Iqbal Riza Resigns from the United Nations in Oil-for-Food Scandal Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Iqbal Riza, chief of staff to U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, resigned his post after U.N. officials were investigated for suspected corruption, mismanagement, and conflict of interest in administering the U.N. Oil-for-Food Programme to help the people of Iraq. Riza had destroyed potentially relevant—and self-incriminating—documents during the investigation.

Summary of Event

The United Nations launched its Oil-for-Food Programme (OFFP) in 1995 to help the people of Iraq with food, medicine, and other basic necessities of life. As the program continued, questions began to arise about whether it was being managed properly. Allegations of corruption, mismanagement, and even bribery were made against U.N. officials administering the program. In April, 2004, the U.N. launched an independent investigation, and while the United Nations promised full cooperation, certain events led investigators to believe that the organization perhaps had a great deal to hide. [kw]Riza Resigns from the United Nations in Oil-for-Food Scandal, Iqbal (Jan. 15, 2005) [kw]Oil-for-Food Scandal, Iqbal Riza Resigns from the United Nations in (Jan. 15, 2005) Volcker, Paul Riza, Iqbal Annan, Kofi Hussein, Saddam Oil-for-Food Programme United Nations;Oil-for-Food Programme[Oil for Food Programme] Pakistan Volcker, Paul Riza, Iqbal Annan, Kofi Hussein, Saddam Oil-for-Food Programme United Nations;Oil-for-Food Programme[Oil for Food Programme] Pakistan [g]United States;Jan. 15, 2005: Iqbal Riza Resigns from the United Nations in Oil-for-Food Scandal[03460] [g]Pakistan;Jan. 15, 2005: Iqbal Riza Resigns from the United Nations in Oil-for-Food Scandal[03460] [c]Corruption;Jan. 15, 2005: Iqbal Riza Resigns from the United Nations in Oil-for-Food Scandal[03460] [c]International relations;Jan. 15, 2005: Iqbal Riza Resigns from the United Nations in Oil-for-Food Scandal[03460]

Over several months, Iqbal Riza, the chief of staff to U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, ordered the destruction of documents that could have contained information relevant to the investigation. Riza ultimately resigned from his position, which only raised further suspicion about the destroyed documents and the United Nations as a whole.

The United Nations often acts as a peacekeeping force and attempts to use diplomacy and economics to solve problems in the international community. After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the United Nations placed economic sanctions on Iraq, which prevented the country from selling its oil on the global market. The sanctions were designed to ensure that the Iraqi government did not use its oil revenues for the development of weapons or to pursue military action against its neighbors. However, after the sanctions were in place for a time, U.N. investigators found that years of war, subsequent debt, and bad economic decisions made by the Iraqi government were leaving thousands of its citizens in need of basic amenities, such as food and medical supplies. In 1991, with the support of large nations such as the United States, the United Nations proposed a program that would allow the sale of oil on the global market in exchange for food and necessary supplies to the Iraqi dictator, President Saddam Hussein.

The program proposal indicated that the United Nations would monitor the oil revenues to ensure that all the profits were used either to get humanitarian goods to the Iraqi people or to pay war reparations that Iraq owed to Kuwait. Initially, the Iraqi government refused the proposal. Hussein and others believed the agreement took away too much sovereignty. Several proposals followed, which were all turned down by Hussein. Then, on April 14, 1995, the United Nations Security Council, at the urging of Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, passed a resolution to create the OFFP, a program that increased the monetary value that was outlined in previously offered programs. Hussein agreed to the program, and Iraq began to export its oil again in late 1996.

The program ran for the next few years and funneled, according to U.N. officials but doubted by many others, billions of dollars in oil sales to the Iraqi people. It also paid Iraq’s debts. Annan, U.N. secretary-general since 1997, was forced to suspend the United Nations’ operation of the program on November 21, 2003, several months after the United States had invaded Iraq. The program was transferred to the Coalition Provisional Authority. Although the program ran for nearly a decade, it underwent a great deal of criticism from the United States and other countries, who suspected that the program’s funds were not being used to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people but instead were taken by Iraqi leadership and U.N. officials. Some critics even cast suspicion on Annan, as they questioned what benefits he may have reaped from the program.

