UN whistle-blower case shows accountability limits

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 10, 2014 at 2:13 pm •  Published: January 10, 2014

GENEVA (AP) — Two whistle-blowers exposed evidence-tampering by a top official within the U.N. office that is supposed to investigate corruption in the world body's operations and suffered retaliation for it, a U.N. judge has ruled.

The ruling and other recent opinions by the U.N. Dispute Tribunal show that the world body still struggles to hold itself accountable despite the promised reforms since a vast scandal involving its oil-for-food program with Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

The cases focus on the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services, an independent internal watchdog created at the insistence of the United States that oversees the conduct of officials, staff and more than $23 billion that the U.N. spends annually on behalf of governments around the world.

Despite U.N. efforts to keep their case from public view, the two whistle-blowing investigators from OIOS won a public hearing in October. The judge said their case exposed the "extraordinarily toxic interpersonal relationships that existed at the time amongst a few individuals at the higher echelons of OIOS and, in particular, within its Investigations Division."

The case precedes the tenure of current OIOS head Carman Lapointe, who said the U.N. hasn't decided whether to appeal the ruling but is working hard to improve oversight.

"I hope that 2014 will be a turnaround year," Lapointe said. "We can and do make a difference for the better, at times in spite of ourselves."

OIOS was created two decades ago but failed to detect and prevent the scandal involving 2,200 companies from some 40 countries that colluded with Saddam Hussein's regime to bilk $1.8 billion from a U.N.-administered oil-for-food program for Iraqi humanitarian relief in the years before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

After that embarrassment, the United Nations in 2006 established a special anti-corruption unit, the Procurement Task Force, that uncovered at least 20 major schemes affecting more than $1 billion in U.N. contracts and international aid. But at the beginning of 2009, the U.N. closed the agency and diverted its work to the OIOS Investigations Division.

In a ruling last month, Judge Goolam Meeran said the Investigation Division's deputy director, Michael Dudley, "admitted to altering and withholding evidence" in an investigation and had retaliated against the investigators assigned to the case, Florin Postica and Ai Loan Nguyen-Kropp.

The judge awarded Postica and Nguyen-Kropp $40,000 each for moral damages "of a high order" — an amount well more than twice the norm — and $10,000 for legal costs, but the ruling doesn't require OIOS to punish Dudley.

The case originated from a complaint Dudley took from a U.N. staff member in January 2009 that U.N. physicians were using or improperly prescribing controlled narcotics. After evidence leaked to a blogger at the U.N., Postica and Nguyen-Kropp accused Dudley of altering and withholding related evidence, concluded the complainant in the case had "malicious intent" and recommended the case be dropped.

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