Thursday, January 29, 2009

Freedom Beats A Global Retreat

Claudia Rosett
 01.29.09, 12:00 AM ET

Dictators are making a comeback.

Just four or five years ago, the headlines were full of democratic movements, notably the yellow, rose and cedar "revolutions" in the Ukraine, Georgia and Lebanon. The Taliban had been toppled, Saddam Hussein overthrown. Democratic stirrings were heralded from the streets of Iran and China to promises of reform in Saudi Arabia and Libya. Freedom was continuing a roll begun way back in the Reagan era. Tyrants were on the outs with polite society.

These days, dictators are on a roll. Among the many signs was last week's op-ed in The New York Times by none other than Muammar Qaddafi, unrepentant and brutal tyrant in Tripoli for the past 40 years--though, for the purposes of this piece, the Timesidentifies him politely as "the leader of Libya." I am still pondering that article, and not solely because this is the same New York Times that last fall rejected an op-ed by John McCain when he was running for president. Qaddafi used his patch of American editorial space to float a plan that would demographically blitz democratic Israel out of existence by setting up a single combined Palestinian-Israeli state, which he suggests we call "Isratine."

It's tempting simply to dismiss such stuff as unintended self-parody--whether on the part of Qaddafi, the Times or both. But it is also a token that tyrants are back in style, not only feeling safe to venture out of their spider holes but preening as elder statesmen and increasingly welcomed back to the parlors, editorial pages and negotiating tables of democratic high society.

Earlier this month, New York-based Freedom House reported that for the third straight year, freedom around the globe is, on balance, in retreat. In most of the former Soviet Union, this continues "a decade-long trend of regression." In the Middle East, apart from improvements in Iraq, stagnation is the word. The brightest spot is South Asia, which saw improvements in Pakistan, the Maldives and Bhutan. But looming over that landscape is China, which "increased repression instead of delivering human rights reforms pledged in connection to hosting the Olympics." Latin America and Africa registered net declines.

The basic cause for concern is not that there are more dictatorships than a few years ago, but that the global ethos has shifted. There is a growing swagger among despots.

Freedom House Research Director Arch Puddington highlights Iran, Russia, Zimbabwe and Venezuela as showing "enhanced anti-democratic tendencies." But these are surrounded as well by a scene of broader decline.

Freedom House attributes part of this slide to "gathering authoritarian pushback against opposition parties, nongovernmental organizations and the press." It might be tempting to blame such pushback on President Bush's democracy agenda. Except, coinciding with this decline, Bush dropped the dead-or-alive approach to terrorists and their state sponsors during his second term, and soft-pedaled the democratization push. Increasingly during his final years in office, he relied on soft power, talks at Annapolis, talks with North Korea, talks via the European Union and the mechanisms of the predominantly undemocratic United Nations.

My diagnosis is that, since the wave of democratization that swept parts of Asia in the late 1980s and rolled on in 1991 to the Soviet collapse, despots have had a chance to rethink, regroup, and--like the opportunistic crowd they are--adapt. Where there is an opening, whenever the pressures come off, they tend to find and exploit it.

Along with the growing despotic gloom in Russia, much of the former Soviet Union features a lineup of rulers who have by now stayed on quite long enough to qualify not as transition leaders but entrenched despots. In Belarus, ranked year after year among the world's most unfree regimes, President Alexander Lukashenko won power in a 1994 election and hasn't budged since. In Central Asia, former Soviet Party bosses who took power amid the debris of the Soviet collapse are still in place 18 years later: Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan; Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan.

In Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov--totalitarian star of a personality cult that rivaled Kim Jong Il's in North Korea--died in 2006, only to be replaced by an almost equally repressive dictator, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who had been Niyazov's protégé.

In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak rose to power following the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat. Today, a generation later, Mubarak rules there still, supported by U.S. subsidies, courted as an Arab moderate and surrounded by speculation that his son may succeed him.

Despotic dynasties are themselves on something of a roll. That Saudi Arabia's royal family is a paragon of this style goes without saying. This, in itself, is part of the problem. In Azerbaijan, former Soviet Party boss Heydar Aliyev took power in a 1993 coup, cemented by an "election" in which he won almost 99% of the vote. He was succeeded in 2003 by his son, the current president, Ilham Aliyev.

