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In Mr. Ban's UN, Retraction Demand about Nationality and Staffing Raises Questions

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, May 16, updated May 23 -- This is the story of a question about the UN that was asked, that got mis-answered and then repeated in writing, and is now being retracted, upon public request of Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson.

            Given the rarity at the UN of such public requests for correction or amplification -- in this case, read out from a script during Tuesday noon press briefing -- it is believed that this nitty-gritty narrative may shed light on today's United Nations. 

            At the noon briefing on Monday, during a question-and-answer concerning whether policy discussion on the UN's 38th floor are sometimes held in Korean, Inner City Press asked, "if you could find out or confirm that a guy called Dae-young Park, who'd been an auditor with OIOS, has now been transferred to the Office of the Secretary General on the 38th floor." OIOS is the acronym for the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services.

            "I will get the information for you on the make-up of the 38th floor," the Spokesperson replied. Since the UN's transcript differs from what was actually said, and then was amended to add an answer that was never provided to Inner City Press, click here for video, from Minute 14:46.

            Despite the statement that "information... on the make-up of the 38th floor" would be provided, none was. Rather, Inner City Press witnessed in the UN's 3rd floor hallway Choi Soung-ah of Ban Ki-moon's Spokesperson's Office telling another reporter that there was only one professional staff member from South Korea on the 38th floor, and then amending that to the number five.

Ready for questions --  but only if they like them, some say

            Much later on Monday, Inner City Press checked the UN's transcript of the noon briefing, and saw an answer appended in brackets:  "The Spokesperson later added that Ms. Do-yun Park, who worked for the Department of Management, had not been transferred to the 38th floor and had been a United Nations staff member since before the current Secretary-Generalís arrival."

            Seeing the use of Ms., Inner City Press included in its third article of the day a reiteration of the question:

 "As the word 'fellow' connotes, Inner City Press was not referring to a female, Ms. Do-yun Park, but rather MISTER Daeyoung Park, described as an auditor at OIOS promoted from P-3 to P-4 and then assigned to the Office of the Secretary General. Inquiry will continue. But the promised organ-o-gram has not been produced."

            As to why Inner City Press was aware of and was asking about Daeyoung Park, who was involved in the OIOS audit leading to the indictment and trial of UN procurement official Sanjay Bahel, and also accusing one Walter Cabrera of irregularities in eight contracts, see below.

            On Tuesday morning, while passing through the Spokesperson's Office to get press releases and on the way to cover the Security Council's proceedings on Bosnia, Inner City Press saw Ms. Choi and others in the Spokesperson's Office. Nothing was said.

            However, during Tuesday's noon briefing, once Inner City Press asked a question about whether Ban Ki-moon has received a protest letter from the Afghan foreign ministry and his response, Spokesperson Michele Montas said "we don't have anything other than what I gave you yesterday on the violence.  I have nothing new on Pakistan." (In fact, the Spokesperson's Office had said nothing at the previous day's briefing about either Pakistan or Afghanistan, click here for the transcript, and click here for today's Inner City Press story on the issue.)

            Following this non-response on Pakistan, Ms. Montas consulted her notes and read out

"since you ask a question, I find it very unfortunate that inaccurate facts are printed without being properly verified. You asked yesterday about United Nations professional working for OIOS and who happens to be South Korean. Without verifying the facts, you stated that he had been assigned to the Executive Office of the Secretary-General. This is flatly wrong. Mr. Dae-young [Do-yun?] Park, if this is the person you're talking about, that you're referring to, is employed by OIOS and will go on sabbatical in mid-July in order to pursue an advance degree in public administration. He never had any plans to apply for a position in the Executive Office."

            Inner City Press acknowledged this public statement, and asked if the list of five that Ms. Choi has mentioned could be provided. Video here, from Minute 12:12. Ms. Montas said to come to her office after the briefing.

            Following Under Secretary General for Management Alicia Barcena's responses to numerous questions, including five from Inner City Press (the last of which concerned when the UN will finally have a Freedom of Information mechanism, whereby information is provided without pleading, but as of right), Inner City Press went to speak with Ms. Montas. The phrase "mea culpa" was used, although Inner City Press also asked why Monday's putative response, about the wrong Park, had not been provided by email so that the matter might have been addressed before deadline. Why was the response only appended post-facto to the UN's transcript, and, it seemed, said over the UN's squawk-box system?

