Monday, August 10, 2009

UN worker ‘bites’ man and lands diplomat in middle of nepotism row

Alan Doss, head of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Alan Doss: accused of breaking rules to get his daughter a job

A bizarre man-bites-man incident at the UN has exposed one of its top British officials to an allegation that he helped to win his daughter a job with the organisation.

Alan Doss, the head of the £800 million-a-year UN peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, stands accused of breaking rules to try to get Becky Doss a UN post in New York.

The case came to light only because a UN Development Programme (UNDP) contract worker allegedly bit a security guard on the arm as he was pepper-sprayed and dragged from the office of a superior to whom he complained about the appointment.

Nicola Baroncini is due to appear in a New York court today to face a charge of third-degree assault after UN security asked the police to arrest him.

The UN says the bite was so serious that the guard had to be admitted to hospital and tested for communicable diseases. He was forced to take sick leave.

“Everything started from a simple case of nepotism,” the Italian official told The Times. “I have the e-mail that Alan Doss sent ... He says it very bluntly.

“I couldn’t believe that they do these things in e-mail. I would have thought they would do it over the phone. They are so used to doing these things, they think it is normal.”

The UNDP refused to comment except to say that the process by which Becky Doss was hired was “being investigated by UNDP’s Office of Audit and Investigation”.

Mr Doss told The Times from Congo: “I can only say that UNDP is currently reviewing the matter. It would be premature for me to make any public comments before the review is completed.”

The man-bites-man scandal is a test for Helen Clark, the former New Zealand Prime Minister, who became head of the UNDP in April.

The agency, which has a budget of $5 billion (£3 billion) a year to develop democracy and reduce proverty, has a history of financial scandals but has resisted submitting to the jurisdiction of the UN’s investigative arm, and holds no regular press briefings.

Mr Baroncini, a former banker, worked at the New York headquarters for about five years. Most recently he served as a special assistant to Ligia Elizondo, the Nicaraguan deputy director of the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific (RBAP).

Mr Doss, from Cardiff, has spent almost his entire career at the UNDP, becoming one of a handful of British citizens at present to hold the rank of UN undersecretary-general. He transferred to a UN peacekeeping department contract on July 1.

Mr Baroncini alleges that before that transfer, in an e-mail dated April 20, Mr Doss asked Ms Elizondo to bend the UN’s anti-nepotism rules so that his daughter’s application could be considered before he moved away from the department. UN rules bar close relatives from getting jobs at the same agency.

Mr Doss allegedly wrote: “Allow a very long-serving and faithful UNDP staff member a little leeway before he rides off into the sunset.” Mr Baroncini says that his tasks included screening Ms Elizondo’s e-mails and filing them.

In May the UNDP advertised on its website the post of “special assistant to the RBAP deputy director”, to work under Ms Elizondo.

Mr Baroncini says that he was shortlisted for the job, along with Becky Doss and two other candidates. According to his account, a Russian woman was offered the job but accepted another. That cleared the way for Becky Doss, who began work in the position on July 1.

Mr Baroncini complained to Ms Elizondo’s boss, Ajay Chhibber, and showed him the e-mail allegedly sent by Mr Doss.

According to Mr Baroncini, three UN security guards arrived and ordered him into an office, where they were joined by a UN official “wearing a white coat”. The official in the white coat allegedly told Mr Baroncini that he could either leave the building with the guards or be handcuffed.

When Mr Baroncini asked to talk to his lawyer and the Italian consulate, he says, the guards attacked him.

He admitted that he might have bitten the guard but insisted that it was “exclusively a defensive thing”.

“I am quite a short guy. There were three guys carrying guns,” Mr Baroncini said. “They pepper-sprayed me twice. They beat me up. They threw me on the floor. It was an instinctual reaction. I was blinded.”

The UN has so far refused to classify Mr Baroncini as a “whistleblower” for alerting his bosses to alleged nepotism. A UN spokesman described him as a “frustrated jobseeker”.

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