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Annan assails reporter in rare show of anger

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 21 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan lost his diplomatic cool with a reporter on Wednesday, calling him an "overgrown schoolboy" in a show of anger at questions over his part in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal.

The normally unruffled Annan responded calmly at an end-of-year news conference to several questions on the $64 billion program, which he said had sometimes been covered through "deliberate leaks" that were "fed by people with agendas."

Journalists, he said, often missed the story, such as oil smuggling outside of the U.N. program, recently documented by a U.N.-established inquiry headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

His frustration showed when a British journalist, James Bone of the London Times, began questioning him about reports that Annan's son, Kojo, imported a Mercedes-Benz car into Ghana using his father's diplomatic status to avoid taxes.

Annan interrupted the reporter when Bone said, "Your own version of events don't really make sense."

"I think you're being very cheeky," Annan said. "Listen James Bone, you've been behaving like an overgrown schoolboy in this room for many, many months and years.

"You are an embarrassment to your colleagues and to your profession. Please stop misbehaving and please let's move on to a serious subject," Annan added.

The president of the U.N. Correspondents Association said that Bone had a right to ask a question. Annan said he agreed with that "but I think we also have to understand that we have to treat each other with respect."

The Volcker commission faulted Annan for bad management of the oil-for-food program but cleared him of personal wrongdoing, including influencing a contract that went to a company that employed his son.

Asked again if he bought a Mercedes tax-free for his son, Annan said, "I know you are all obsessed about the car. If you want to know more about it, please direct the questions to his lawyer or to him."

"I am neither his spokesman nor his lawyer," the Secretary-General said of his son.

"The report of Paul Volcker is clear. I am not going to rehash it," he added.

Earlier in the news conference, Annan, whose second five-year term ends in December 2006, had some advice for the man or woman who will succeed him.

"They need a thick skin. They need a sense of humor, and they should laugh a lot inside and outside and at themselves ... and be able to reach out and work effectively with leaders across the world," Annan said.

Date posted: December 22, 2005 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 10