UN FRAUD CASES QUIETLY FIZZLING OUT
by Thalif Deen
The Overlooked Outcome of UN Oil-For-Food Probe
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS --
the United Nations launched a probe into "misconduct and mismanagement" in UN procurement last January, it moved against eight staffers who were temporarily suspended -- "on special leave with pay" -- pending investigations.
The UN's audit documents, the Secretariat claimed, found "the likelihood of fraud" that could have amounted to about $300 million, mostly in peacekeeping procurement.
One senior official privately boasted that he would make sure that any indicted staffer would be taken out of the UN building in handcuffs. But the threat never materialized.
The announcement of the suspension was turned into a media circus, with all eight staffers under the glare of undue publicity -- and heavily spotlighted in right-wing, neo-conservative U.S. newspapers and TV networks which used the probe to beat up on the United Nations as a corrupt and badly managed organization.
But one year later, six of the eight staffers have been reinstated with no charges against them.
"When we were suspended," one of the staffers told IPS, "the announcement was made at a UN press conference with a lot of political fanfare. But there was no publicity or official announcements about our reinstatement."
A 16-member special Procurement Task Force (PTF) of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) apparently found evidence only against one of the eight staffers, who is currently facing charges of having received kickbacks and a cut-price New York luxury apartment in return for doling out UN contracts to a company in India.
The staffer, whose diplomatic immunity was lifted by the United Nations, has denied the charges while the case is pending in U.S. courts.
But fate of the eighth staffer -- holding the rank of assistant secretary-general (ASG), the fourth highest ranking job at the United Nations -- remains in limbo.
On Jan. 16, Andrew Toh, a national of Singapore and ASG for Central Support Services in the Department of Management, completes one year under suspension -- but with full pay -- and with no charges against him.
Toh told IPS that the PTF issued a report last month clearing him of "any criminal wrongdoing" but accused him of having "a pattern of misconduct and mismanagement on the basis of three procurement cases going back to 2000."
"Firstly, they got their facts wrong on all three cases. Secondly, they assumed I knew every detail of the three cases handled by my staff despite 3,000-4,000 procurement cases that the Procurement Division processes each year."
Thirdly, he said, "to accuse me of having a pattern of misconduct and mismanagement on three cases despite the thousands we handle each year and ignoring the many General Assembly resolutions complimenting the progress made in Procurement Reform since my recruitment is stretching it."
"All my supervisors over the years have given me excellent ratings in my annual appraisals," he said.
"I am preparing a rebuttal that will surely show the PTF was completely wrong and prejudiced. After all, they work for OIOS who made the false accusations that resulted in the investigations in the first place and has now to vindicate themselves," Toh added.
Asked about Toh's charges, a spokesman from the PTF would only say that it has submitted an interim report to the Department of Management and is "awaiting a response."
Addressing the UN's Administrative and Budgetary Committee last month, Ambassador Vanu Gopal Menon of Singapore told delegates that after almost a year, "this case seems no closer to resolution."
This is perplexing, said Menon, "since I understand that six of the other eight individuals placed on administrative leave have been quietly reinstated."
"How many of you here knew that fact?" he asked delegates. "The quiet manner in which the staff was reinstated stands in stark contrast to the public way in which they were removed."
Menon said his country had been in a protracted series of correspondence with former secretary-general Kofi Annan's office before his departure Dec. 31.
"We repeatedly asked for the case to be resolved expeditiously. I have stated before and will state again that we are not defending Mr. Toh (because he is a national of Singapore)," Menon said.
"All we have asked is for his case to be handled in a fair and transparent way. If there is clear evidence of impropriety, he should be charged accordingly. If there is no evidence against him, he should be reinstated and properly vindicated," he added.
He also pointed out that Toh has met with PTF investigators on several occasions and voluntarily divulged details of his and his wife's financial records.
"And all this without any formal charges filed against him. As far as I understand, the PTF has not found any anomaly in his financial records," he added.
"Does Mr. Toh continue to sit at home through 2007 without any charges filed against him? I wonder how much all this costs? The salaries of the staff placed on administrative leave notwithstanding, how much does it take to maintain all these investigators and investigations?" Menon asked.
Asked whether he had got a raw deal under the Kofi Annan administration, Toh told IPS: "Despite the absence of any allegations against me, let alone any accusations of illicit payments, I was compelled by (then Deputy Secretary-General) Mark Malloch Brown in November 2006 to disclose details of my financial records under threat of disciplinary action."
"Worse, he also demanded the disclosure of the accounts of my wife and refused to answer my query on what rules exist for the UN to seek disclosure of personal details of a spouse. I disclosed details of my accounts to the PTF under duress."
In their report, the PTF confirmed there were no improper benefits, or a transfer of funds, from any vendor or improper source, Toh said.
Asked if he would get a fair hearing under the new Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Toh said: "I think so."
"Firstly, I worked with the new secretary-general when he was the chef de cabinet of the president of the General Assembly when South Korea held the post. I perceive him as a gentleman of the highest order and I think he recognizes that his main asset is his widespread reputation for integrity and honesty," he said.
Secondly, Toh said, the new administration has bigger issues to deal with and will not want a matter concerning a single or a few staff members to detract from the larger agenda.
"Especially so when I believe they are aware that my case stemmed from personal vindictiveness on the part of certain senior managers of the past administration and that it is now clear it has become a witch hunt," he added.
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Albion Monitor January
9, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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