In Syria, the elder totalitarian ruler Hafez Assad was replaced upon his death in 2000 by his son, the current totalitarian ruler, President Bashar Assad. In North Korea, the death of Great Leader Kim Il Sung in 1994 elided into the rule of his son, Kim Jong Il--possessor today of the nuclear weapons his father once dreamed of. To this list, Cuba adds a fraternal frill with Raul Castro, brother of the ailing Fidel, stepping in to ensure there is no interruption in the revolution that for 50 years now has repressed and beggared the people of Cuba.

Africa, despite promising spots here and there, remains home some to some of the world's worst tyrants, both infamous (Sudan) and obscure (Cameroon). Zimbabwe, ruled for almost 30 years by Robert Mugabe, has degenerated from a breadbasket of southern Africa into a basket case of violence, hunger and cholera. Tucked away in relative obscurity, oil-rich Equatorial Guinea features yearly on the Freedom House roster as one of the "worst of the worst," ruled by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, "who seized power in 1979 by deposing and murdering his uncle."

For more on this topic, see:

Gerald M. Steinberg On Human Rights Watch 
Reihan Salam On Foreign Policy 
Elisabeth Eaves On Freedom Of Speech

Hanging over this entire scene is a growing haze of repressive understandings, both implicit and explicit. Freedom House notes the "continuation of a negative global trend with respect to freedom of expression, freedom of association and the rule of law." In Europe and the U.K., politically correct fear of giving offense has put a damper on free speech and honest discourse. This reaches even into the U.S., where open debate has come under attack by way of both the same political correctness, souped up by "libel tourism," and the risk of being summoned to appear before an overseas court.

Into this landscape comes President Obama, who has already made it his refrain that he wants "a new partnership" with the Arab and Muslim worlds, based on shared interests and "mutual respect"--a phrase he included in both his inaugural address and his first sit-down interview as president, which he gave Tuesday to a Dubai-based Arabic-language television channel, al-Arabiya.

"Respect" … for governments that brutalize their own people and in some spectacularly malignant cases terrorize the rest of us? Obama's gamble is that if he extends a hand, which he has just done, the terror-sponsoring likes of Iran and Syria will not only unclench their fists but hold that pose.

Will Obama's gesture be met in good faith? Tyrannies as a rule are driven by the appetites and survival instincts of their rulers, whose deepest needs are to keep control, deflect the domestic furies and justify brutality at home by conjuring enemies abroad. Witness the case of North Korea, which for 15 years has been reaping aid and concessions in exchange for a series of deals to abjure nuclear weapons--deals in which both Presidents Clinton and Bush effectively made the same offer Obama now holds out: that they would extend a hand if Kim would unclench his fist. North Korea has unclenched and re-clenched repeatedly. The result is a Pyongyang regime that has both garnered the benefits and carried on making bombs.

Partnerships with dictators are Faustian bargains. America swaps a piece of its soul in exchange for the hope that good times will follow. In this climate it is not the democrats but the dictators who are gaining advantage.

Claudia Rosett, a journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes a weekly column on foreign affairs for

Top U.N. Official Threatens "Retaliation" Against State Dept.

By BENNY AVNIStaff Reporter of the Sun

UNITED NATIONS � A top executive of the U.N. development arm threatened "retaliation" against a State Department official this week even though America, the top financier of the agency, pays $100 million of its annual budget.

In Washington, meanwhile, a new piece of legislation introduced in Congress yesterday set reform benchmarks for the United Nations to achieve � or else risk the withdrawal of American funds. Along with growing disenchantment with the human-rights system, these developments raise the possibility of a new chill in relations between Washington and Turtle Bay.

In a strongly worded letter to the administrator of the United Nations Development Program, Kemal Dervis, Mr. Khalilzad expressed "surprise" and "concern" at the threats made by the UNDP second in command, Ad Melkert, toward an American U.N. ambassador, Mark Wallace.

A new batch of allegations, including the financing of a Pyongyang's purchase of items that could be used in advanced weapons systems, was reported in several newspapers this week. Spokesmen for the agency told reporters that the allegations were unsupported by documentation.

