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At UN, Tales of Removed Hard Drive of Investigator Appleton Trigger EU Probe

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 23 -- The removal of the hard drive from the computer of former chief of the UN Procurement Task Force Robert Appleton has given rise to an external investigation of the UN by the European Union's anti-fraud unit, OLAF, Inner City Press has learned.

   While Mr. Appleton tells Inner City Press that the complaints that gave rise to the investigation and to a recent memo to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and others come from "a party opposed to me, the PTF and Ms. Ahlenius" -- Inga-Britt Ahlenius, the head of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services -- questions are raised by Ms. Ahlenius' reported insistence that Appleton be awarded a top OIOS job.

   Previously, Ahlenius asked former Under Secretary General for Management Alicia Barcena to pay particular attention to a job application by a friend of hers. Given a pre-publication opportunity to explain the controversial email request for special consideration, Ahlenius did not.

   Favoritism is particularly dangerous in an investigative body, one which rarely briefs the press. Who will watch the watchers? Questions exists about OIOS' purported exoneration of the UN Medical Service -- a day after Inner City Press was told by the UN that OIOS could not verify allegations that personnel without U.S. licenses were prescribing narcotics including to themselves -- and of dirty tricks in campaigns for reelection to the top posts at UNCTAD and the World Trade Organization. Click here for that story, here for the June 4 complaint to OIOS.

   While some have hypothesized that the complainant's motive is wanting to same job that Appleton wants, and Ahlenius wants to give to Appleton, that is neither here nor there. Nor is the hypothesis that Appleton's hard drive was removed because the PTF and OIOS could not trust one of OIOS' senior officials -- this only makes more clear how dysfunctional OIOS is at present.

   In this context, Inner City Press is publishing the e-mails below: the complaint to OIOS, a response to it which Inner City Press requested from Mr. Appleton, and the complaint's reply -- on which Appleton has not yet commented. If he does, we will update this space. Back on October 21, 2008 at the UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked for a briefing by Mr. Appleton and Ms. Ahlenius -- neither has briefed since.

OIOS Ahlenius and then-PTF Appleton, hard drive not shown

Subject: Allegation of Corruption
From: [Name withheld in this format, but see below]
Date: May 28, 2009 4:08 PM
To: Mr. Ban, Ms. Ahlenius, Ms. Swift, Mr. Dudley, Mr. Dzuro, Mr. Baldini

Dear Sir,

I have been an employee of the United Nations and the Office of Internal Oversight Services for much of my working life and as such I have witnessed the very best and the very worst of what this organization represents.

For the most part, I believe that the United Nations management team acts in the best interests of the Organization, so it is with a heavy heart that I write to you in relation to an allegation of corruption involving the Under Secretary General for OIOS.

Most staff have lost confidence in Ms. Ahlenius's ability to lead the office. She has made many decisions, particularly with respect to hiring practices, that have left many staff dismayed and some wondering whether the poor woman is suffering the early stages of dementia. As you are no doubt aware, a number of these issues have been aired in the local and international media.

The Allegations:

In December 2008, the Procurement Task Force (PTF) was liquidated and responsibility for the investigation of procurement related fraud transferred to the Investigations Division (ID) of OIOS. Mr. Vlad Dzuro, a P4 investigator with ID, was given responsibility to lead a transition team to effect the transfer of cases and equipment to ID.

As part of his duties, Mr. Dzuro was required to check the PTF inventory to ensure that the equipment assigned to the PTF was fully accounted for in compliance with liquidation procedures. Mr. Dzuro attended at the offices of the PTF and attempted to verify the computer equipment assigned to the PTF. This was a rather mundane and straight forward exercise until he attempted to gain entry to the office formerly occupied by the head of the PTF, Mr. Robert Appleton. Mr. Dzuro found the office locked but after some time was able to gain entry and check the serial number of the computer located in that workspace. The number did not accord with the details of the computer assigned to Mr. Appleton as recorded in the PTF inventory. The computer assigned to Mr. Appleton was later located elsewhere in the PTF office. It was connected to the monitor and the local area network and for all intents and purposes it appeared to be a fully functioning computer. Attempts to start the computer proved fruitless and on closer inspection the hard drive was found to have been removed from the casing containing the CPU.

