Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Compensation Urged for U.N. Whistleblower

By BENNY AVNI, Staff Reporter of the Sun
July 2, 2008

UNITED NATIONS — The top U.N. ethics officer is recommending that a former official who fought the organization's development body over alleged rules violations in North Korea receive compensation.

The recommendation by the head of the U.N. Ethics Office, Robert Benson, is a vindication of Artjon Shkurtaj's campaign to expose violations in the U.N. Development Program's North Korea operation, a lawyer for Mr. Shkurtaj, George Irving, said.

The agency closed its Pyongyang office after its board of directors, led by American officials relying on facts supplied by Mr. Shkurtaj, ordered a suspension of its activities there.

Mr. Benson's report on the case, in which he urges compensation for the former official, "vindicates his long struggle for the truth," Mr. Irving said.
Secretary-general Ban "is behind Mr. Benson on his report," his spokeswoman,

Michele Montas, said yesterday. It is not clear, however, whether the UNDP, which in the past has argued that Mr. Benson's office has no jurisdiction over its activities, will abide by the recommendation.

"We are studying the report," a UNDP spokesman, David Morrison, said.

Mr. Benson, he said, urged compensation not because the agency retaliated against Mr. Shkurtaj but because of failures by a now-defunct panel the United Nations appointed to investigate the case. The panel, led by a former Hungarian prime minister, Miklos Németh, said Mr. Shkurtaj lacked credibility.

"Both the Németh panel and Mr. Benson agreed that the UNDP did not retaliate against Tony Shkurtaj," Mr. Morrison said.

Beatrice Edwards, the international program director of a Washington-based advocacy group specializing in whistle blower cases, the Government Accountability Project, said Mr. Benson's report comes close to vindicating Mr. Shkurtaj.

"The burden of proof in cases like this is on the institution," she said. The bottom line, she added, is that Mr. Benson recommended that the UNDP pay Mr. Shkurtaj 14 months' net salary "as compensation."

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