On Wednesday, Mr. Wallace presented Mr. Melkert with a batch of documents, including names of Korean companies involved in the relevant UNDP transactions, and the dollar amount and dates of the agency's payments to those companies. Mr. Wallace was accompanied in the meeting at the UNDP headquarters by another American official, and with Mr. Melkert was one of his aides, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

"I was surprised and concerned to learn" that during the meeting "Mr. Melkert suggested to Ambassador Wallace that UNDP viewed United States inquiry relating to such new information as justifying some kind of �retaliation' against the Government of the United States," Mr. Khalilzad wrote to Mr. Dervis yesterday.

Mr. Melkert, a former Dutch politician, played a central role in the recent ousting of the World Bank's president, Paul Wolfowitz, which was largely seen as a retaliatory move by European opponents of the Iraq war and other policies of the Bush administration against one of its central figures.

A UNDP spokesman, David Morrison, said yesterday that the agency intended to respond to Mr. Khalilzad's letter, adding that it considered the correspondence "private." Earlier this week, Mr. Morrison said that, based on agency's own record, the new allegations "don't add up."

The Washington Post detailed some of the allegations Sunday, including how UNDP money intended for agricultural development in North Korea was used to purchase such "dual use" items as global-positioning system equipment, computers and computer accessories, and a device known as a mass spectrometer.

Mr. Morrison told reporters Monday that the equipment in question was procured in 2006 as part of a project that the UNDP financed together with Britain. But a British official, who spoke to The New York Sun on condition of anonymity, said his country co-funded agricultural projects with the UNDP between 1999 and 2004, and ended the funding after London deemed the projects "unworthy of our support."

"Their job is not simply to refute every external criticism of UNDP, but rather to ensure the integrity of UNDP from within," An American U.N. ambassador, Richard Miller, yesterday told a General Assembly committee that oversees the development agency, referring to Messrs. Dervis and Melkert.

Introducing new legislation to limit U.N. funding yesterday, the ranking Republican in the House Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, of Florida, expressed similar criticism of the U.N. system as a whole.

"The delay, dilution, and defeat of various modest reform proposals by the General Assembly undermines support for the U.N.'s mission among Americans weary of that body's tepid respond to widespread corruption throughout the organization," Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.

Her new legislation, which was immediately supported by 20 legislators after it was circulated among Republican House members yesterday, seeks to change the assessment set by the General Assembly for U.N. financing, while setting reform benchmarks. Two thirds of U.N. members pay 1% of the budget, but have the same influence over changes to the institution as America, which pays nearly quarter of the budget, to the tune of $5.3 billion a year, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen noted.

Meanwhile, Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat of New York, yesterday wrote a letter to Secretary-General Ban to express his "outrage" that the Human Rights Commissioner, Louise Arbour, said it was a "good thing" for British institutions to consider boycotting Israel.

'Stalinistische Melkert moet worden ontslagen'


Ad Melkert, tweede man bij VN-ontwikkelingsorganisatie UNDP, voert een 'stalinistisch schrikbewind'. Hij beschadigt de reputatie van Nederland en zou moeten worden ontslagen.

Ad Melkert voert 'stalinistisch bewind'Ad Melkert voert 'stalinistisch bewind'

Dat zegt Artjon ‘Tony’ Shkurtaj, oud-leider van de UNDP-missie in Noord-Korea, in een interview met Vrij Nederland.

Kemal Dervis, de officiële leider van de UNDP, heeft zichzelf een ceremoniële rol toebedeeld, waardoor tweede man Melkert in feite de scepter zwaait. En dat doet hij op een weerzinwekkende manier, zegt Shkurtaj.

Melkert voert 'een schrikbewind,' zegt Shkurtaj. 'Wie de partijlijn niet volgt, wordt eruit gegooid. De staf in New York is doodsbang nu ze hebben gezien wat er met mij is gebeurd.'

Shkurtaj zag in Pyongyang hoe miljoenen euro’s aan hulpgelden terechtkwamen bij het Noord-Koreaanse regime, zonder dat de UNDP wist hoe het geld werd besteed. In e-mails en memo’s waarschuwde Shkurtaj zijn meerderen, onder wie Melkert.

