U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan formally announced an independent panel to conduct the inquiry and the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution endorsing it.
The move was made in answer to increasing allegations of wrongdoing in connection with the program, which was designed to ease the suffering of Iraqi civilians when under Security Council-imposed sanctions.
Paul Volcker, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, heads up the panel, and is joined by Justice Richard Goldstone of South Africa, who previously served as the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, and Mark Pieth of Switzerland, a University of Basel professor with money-laundering expertise.
Volcker told reporters, "A full, fair investigation ... is in the long-term interest of the United Nations."
The panel, which is to seek cooperation from member states of the United Nations, will have access to all U.N. records and information and be able to question U.N. officers and personnel.
An interim status report is expected in three months.