Wednesday, August 29, 2007

U.S. Diplomats Raise Skepticism Over Terms of U.N. Ethics Probe

U.S. Diplomats Raise Skepticism Over Terms of U.N. Ethics Probe
Tuesday , August 28, 2007

By George Russell


The battle over a United Nations whistleblower who exposed unauthorized dealings between North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il's regime and the $5 billion United Nations Development Program has become a bureaucratic alley-fight between the U.S. mission to the U.N. and the top managers of UNDP itself.

Round One went to the managers last week, after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared that UNDP would be allowed to appoint an outside investigator to examine the whistleblower’s claims that, among other things, he lost his job because he pointed out the irregularities to his superiors, who told him to keep quiet.

The alternative was to make use of the U.N.’s own newly created ethics office, which had already discovered “prima facie” evidence of retaliation against the whistleblower, Artjon Shkurtaj, a 13-year U.N. veteran who served for two years as UNDP’s operations manager in North Korea. The irony was that the ethics office was created specifically to deal with whistleblower protection issues similar to those in the Shkurtaj case.

(At a press conference on Tuesday, Ban reiterated his belief that his own ethics office “does not fully enjoy the jurisdiction over all the funds and programs of the United Nations.” He added that when the U.N. General Assembly convenes in September he will consult with member states about issuing “clear guidelines” so that the office will have broader jurisdiction.)

Now comes Round Two, which involves a convoluted battle to ensure that the ostensibly independent investigation, which the U.S. has criticized as a bureaucratic conflict of interest, remains as disinterested and scrupulous as UNDP claims it will be.

At issue are the terms of reference of the UNDP investigation, which will also examine other issues raised by Shkurtaj. Among these is the presence of at least $3,500 in counterfeit U.S. currency that lay in a UNDP safe for years before the agency informed the U.S. government, as required by U.S. law. These have been drafted by the UNDP’s own legal office, heightening U.S. concerns about a potential whitewash.

Fox News has obtained a copy of the UNDP version. Click here to view the draft.

As drafted by the UNDP bureaucracy, the investigator would “review and report” on “certain aspects” of UNDP activities in North Korea, “the circumstances surrounding the existence of counterfeit currency, “ and “an allegation of retaliation by a former contractor of UNDP.” Other terms in the lengthy document ask the investigator to examine UNDP books in North Korea and report whether they are in order.

So far as U.S. diplomats are concerned, those terms of reference are far too general, and avoid inspecting any of the actual evidence of alleged wrongdoing.

A draft U.S. rebuttal version specifically directs the investigator, among other things, to look at whether aid delivered by UNDP, or on behalf of other U.N. agencies in North Korea, was “diverted to other purposes,” and specifically asked for a probe of “the timing and circumstances” of UNDP’s decision to notify the U.S. about the counterfeit currency. (The UNDP Associate Administrator, Ad Melkert, informed in the U.S. only in January.)

As the for whistleblower himself, the U.S. draft directs the investigator to examine the review already done by the U.N. Ethics office—which the U.S. still maintains is the proper forum for the issue—to see if it concurs.

The U.S. version also incorporates the preliminary findings of a U.N. appointed panel of auditors who already reported in May that UNDP handed on hard currency to the Kim regime, used North Korean government officials as its own employees, and was restricted by the Kim government in visiting its own aid projects in North Korea.

The big question is which terms of reference will the investigator finally get?

The U.S. position is that the terms must be approved by UNDP’s governing 36-nation Executive Board, which includes the U.S. itself and other big UNDP donors such as Japan, which has been skeptical of the organization’s North Korean operations.

Forewarned of the U.S. effort, UNDP management has declared that the terms of reference will be approved by a so-called “bureau” of the executive board, which includes its rotating president and vice presidents, and be much more susceptible to lobbying by UNDP’s top managers.

The bureau meets this Thursday. The full Executive Board is not scheduled to meet until Sept. 10.

George Russell is executive editor of FOX News.

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