Geen reactie
Maar Shkurtaj kreeg geen enkele reactie. Toen stapte hij naar de toenmalige Amerikaanse ambassadeur bij de VN, John Bolton, die overigens vorige week in Nova ook al zei dat 'de incompetente Melkert wegmoet bij de VN'. Die eiste inzage in de interne accountantsverslagen van de UNDP-programma’s in Noord-Korea, maar in eerste instantie weigerde Melkert.

Pas na lang aandringen kregen de Amerikanen de papieren te zien, waarna het ‘cash-voor-Kim’-schandaal aan het licht kwam. Melkert, die een stortvloed van kritiek over zich heen kreeg, nam vervolgens wraak op Shkurtaj door zijn carrière kapot te maken.

'Gekken en terroristen'
Opeens werd Shkurtaj de toegang ontzegd tot het interne computersysteem van de UNDP en kreeg hij te horen dat zijn contract niet werd verlengd. Vervolgens kwam hij zelfs terecht op een speciale lijst van 'gekken en terroristen'. 'Ineens was ik een gevaarlijk iemand die de toegang tot het VN-gebouw werd ontzegd.'

De Amerikaanse kritiek op Melkert heeft niets te maken met de rol die hij speelde in de affaire rond voormalig Wereldbank-president Paul Wolfowitz, zegt Shkurtaj. 'In Nederland huilt hij uit dat hij door die gemene conservatieve regering-Bush wordt aangevallen. Persoonlijk haat ik Bush. [...] Ik heb niets met conservatieve republikeinen. En toch geef ik hen gelijk als ze pushen voor een open en transparante VN.'

The Wall Street Journal: - Return to Pyongyang

A reform lesson at the U.N., of all places.

The new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, presented her credentials to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this week. Among the issues they discussed, she said in her inaugural press conference, was "how we [can] make the organization more efficient and effective and continue the process of reform."

[Review & Outlook]AP

Susan Rice.

Toward that end, we hope someone briefs the ambassador on the United Nations Development Program as it prepares to return to North Korea. The 2007 U.S. exposé of fraud and mismanagement was a wake-up call not just for the UNDP, but for more accountability throughout the U.N. system. U.S. investigations uncovered sloppy personnel practices that gave North Korean officials access to sensitive information; poor oversight of funds, including some diverted to Pyongyang's pockets; and illegal transfers of dual-use technology. In response, the UNDP executive board took the unprecedented step of suspending its operations in North Korea.

Two years and several probes later, the board voted last week to go back in. The good news is that the conditions under which the UNDP will return address many of the problem areas. According to the conditions approved by the board, the agency will resume seven projects that were suspended in March 2007, with the proviso that additional projects have to be approved personally by the head of the UNDP. The agency will have "unhindered access" to the projects. It will also have some flexibility in hiring local staff, who hitherto were handpicked by Pyongyang. And, our favorite, "there will be no cash advances to the Government."


The most significant reform, however, has to do with the UNDP's internal audits. Incredibly, until recently internal audits were deemed top secret, even to member states. That is, those who pay the bills weren't permitted to see how their money was spent. In the case of North Korea, as investigations by the U.N. and the U.S. Congress showed, no one -- except perhaps Kim Jong Il -- knew where the money went. That's now changed. The UNDP has agreed to make internal audits available to board members "upon request," a spokesman tells us.

Several of Ms. Rice's predecessors -- Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jeane Kirkpatrick, John Bolton -- have tried to make the U.N. a more transparent place. Others have focused more on going with the bureaucratic flow. We hope Ms. Rice lives up to her promise of reform.

Melkert kandidaat voor hogere positie bij de VN

Ad Melkert.   Foto Leo van Velzen

Gepubliceerd: 29 januari 2009 12:38 | Gewijzigd: 29 januari 2009 15:19

Door onze redacteur Juurd Eijsvoogel

Rotterdam, 29 jan. Met steun van de Nederlandse regering heeft Ad Melkert, nu tweede man bij de UNDP, zich kandidaat gesteld voor het leiderschap van deze ontwikkelingsorganisatie van de Verenigde Naties. Als onder-secretaris-generaal is de oud-PvdA-leider nu al de hoogste Nederlander bij de VN.