Inquiries conducted by Mr. Dzuro and Mr. Michael Dudley, acting director of ID/OIOS, revealed that AON Consulting had been instructed to remove the hard drive by Ms. Kelley Swift. Ms. Swift was formerly a PTF investigator but had recently obtained a P4 investigator position with ID/OIOS. Ms. Swift has a long professional association with Mr. Appleton that predates their UN assignment and acted as his defacto deputy at the PTF. Messrs. Dzuro and Dudley spoke to Ms. Swift who admitted that she had removed the hard drive at the request of Mr. Appleton. She also admitted that she had physically swapped the computer assigned to Mr. Appleton with a computer that had been assigned to another investigator who had already left the PTF. Ms. Swift subsequently refused to answer any additional questions and took three weeks sick leave citing work related stress. Ms. Swift recently returned to ID and she is now working as a P4 investigator in the Fraud Unit.

It should be noted that at this time that Mr. Appleton was not a UN staff member or contractor and had no mandate to direct ID/OIOS staff in the manner described. It should also be noted that Mr. Appleton was an applicant for the vacant director's position at ID/OIOS. In fact, Mr. Appleton had been selected for the post however the selection had not been verified by the Office of the Secretary General (OSG) due to perceived procedural flaws in the selection process. The failure to obtain ratification of his selection for the director position was a point of irritation for Ms. Ahlenius who had openly and repeatedly stated that Mr. Appleton would be selected regardless of the merit of the other applicants. OSG directed Ms. Ahlenius to conduct further interviews for the vacant director post. These interviews have now been concluded and Ms. Ahlenius has again told OIOS staff that she is determined to appoint Mr. Appleton to the position.

Messrs. Dzuro and Dudley were able to obtain the original hard drive and a copy was made for examination in accordance with investigative best practice.

In his capacity as the Acting Director ID/OIOS Mr. Dudley urged Ms. Ahlenius to initiate an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the removal of the hard drive from Mr. Appleton's computer. Ms. Ahlenius resisted any attempt to investigate and demanded that she be provided with the original hard drive and copy. These were subsequently given to her and I understand that they have now been destroyed.

There are a number of issues arising from this incident:

1. Why was the hard drive removed from the computer?

2. What was on the hard drive that Mr. Appleton did not want disclosed?

3. Why did Mr. Appleton direct Ms. Swift to remove the hard drive from the computer?

4. As a UN staff member why did Ms. Swift accede to Mr. Appleton's request?

5. Why was the computer with the hard drive removed configured to appear as if it was a fully functioning unit?

6. Why was Mr. Appleton's computer swapped with the computer of a former PTF investigator?

7. Why did Ms. Ahlenius refuse to initiate an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the removal of the hard drive?

8. Why did Ms. Ahlenius seek to cover up the allegation?

9. Why is Ms. Ahlenius so determined to recruit Mr. Appleton as the director of ID/OIOS?

Ms. Ahlenius has made it clear that she wants to recruit Mr. Appleton and it is widely believed that she sought to cover up misconduct in order to remove any obstacles to his appointment to the director's position. I have had very little contact with Mr. Appleton however I find his actions in this case to be incompatible with that expected of a UN staff member, let alone one who may hold a senior position in the UN's primary oversight agency.

I urge to you to initiate an investigation into the issues arising from this incident.

I also urge you to critically assess Ms. Ahlenius's suitability to perform the duties of the USG OIOS.

   After obtaining the above on June 18, Inner City Press asked Robert Appleton to respond to it. To his credit he obliged:

Subj: Re: UN Procurement Task Force
From: Robert Appleton
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 6/20/2009 7:18:01 P.M. Eastern Standard Time

Dear Mathew:

Please allow me respond to this most unfortunate email. What is represented in this email is wholly inaccurate, and has in fact been sent in a fraudulent manner by a person using a fictitious name (as explained below). It is not legitimate, and fraught with false and misleading information, as well as failing to mention many significant and material facts.