On April 21, 2004, Annan responded to these criticisms by launching an investigation into the management of the OFFP. Riza asked the former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker to lead the inquiry into whether or not the program was as corrupt as some feared. Annan and Riza swore to cooperate in full with the investigation.

A Pakistani by nationality, Riza was born in India in 1934, before Pakistan was created. He began his work with the United Nations during the 1970’s and had many important assignments, including work with U.N. peacekeeping efforts to stop the Rwandan genocides. He was appointed Annan’s chief of staff in 1997. Riza was never directly involved in the management of the OFFP, but he had been criticized earlier for his involvement in Rwanda and in a case of nepotism involving his son, who received a job appointment with the United Nations.

Although the suspected corruption between the United Nations and Iraqi government was scandalous in itself, the alleged corruption involving Riza and the OFFP did not come to light until after the program was terminated. On April 24, soon after empaneling the investigative committee, Riza instructed other U.N. departments to hand over all relevant documentation to the panel. However, Riza would soon order the shredding of years of documentation from his own offices (specifically, the years 1997-1999, when the OFFP was in full swing) over the course of several months.

Riza was the center of suspicion when investigators discovered that these crucial documents had been destroyed. Annan and other U.N. officials were suspect as well. The destruction of the documents led investigators to fear that Riza was hiding incriminating information, but Riza insisted that the destroyed documents were copies of materials that the commission had already seen and that his office assistant had requested that these materials be destroyed simply to make more room in the office. Investigators did not believe Riza, and he was reprimanded.

The Volcker investigation, because it was an informal body, had no legal recourse against any U.N. official, including Riza, for shredding the documents or for mismanagement of the program. On January 15, 2005, Riza stepped down as chief of staff after losing the confidence of his colleagues. However, Annan stood by Riza, even after his resignation, stating that he knew Riza had made a mistake but that he did not believe Riza deliberately interfered with the investigation. The Volcker investigation issued its final report on September 7.


Few doubt that the OFFP was started with the best of intentions: That is, delivering humanitarian aid to the suffering Iraqi citizens. However, Riza’s order to destroy potentially critical program documents forever harmed the reputation of the program. The United Nations, too, lost some of the public’s confidence. Many began to doubt that the agency could continue in its role as an effective peacekeeping and global governing body without the potential for corruption or scandal, or without independent oversight. Pakistan Volcker, Paul Riza, Iqbal Annan, Kofi Hussein, Saddam Oil-for-Food Programme United Nations;Oil-for-Food Programme[Oil for Food Programme]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hsieh, Chang-Tai. Did Iraq Cheat the United Nations? Underpricing, Bribes, and the Oil for Food Program. Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2005. A statistical analysis of the OFFP that uses straight facts to explain how Iraqi leadership manipulated the United Nations’ plans for the program.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Meyer, Jeffrey. Good Intentions Corrupted: The Oil for Food Scandal and the Threat to the U.N. New York: PublicAffairs, 2006. A detailed and critical look at the OFFP. Discusses how the program was supposed to help the Iraqi people, how it was corrupted by financial mismanagement and incompetence, and how its virtual demise harmed the United Nations itself.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Traub, James. The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the U.N. in the Era of American World Power. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. Examines U.N. policies and programs, specifically the OFFP, instituted during Kofi Annan’s first term as secretary-general. Details the U.S. response to these policies and programs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weiss, Thomas G., et al. The United Nations and Changing World Politics. 5th ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2007. A good overview of United Nations operations in the context of global politics and rapid changes in peacekeeping and humanitarian work around the world.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim’s Nazi Past Is Revealed

U.S. National Security Agency Is Found to Have Spied on U.N. Officials

U.N. Report Reveals That Secretary-General Kofi Annan Dismissed Sexual Harassment Charges

Categories: History