Melkert zou als topman van de UNDP een van de belangrijkste posities bij de Verenigde Naties bekleden onder de secretaris-generaal. De functie (de titel is ‘administrator’) komt vrij omdat de Turk Kemal Dervis begin deze maand zijn vertrek aankondigde. In een e-mail ten afscheid aan het personeel prees Dervis de leiderschapskwaliteiten van Melkert.

Of Melkert tegenkandidaten heeft, of nog krijgt voor de sollicitatietermijn zaterdag sluit, is niet bekend. Mogelijk hebben ook de VS en Noorwegen belangstelling. Nederland is een van de belangrijkste donoren van de UNDP.

Het is aan VN-chef Ban Ki-moon om een nieuwe topman voor de UNDP te selecteren. Dezer dagen zal premier Balkenende, die een aanbevelingsbrief voor Melkert schreef, Ban naar verwachting spreken op het World Economic Forum in het Zwitserse Davos.

Melkert verliet de Nederlandse politiek nadat zijn partij in 2002 zwaar had verloren bij de verkiezingen en hij het mikpunt was geworden van woede over de moord op Pim Fortuyn. Hij werd bewindvoerder bij de Wereldbank in Washington. In 2006 ging hij naar de UNDP in New York.

Melkert kwam zwaar onder vuur te liggen toen leden van de Amerikaanse missie bij de VN en neoconservatieven in het Congres hem verantwoordelijk hielden voor fouten die de UNDP heeft gemaakt in Noord-Korea. Maar een onderzoeksrapport leverde vorig jaar slechts milde kritiek op de UNDP, en Melkert kon blijven zitten. Nu er een nieuwe Amerikaanse regering is, hebben de laatste neoconservatieve tegenstanders van Melkert in de Amerikaanse VN-delegatie het veld geruimd.

Melkert in race om hoogste functie UNDP

DEN HAAG -  Ad Melkert is in de race voor de hoogste positie bij de VN-ontwikkelingsorganisatie UNDP. De voormalige PvdA-leider en oud-minister heeft bij zijn kandidatuur de steun van de Nederlandse regering.

Ingewijden in politiek Den Haag bevestigden donderdag een bericht hierover in NRC Handelsblad. Melkert is sinds maart 2006 al tweede man bij de UNDP. Een jaar eerder had Melkert geprobeerd directeur te worden, maar toen kwam de leiding in handen van de Turk Kemal Dervis. Die gaat nu weg.

De UNDP is de grootste tak van de Verenigde Naties en houdt zich bezig met armoedebestrijding, democratisering en de bestrijding van hiv/aids. Nederland is de op een na grootste donor van de UNDP. VN-secretaris-generaal Ban Ki-moon zal de nieuwe topman binnenkort kiezen.

Het kabinet vindt Melkert een stevige kandidaat, die het goed doet in New York, zo meldden de ingewijden. Ze wijzen er ook op dat het belangrijk is voor Nederland om in de top van de Verenigde Naties vertegenwoordigd te zijn.

Melkert keerde Nederland en de politiek de rug toe na de enorme nederlaag van zijn partij bij de verkiezingen in 2002. Hij kreeg de woede over zich heen van aanhangers van de vermoorde Pim Fortuyn. Die verweten hem dat hij Fortuyn had gedemoniseerd.

Melkert belangrijkste Nederlander bij VN

DEN HAAG -  Ad Melkert (52) is als onder-secretaris-generaal bij de UNDP nu al de hoogste Nederlander bij de Verenigde Naties. De oud-PvdA-leider woont al enige jaren in de Verenigde Staten. Een kort profiel.

Melkert wordt op 12 februari 1956 geboren in Gouda als zoon van een kapper.

Tot 1986 is hij directeur interne zaken van de ontwikkelingsclub Novib.

Als 30-jarige treedt hij voor de PvdA in 1986 toe tot de Tweede Kamer.

Acht jaar later, in augustus 1994, wordt hij in het eerste kabinet van Wim Kok minister van Sociale Zaken en Werkgelegenheid. Hij creëert de Melkertbanen om langdurig werklozen aan de slag te helpen via gesubsidieerde banen.

Na de volgende verkiezingen wordt hij in 1998 fractievoorzitter van de PvdA en stevent hij af op het premierschap.