With regard to questions about my computer:

1 I separated from the UN on 31 December 2008 at the conclusion of the Procurement Task Force, and have not had any involvement with my office space, my computer or the PTF or Investigations Division office premises since my departure from the United Nations. I had no involvement in the removal of the hard drive from my computer.

2 I never, at any time, gave instructions to Ms. Swift, or anyone else, to remove the hard drive. Ms. Swift has stated repeatedly that she has never received any instructions from me in this regard. The allegation in the anonymous email to the contrary is wholly untrue. Again, the fraudulent manner in which this email was sent also undermines the credibility of the representations in it. I would invite you to contact Ms. Swift about the circumstances of the hard drive removal, and this issue as well.

3 Please understand that the representations set forth in the email you received are designed to make the details of the incident appear much more ominous than they are, most likely from someone with an interest in the matter and perhaps a motive to malign at a sensitive time. My understanding, from learning later about the circumstances from those in the office space once occupied by PTF, is that the hard drive was removed to preserve and protect its contents, as the PTF/OIOS office space at the time was not secure and safe. Best practices are to preserve and protect sensitive information and data, including hard drive computers in office space occupied by investigators and to secure such information once an investigator leaves as it can contain sensitive case information. (The PTF shared office space on a floor with a UN department it was investigating). As I understand it, the representation that my office was locked is also false.

4 Contrary to the false assertions in the email message, the hard drive has since been preserved by OIOS, by packing it in a secure pouch and sealing it, and has not been destroyed. Outside professional computer experts were asked to forensically examine it. The results of the examination are that the drive had not been accessed, altered or tampered with since I left the UN. It still exists and has been secured and packaged in a sealed envelope, and is being maintained by OIOS.

5 Out of an abundance of caution, this matter was referred to OLAF (European Anti-Fraud Office), chosen by the Department of Management, for an independent investigation. I understand there investigation has concluded, and I was interviewed as a part of it.

6 I have never had any objection to an examination of the hard drive, the computer or its contents, and I communicated my consent to review its contents to the investigators.

7 It is my understanding that OLAF’s investigation has completely exonerated me of any involvement in this matter, and categorically refuted any allegation that I caused the hard drive to be removed, altered or in any way tampered with, or have done anything improper.

8 Most importantly, the email was sent by individual purporting to be a UN staff member by the name Shiva Vishnu ( There is no staff member employed by the UN by this name. I have never met anyone by this name, and no one by this name has ever worked for OIOS. Further, the email was not sent from a UN email account, but from a gmail account. The author’s assertion, therefore, that he is a UN staff member, is categorically false. Such falsity undermines his/her credibility, and the contents of the message. The email is fraudulent, and therefore not worthy of attention.

With regard to the vacant director’s position at ID/OIOS, the email’s statement that there were procedural flaws in the selection process is also completely unfounded. A panel of three external judges outside of OIOS was constituted, and as I understand it, unanimously recommended me to the Under Secretary General of OIOS for the post, after a full recruitment process in which more than 70 applications were submitted, and after all eligible candidates were interviewed and evaluated. Notwithstanding this, in order to ensure that the selection process was credible, and above reproach, there has since been a second full recruitment in which the post has been re-advertised, further applications encouraged and accepted, and a second panel constituted to review, interview and recommend a candidate. As I understand it, this process is still under way.

Finally, I find it most unfortunate that a party opposed to me, the PTF and Ms. Ahlenius, has resorted to anonymous, vicious ad hominem attacks without any basis in fact. It is clear that whoever sent this email is hostile to the goals of greater transparency and accountability within the UN, a goal my colleagues and I have tried so hard to pursue. I truly hope you will not allow this person to utilize you in furthering his agenda.