            Inner City Press was told that the response hadn't even been "squawked," since no one else was interested in it. Other correspondents are interested in issues, Inner City Press was told, and not in names of staff members. But how could one report on these management issues without using names? The question was not answered.

            Instead of five names, three were provided, handwritten:

-Kim, Won-soo ASG

-Yoon, Yeocheol Chief of scheduling, D1

-Lee, Sang-hwa P4 - first officer, scheduling

            Ms. Choi came into the office. She stated that five people, herself included, had come over with the transition, and she named journalists who she said knew all five. Who then is the fifth, Inner City Press asked. A person in the Department of Management, Ms. Choi said, and declined to provide the name, stating that he has nothing to do with the Executive Officer. Ms. Choi berated Inner City Press for not verifying facts. How else to do so, but to ask questions?

            Ms. Choi said, "Who told you this lie? Give me that name then I'll...".

            Inner City Press pointed out that the name was provided by a source still employed by the UN, a whistleblower by any standard definition. Inner City Press declined to provide the name. It was indicated to Inner City Press that Mr. Park Dae-young had been treated unfairly by the question.

            Inner City Press was made aware of Mr. Park Dae-young by a source who, besides maintaining even Tuesday afternoon that some sort of transfer or "loan" occurred one month into Mr. Ban's tenure, also provided a series of e-mails to and from OIOS chief Inga-Britt Ahlenius, concerning among other things Mr. Park Dae-young (identified in the e-mails as "Daeyoung Park").

            In a February 6, 2006 e-mail to Ms. Ahlenius and others, including OHRM head Jan Beagle and then-38th floor denizen Lamine Sise, Mr. Walter Cabrera took issue with the initial final version of an OIOS audit of peacekeeping, stating that

"the audit reports that were prepared by your staff originally in September 2004 (AP2004/600/14) and later rehashed and reissued in 2005/2006 (AP2005/600/20) contain patently false information about my alleged involvement in the five contact awards to vendor TCIL. The fact that the information was false was full known to the principal auditor-in-charge, Mr. Daeyoung Park." [We will have more on this.]

            Later on Tuesday afternoon, Inner City Press managed to speak with Mr. Park Dae-young. Among other things, Mr. Park stated of the above-cited peacekeeping audit(s), "I worked on the case." He declined to answer further questions about the cases, including the above-quoted, perhaps understandably but despite Ban Ki-moon's statements that UN staff members are encourage to speak with the press on matters within their scope of expertise.

            On June 12, 2006, Ms. Ahlenius responded to Mr. Cabrera with copies to among others Ms. Beagle, Mr. Sise and "redesignpanel [at] un.org," stating that "OIOS recognizes that the working of paragraph 91 of the Comprehensive Management Review of DPKO - Procurement is incorrect."

            We have more to report on this matter, which extends beyond but certainly involves Mr. Park Dae-young. Several correspondents have wondered aloud about the motive of Ban Ki-moon's Spokesperson's Office public rebuke, contrasting it with times with the Office simply e-mails clarifications to correspondents, or as recently happened says nothing in the face of obvious mis-quotations. Staying entirely factual, Inner City Press notes that the only other time this Office, again via Ms. Choi, vehemently critiqued an online article was when the question concerned funding that passed to North Korea through the South Korean foreign ministry during Mr. Ban's time there. The moral of the story, for now, might be that disparate treatment and selective outrage, rather than discouraging coverage, might tend to multiply the questions...

Update of May 23, 2007 -- a week after declining to provide the name, on Wednesday evening Associate UN Spokesperson Choi Soung-ah wrote to Inner City Press that

"the Secretary-General brought five Koreans with him to the Secretariat. The five were with him during the transition period as well. Of the five, three are on the 38th floor as you have previously been informed, myself  (you know who I am) assigned to the Spokesperson's office, and Mr. Kweon Ki-hwan assigned to the Office of the Under-Secretary General for Management."

   Along with thanking Ms. Choi for this response, how ever belated, Inner City Press has asked among other things, "what post in the UN Department of Management was Kweon Ki-hwan put into, and what process was followed to put him in this post?" Developing.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540