Vlak na de moord op Pim Fortuyn in mei 2002 valt de PvdA fors terug naar 23 zetels, drie minder dan de Lijst Pim Fortuyn. De aanhang van Fortuyn verwijt de PvdA'er dat hij hem in de aanloop naar de verkiezingen heeft gedemoniseerd.

In het najaar van 2002 vertrekt Melkert naar Washington om daar bewindvoerder bij de Wereldbank te worden.

Met steun van het kabinet probeert Melkert in 2005 hoofd van de UNDP in New York te worden. De post gaat echter naar de Turkse kandidaat Kemal Dervis. Een jaar later wordt Melkert niettemin diens plaatsvervanger.

Begin 2009 doet Melkert opnieuw een gooi naar de hoogste post.

Ad Melkert in race voor hoogste positie UNDP

Voormalig PvdA-leider Ad Melkert, momenteel tweede man bij de UNDP, de ontwikkelingsorganisatie van de Verenigde Naties, heeft zich kandidaat gesteld voor het leiderschap van de UNDP.

Ad Melkert heeft steun van Nederlandse regeringAd Melkert heeft steun van Nederlandse regering

Ingewijden in politiek Den Haag bevestigen dit naar aanleiding van berichtgeving in NRC Handelsblad donderdag.

Melkert probeerde in 2005 al baas te worden van de UNDP, maar hij werd gepasseerd door de Turk Kemal Dervis. In 2006 werd Melkert tweede man bij de ontwikkelingsorganisatie.

Dervis gaat weg en Melkert aast nu opnieuw op de functie van hoogste baas. Hij krijgt daarin steun van de Nederlandse regering. Het kabinet vindt Melkert een stevige kandidaat die het goed doet in New York, zeggen de ingewijden tegen persbureau ANP.

Nederland is de op een na grootste donor van de UNDP. Melkert vertrok naar Amerika, nadat hij in 2002 bij de verkiezingen zijn partij in de afgrond had gestort. Ook kreeg hij de woede van een groot deel van de Nederlanders over zich heen, en met name van Pim Fortuyn-aanhangers. Die verweten hem Fortuyn te hebben gedemoniseerd, waardoor hij zou zijn vermoord.

In Amerika ging Melkert aan de slag bij de Wereldbank in Washington D.C. In 2006 stapte hij over naar de UNDP.

Melkert was de aanstichter van een schandaal rond Wereldbank-president Paul Wolfowitz.

Vervolgens kreeg Melkert een storm van kritiek over zich heen toen hij verantwoordelijk werd gehouden voor fouten die de UNDP had gemaakt in Noord-Korea.

'Stalinistisch schrikbewind'
Volgens Artjon ‘Tony’ Shkurtaj, oud-leider van de UNDP-missie in Noord-Korea, voert Melkert een 'stalinistisch schrikbewind'. ‘Hij beschadigt de reputatie van Nederland en zou moeten worden ontslagen,’ aldus Shkurtaj in 2007.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kim Jong-Il to reinstall ATM machines in Pyongyang

The UN’s own personal ATM for Kim Jong-il is returning to North Korea:

The U.N. Development Program (UNDP) will likely resume stalled operations in North Korea in March.

The executive board of the UNDP held its first regular session this year on Friday in which it approved the resumption of UNDP operations in North Korea.

The program’s presence in the North has been suspended since March 2007, when its staff was withdrawn following U.S. allegations of funds embezzlement by Pyongyang.

The executive boards said the final approval came after Pyongyang successfully met the four preconditions for resumption set by the program, including third-party audits.

An official at the South Korean mission to the United Nations said that if the UNDP resumes its operations in North Korea, the program will be in charge of the activities of the other UN agencies there.  [KBS Global]

For those not familiar with this scandal basically the UN staffers in Pyongyang were giving millions of dollars to North Korea for “developmental projects” in the country.  However, for whatever reason the UN staffers were allowing North Korea to deposit the money in a North Korean bank and were allowed no oversight of the bank records.  Additionally the UN staffers were not allowed to inspect the status of the “developmental projects”.  So basically this UN crew in Pyongyang was Kim Jong-il’s own personal ATM.

A US Senate probe would later find out that much of the UNDP’s money was linked to arms sales by the North Koreans.    The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon vowed to get to the bottom of the scandal and of course as far as I can tell no one has ever been held accountable for the fraud and the ATM is about to open for business again in North Korea.