Sincerely yours, Robert Appleton

   After receipt of the above from Mr. Appleton, Inner City Press sent it to the complainant, if there were any reply. There was:

Subj: Re: Allegation of Corruption
From: [Name withheld in this format, but see above]
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 6/22/2009 5:52:15 P.M. Eastern Standard Time

It is not best practice to remove and preserve a hard drive because it contains sensitive information. Sensitive information should be stored on the OIOS servers and secured with appropriate password/access protection.

OIOS has a secure server in Vienna that all OIOS/PTF staff use to store their investigative material. The server is accessed via Citrix software and each staff member is required to upload material to the server on on ongoing and immediate basis for review by OIOS management. This is also to ensure that links between cases can be identified and so that the material (where appropriate) is accessible to all investigators. OIOS/PTF does not store information on individual computer hard drives as it is contrary to OIOS instructions. If the material was not uploaded to the Vienna server there would be a substantial risk that the material would be lost should the computer suffer a permanent failure.

By their very nature the types of investigations conducted by OIOS are sensitive. It has never been the practice of OIOS to remove computer hard drives because of the sensitivity of the data contained within a drive.

Computers are routinely rotated out of OIOS as part of computer upgrades and normal maintenance. Old computers are replaced with newer models. When an individual staff member resigns their computer is returned to the ICT unit in the duty station in which they were working.

It would be totally inappropriate and a waste of UN resources to remove the hard drive when those hard drives can be cleaned using commercially available software. The use of this type of software is widespread throughout OIOS and is routinely used when computers are returned to ICT units.

For example OIOS has recently downsized the number of staff in the African peacekeeping missions and returned a significant number of computers (desk tops and lap tops) to the mission ICT units. These computers were cleaned and returned to the mission ICT units. No hard drives were removed.

The PTF investigations were / are no more sensitive than investigations conducted by the OIOS investigators in the field or in the other duty stations (Nairobi and Vienna).

Even if you accept that the hard drive was removed to protect its contents then,

Why wasn't the information stored on the OIOS Vienna secure server (with the appropriate level of security if it is so sensitive)?

Why weren't the hard drives of the other PTF computers removed?

Why wasn't the whole computer removed rather than just the hard drive?

Why did Ms. Swift take the hard drive home rather than secure it in a secure location on the UN building such as a lockable cabinet or safe?

Why was the computer set up to appear as if it was fully functioning (if not to deceive those who were examining the computer)

Why did Ms. Swift refuse to answer questions about the removal of the hard drive and then take sick leave citing work related stress? Ms. Swift is still on sick leave.

Who authorised the removal of the hard drive?

Why was OLAF called in?

Why does the hard drive need to be forensically examined if it was removed to preserve and secure sensitive information and data? The email you received states that the examination found that the hard drive had not been accessed, altered or tampered. But was the hard drive examined to identify the data that was so sensitive it couldn't be secured or deleted by any other means?

I stand by my belief that the hard drive and copy were destroyed. I don't know what the outside computer experts examined but it couldn't have been the original hard drive.

I also believe that OLAF was only called in recently because senior OIOS staff referred the matter to the Department of Management AGAINST the instructions of Ms. Ahlenius. Ms. Ahlenius was furious that the matter was referred to the DoM.

The content of the email you received also indicates that the author has made up his or her mind that there is no foundation to the complaint. This seems premature given that OLAF has not completed their investigation.

And the question still needs to be asked. What is the role of Ms. Ahlenius in this incident and why is she so protective of Mr. Appleton?

I hope you are able to pursue this case.

   Inner City Press sought a reply to the above from Mr. Appleton, but as of deadline none has been received. If and when one is, it will be published on this site.

* * *

At UN, Complaint of Hiring of Mistress at WTO, Tricks in UNCTAD Election Battle

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 22 -- The seamy underbelly of UN system politicking is laid bare in a filing to the UN's top investigator Inga-Britt Ahlenius from the Officer in Charge of the UN Conference on Trade and Development Division on Management Khaililur Rahman.

