Customs authorities stating that he wanted to pay back the waived import duties.

"The automobile was not for the secretary-general's personal use and therefore the exemption was not justified," Taylor wrote.

Kojo paid $39,056 for the car in Geneva in November 1998, according to Volcker's report. It was then shipped to Ghana, Kofi and Kojo Annan's birthplace.

Taylor told Reuters the green station wagon had effectively been owned by Kojo Annan all along and had been kept at his home in Lagos, Nigeria. He said he believed the car was no longer in use after being involved recently in a bad accident.

But Kojo Annan's reimbursement offer did not extend to the diplomatic discount granted due to his father's U.N. position, Taylor said. "Mercedes doesn't need the money," he said.