Annan orders probe of U.N. office; fraud, cronyism among claims eyed
NEW YORK — U.N. SecretaryGeneral Kofi Annan, reacting to an article in The Washington Times, asked U.N. investigators on Dec. 13 to look into claims of fraud, favoritism and intimidation inside the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
The DESA division, responsible for promoting accountability and good governance in member states, hasusedcontributionsfromtheItalian government to fund duplicative programs and unnecessary consultants, many of which benefit Italy or its nationals, The Times reported.
The story also said the department had made unusual use of contractors and taken relevant information off its Web site after reportersbeganaskingquestions.It saidDESAstaffershavecomplained about intimidation.
“The secretary-general’s office has asked [the Office of Internal Oversight Services] to look into allegations raised this morning in the press,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Mr. Annan. He refused to specify which areas Mr. Annan is concerned about.
OnDec.11,theU.S.Missiontothe United Nations transmitted a letter to the U.N.’s chief internal inspector, Inga-BrittAhlenius,askingOIOSto look into contracting improprieties and reports that staff had been intimidated in an effort to halt leaks.
U.S.officialsalsohavereceivedinformation that officials within DESA’s in-house human resources department have been destroying documents related to contracts issued by the department in recent years.
“We have become aware of alleged improprieties relating to the awardofconsultingcontractsbythe Division for Public Administration and Development Management,” wrote U.S. diplomat Mark Wallace, whose letter was copied to Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown. DPADM is a subdivision within DESA.
“Wehavealsoreceivedreportsalleging that the DPADM has threatened to retaliate against staff members who have brought this matter to light,” said the letter, which urged OIOS to conduct a “comprehensive review.”
“We consider this an important and urgent matter,” the letter said.
A spokesman said Ms. Ahlenius was traveling but expected back in New York this week.
The Italian government, which has voluntarily contributed some $80 million to DESA over the last four years, has not requested an audit of its funds. The Italian Mission to the United Nations did not respond to calls for comments on Dec. 13.
Sources within the United Nationshavedescribedanatmosphere of uncertainty and intimidation inside DPADM, which has been responsible for creating several international programs and centers of dubious value.
“I have no comment beyond what the spokesman said this morning,” said Marie Oveissi, the officer in charge of DESA’s Technical Cooperation Management Services section.
DPADMDirectorGuidoBertucci did not respond to calls on Dec. 13.
News of the DPADM use of Italian money prompted anger on Capitol Hill.
Retiring Rep. Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, who as chairman of the HouseInternationalRelationsCommittee held numerous hearings on the oil-for-food scandal and other U.N.issues,demanded“transparent investigations that hold violators of the public trust responsible for their misconduct.”
“Iamawareofnewreportsofcorruption and cronyism within the UnitedNations’DepartmentofEconomic and Social Affairs,” he said. “The U.N. has a history of building scandals on top of its scandals. Mismanagement thrives under poor oversight, which is then often lost under attempted cover-ups.”
OIOS has already conducted an investigation into a DESA center in Thessaloniki, Greece, after the Greek government demanded to know how its $5 million contribution was being spent. Athens has since shut the center down, saying that its effectiveness was undercut by a duplicative effort based in Naples.
That report will not be released until at least January, OIOS officials said recently, because DESA officials have not yet responded to an early draft. Some have suggested that the department is deliberately delaying the report’s release, at least until Mr. Annan is succeeded by Ban Ki-moon.
“I will leave the interpretation to you, but clearly in any [. . . ] investigative process, people have a right to rebut,” Mr. Dujarric said. “That needs to be done within a certain amount of time.
“The department in question has a right to answer the issues raised. We very much hope it will be completed very soon.”
The spokesman added: “We of course expect that no documents in any department will be destroyed. There are rules and regulations regarding the destruction of documents which are public.”
Mr. Dujarric also said that staff members who feel intimidated can avail themselves of the U.N. whistle-blower protections, which include the right to file complaints anonymously.