   Describing the campaign by UNCTAD's senior advisor against a Ivory Coast diplomat competing to head UNCTAD or to beat out Patrick Lamy for the next term at the World Trade Organization, Rahman quotes that Lamy "has campaign funds from the French" and hired the Ivorian diplomat's "mistress at the WTO."

  Inner City Press has obtained a copy of the UN document, and places it online here.  On June 4, Rahman asked Ahlenius' Office of Internal Oversight Services to take action. But UN Spokesperson Michele Montas on June 19 told Inner City Press she and the UN are unaware of the complaint.

    In the memo, Rahman recounts how pressure was brought to bear on UN staff to lobby for the incumbent at UNCTAD Supachai Panitchpakdi to get a second term. Mr. Supachai's special advisor Kobsak Chutikul wrote a "Game Plan e-mail" which identified the Permanent Representatives to the UN of Sudan, Cuba, Libya and Nicaragua as "undermining the practice / tradition of two consecutive terms" for the top job at UNCTAD.

   Rahman recounts to the Office of Internal Oversight Services that "Mr. Chutikul also mentioned he would 'continue to press the Executive Office of Secretary General' [Ban Ki-moon] while noting that 'we can't just wait for them to act.'"

   The African Group was pushing as a candidate Ambassador Gauze of Cote d'Ivoire to replace Mr. Supachai. That campaign appears to have ended. On June 19, Inner City Press was shown by one of the above-mentioned Permanent Representatives a message from Ban Ki-moon's senior advisor, leading to the dropping of the competing African candidacy. Ban and his advisor previously moved to cut the Office of the Special Advisor on Africa, a decision the General Assembly has ordered Ban to reverse.

   The seamy side is contained in Paragraph 6 of Rahman's memo to OIOS, in which he writes -- in a UN document about which Inner City Press asked the UN spokesperson on June 19 -- that

"an email from Mr. Chutikul dated 29 May 2009... made a number of allegations against Mr. Gauze, a former Minister of Trade of Cote d'Ivoire and currently Permanent Representative of Cote d'Ivoire in Geneva as a contender for the post of SG of UNCTAD along with Mr. Supachai, as well as against Mr. Pascal Lamy, Director General of the World Trade Organization. Mr. Chutikul alleged in this email that Mr. Gauze 'in fact last year offered to be on Lamy's campaign team.' Mr Chutukul also alleged that Mr. Lamy 'had campaign funds from the French' and got Mr. Gauze's 'mistress in the mission hired by WTO.'

 He alleged further that Mr. Gauze 'is now facing a paternity suit for child born to another Ivorian mistress. The woman is married to a white man but the baby was born completely black.' He adds: 'Seems Gauze in desperate need of source of income to settle the suit and pay upkeep.'"

   Mr. Rahman's memo refers all of the above -- beyond the UN's total denial, let us take item by item denials for granted and at face value -- "to OIOS for appropriate action." But is OIOS the right venue?


  Copies of the complaint were alsosent to Department of Management chief Angela Kane and her Human Resources Assistant Catherine Pollard, as well as UN Ethics Officer Robert Benson, Jan Beagle in Geneva, Ms. A. Djermakoye and Mr. I Koulov.

   Despite all this, the UN in New York, through its spokesperson Michele Montas, purports to know nothing about this formal complaint. Inner City Press asked at the June 19 noon briefing:

Inner City Press: there’s this controversy about UNCTAD, about reappointing or not reappointing Mr. Supachai. And it said that the G-77 there has written in support of him, but the African Group within that has said they didn’t support the recommendation, that they have other candidates from the Ivory Coast and Kenya, and finally, it’s been written to miscellaneous of OIOS that there’s been pressure put on staff to support the current head to be reappointed. One -- has the Secretary-General gotten this letter from G-77, and does he acknowledge it as the position of the full group, or does he know of this African Group counter-position?