The aftermath of this fraud was so bad that the Wall Street Journal declared this incident Ban’s first cover up.  With all his practice covering up for the North Koreans while he served under the Roh Moo-hyun adminstration in South Korea is it any surprise?

Chicago Tribune: Did UN agency serve as ATM for North Korea?


The United Nations Development Programme office in Pyongyang, North Korea,sits in a Soviet-style compound. Like clockwork, a North Korean officialwearing a standard-issue dark windbreaker and slacks would come to the dooreach business day.

He would take a manila envelope stuffed with cash–a healthy portion of theUN’s disbursements for aid projects in the country–and leave without everproviding receipts.

According to sources at the UN, this went on for years, resulting in thetransfer of up to $150 million in hard foreign currency to the Kim Jong Ilgovernment at a time when the United States was trying to keep North Koreafrom receiving hard currency as part of its sanctions against the Kim regime.

“At the end, we were being used completely as an ATM machine for theregime,” said oneUN official with extensive knowledge of the program. “Wewere completely a cash cow, the only cash cow in town. The money was going tothe regime whenever they wanted it.”

Earlier this month, the development program, known as UNDP, quietlysuspended operations in North Korea, saying it could not operate underguidelines imposed by its executive board in January that prohibited paymentsin hard currency and forbade the employment of local workers handpicked by theNorth Korean government.

But some diplomats suspect the timing of the suspension was heavilyinfluenced by a looming audit that could have proved embarrassing to the UN.

Documents obtained by the Tribune indicate that as early as last May, topUNDP officials at headquarters in New York were informed in writing ofsignificant problems relating to the agency’s use of hard foreign currency inNorth Korea, and that such use violated UNregulations that local expenses bepaid in local currency. No action was taken for months.

Then, under pressure from the United States, UN Secretary General Ban KiMoon on Jan. 19 ordered an audit of all UN operations in North Korea to becompleted within 90 days, or by mid-April.

The Board of Auditors, the UN body tasked with the audit, made no movementon the audit for 40 days after Ban’s order. It sent out its notificationletter for the beginning of the audit on the same day the development programannounced the closure of its office–March 1.

That timing, combined with past concerns about the UNDP’s transparency, hasraised suspicions that suspending operations would be a way to hamstring theaudit, the results of which may prove damning to the organization.

“The office was closed precisely for that reason,” said another UN officialwith extensive knowledge of the program. “With no operations in place, firstof all, you have no claim to get auditors into the country. Second, it willtake months and months to get documentation out of the office there, totransfer to somewhere else like New York.”

The UN sources who spoke about the development operations in North Korearequested anonymity either for fear of retribution or because of thediplomatic sensitivity of the subject.

The saga of the UNDP in North Korea provides more fuel for critics who havecomplained that the UN is a sprawling bureaucracy with few safeguards andlittle accountability. The Bush administration has been particularly outspokenabout the UN’s need for reform.

The oil-for-food scandal, which erupted in 2004, involved corruption in aprogram designed to provide humanitarian aid for Iraqis, whose country facedeconomic sanctions. Ultimately, it emerged that the program had resulted in$1.8 billion in kickbacks and surcharges paid to Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Ban, a South Korean who took office in January, has sought to presenthimself as a fresh-faced reformer.

Nuclear talks in background

All this occurs against the backdrop of intensifying talks with Pyongyangover its nuclear weapons capacity, the most recent of which took place lastweek in New York. Last month, the U.S. and four other nations signed a dealwith North Korea promising aid in exchange for the shutting down of a nuclearreactor and a series of steps toward disarmament and normalized relations.

A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the UN, Richard Grenell, said the U.S.supports the audit going forward to find out the extent of the problems at theUNDP office in Pyongyang. North Korean officials could not be reached.

Despite the closure of the UNDP office in North Korea, the audit is movingahead. UN officials say they expect the audited documents to show not only thehard currency transfers to representatives of Kim’s government, but also theinability of staff on the ground to confirm that the money was going to itsprograms.
According to sources familiar with UN operations in North Korea, theinternational staff of the development program and other UN agencies were notallowed to leave the compound without a government escort.
They were not allowed to go outside Pyongyang without receiving specialpermission from the military at least a week in advance. They were not allowedto set foot in a bank. And under no circumstances were they allowed to makeunrestricted visits to the projects they were supposed to be funding.

These rules mirror the restrictive conditions set by the U.S. government ondiplomats from North Korea who must stay within 25 miles of New York City.

The UNDP, whose mission is to help the country develop economically, wasone of several UN agencies operating in North Korea, including UNICEF and theWorld Health Organization. The United Nations is one of few channels forforeign aid in the secretive, authoritarian country.

Computer mystery

One of the UNDP projects, sources said, involved the purchase of 300computers for Kim Il Sung University. The computers supposedly arrived inPyongyang, but the international staff was not allowed to see the equipment ithad donated.

Finally, after a month and a half of pressuring their North Koreanhandlers, staffers were led to a room in which two computers sat. They weretold the others were packed in boxes, which they were not allowed to open.

And while the UNDP’s programs–which have included projects such as “HumanResource Upgrading to Support Air Traffic Services” and “Strengthening of theInstitute for Garment Technology”–cost anywhere from $3 million to$8 milliona year total, the development program also acted as the administrative officerfor all the UN agencies and wrote checks for tens of millions of dollars worthof programming every year.
The UNDP’s financial officer and its treasurer in Pyongyang, who issuedthose checks, were both North Korean.

Standard practice?

UN officials privately describe a vivid scene playing out at the agency’scompound each day.
A driver in a UN-issued Toyota Corolla would pull out of the compound’sgate, taking UNchecks to the bank. A short time later the driver, a NorthKorean employed by UNDP, would return with manila envelopes stuffed with tensof thousands of dollars in hard currency.

Then the windbreaker-clad North Korean official would show up and take thecash away.
UNDP spokesman David Morrison said the use of hard currency and the hiringof staff through local governments was standard practice in authoritariancountries like North Korea. Morrison said his understanding was that theagency had never had problems with site visits, and that in 2005 its staff hadvisited 10 of its 11 monitorable projects.

The agency was complying with the audit, Morrison said, “in order to takeaway even the perception that anything was untoward.”

But others believe the development program has no choice but to cooperatewith the audit.

In January, a letter written to the head of UNDP by Mark Wallace, the U.S.ambassador to the UN for management and reform, was leaked to the U.S. media.The letter, which drew on Wallace’s review of internal audits dating back to1998, accused the program of having been “systematically perverted for thebenefit of the Kim Jong Il regime.”

These claims by the United States, supported by Japan, the two biggestdonors to UNDP, pressured the secretary general to quickly order the audit.

“If there were simply the use of hard currency, or simply no site visits,that’s one thing,” said a UN diplomat familiar with the issue. “But when youcombine the fact that large cash payments were made directly to officials ofKim’s government with the fact there were no site visits to verify how thecash was being used, that’s a great cause of concern.”

The first phase of the audit is scheduled to begin Monday in New York. Itremains unclear whether the auditors will attempt to visit North Korea. It ispossible that even if the UNDPoffice were still open, Pyongyang would nothave granted them visas.

Even with its limited scope, the audit could yield significant revelationsabout how the agency worked in a dictatorial, tightly controlled society.

“There wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that they’d allow us to see whatthey did with all the cash they received,” said a member of the diplomaticcommunity in New York. “ButUNDP headquarters and the country office should beable to tell us what kinds of checks they were making, were they paid in cash,what, who, where the money was going to.”

The Board of Auditors had no comment for this article, but Morrison, theUNDP spokesman, said the organization was making arrangements to safeguarddocuments by transferring them to one of the other UN agencies in Pyongyang.He said that those necessary for the initial stages of the audit would becopied and carried to New York in electronic form by theUNDP chief in Pyongyang, who is due to leave North Korea within days.

But some suggest the mid-April deadline does not leave enough time toproduce a thorough review.
“I don’t think this is an audit you can whip through in 30 days; this maytake some time,” John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the UN until the end oflast year and a staunch critic of the world body, said when contacted by theTribune for a reaction to the newspaper’s reporting of the cash payments. “ButI think for the reputation and integrity of the UN system, it’s critical thatit proceed without delay.”