Spokesperson Montas: He has received the different letters and the different positions and, as you know, he still supports his reappointment.

Inner City Press: And what about this claim that staff are being pressured as a condition of keeping their jobs?

Spokesperson: Pressured by whom?

Inner City Press: Pressured by senior members within UNCTAD.

Spokesperson: I’m not aware of that. I’m not aware of that at all.

   Note that the "miscellaneous" in the transcript is Ms. Ahlenius. And that no update has been provided by the Office of the Spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, including his view on Supachai's future and special advisor's campaigning as reflected in the must-credit exclusive above. Watch this site.

* * *

As De Mistura Leaves UN in Iraq, Melkert Called Sole Candidate, Baghdad Given Only One Choice

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 18 -- What does the UN do with a candidate twice passed over for the top job at one of its funds and programs? Send him to Iraq, apparently. On June 11 Inner City Press exclusively reported that Ad Melkert, who lost out to Kemal Dervis and then Helen Clark for the job as Administrator of the UN Development Program, was angling to finally head up a part of the UN: its mission in Iraq.

   On June 17 it was confirmed that the current occupant of the position, Stefan de Mistura, is shifting over to become deputy director of the World Food Program. At the UN noon briefing of June 18, Inner City Press asked spokesperson Michele Montas to confirm or deny that Melkert is the Secretary General's nominee to replace de Mistura. Ms. Montas declined to confirm, but said that an announcement would be made shortly.

   Inner City Press asked Iraq's Ambassador to the UN Hamid Al Bayati to comment on Ad Melkert. "It hasn't been decided," Ambassador Al Bayati said. "But it looks as if it is going to be." A well-placed Security Council source told Inner City Press that Melkert is the only candidate. So it looks like the fix is in.

UN's Ban and Melkert, agreement on public financial disclosure not shown

   Who then would replace Melkert at UNDP? Some are saying that post will be used for the lateral move of a current Under Secretary General in Headquarters who many want out of the slot. If Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was got ratings from the Economist of three out of ten, and even two out of ten, and Ban has just been hit with more than 200 staff members at Headquarters casting votes of "No Confidence" in him on Capital Master Plan and management issues, those responsible may have to be shaken up, is the word from upstairs. Watch this site.

Footnote: Melkert, it must be said, openly disagreed with Ban's request that top UN officials make some public financial disclosure, and was central in UNDP's break-away from the UN's Ethics system, including on whistleblower protection. Are these among his qualifications for the UN in Iraq?

* * *

UN Mulls Sending Melkert to Iraq, Local Staff in Pakistan Shortchanged, Owondo's Service

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 11 -- Inside the UN system, staff were angry Thursday night. First came indications that beyond the international staff killed in the bombing in Peshawar, Pakistan, at least three national staff were killed as well. Not only where they barely spoken of, but the benefits package for them is slated to be a fraction of that offered to the internationals. Also barely mentioned was the UN's evacuation of some but not all staff from Peshawar to Islamabad.

  The UN Mission in Iraq, the staffers said, is slated to receive a new manager from New York. Ad Melkert, the Associate Administrator of UNDP who twice lost out in races for the top job, is reportedly being sent to Baghdad. As such, he would be rewarded for publicly disagreeing with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's call for public financial disclosure, and for breaking away from the UN Secretariat's Ethics Office and what whistleblower protections exist.

UN staffer Solecki returns home, local staff and red flag not shown

   UNDP's staff union head Dmitry Samaras was present Thursday in the Church Center across from the UN, at the funeral for former staff member Joseph Owondo, who died in the crash of the Air France flight from Brazil to Paris. Owondo's death is a loss: if the UN had more whistleblowers like him, it would be a better place. Click here for Inner City Press' previously story on Owondo.

   Speaking at his funeral were Emmanuel Goued, Regis Onanga Ndiaye and Raphael Mbadinga. Samaras knows where many UNDP skeletons are buried, but what is the interest in exposing them? From now on, do it for Owondo. The UN is full of conflicts.

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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