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At the UN, Prostitutes for Procurement Go Barely Mentioned, Corruption Off the Map

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 18 -- Where can two procurement officials get suspended for procuring prostitutes in exchange for public contracts, and neither themselves nor their wrongdoing be named?  Answer: in the UN in 2007.

            On July 17, Ban Ki-moon's Deputy Spokesperson read out a cryptic, seemingly off-handed announcement:

"from time to time, we keep you updated on the ongoing issues regarding disciplinary matters relating to procurement.  Yesterday, two procurement officers were charged following the investigations conducted by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and following testimony in the trial of former UN procurement officer Sanjaya Bahel.  The two individuals have been suspended and placed on special leave with pay.  The UN disciplinary process is ongoing.  Until this process is over, however, no further comments can be made."

            The wheels of justice at the UN turn slowly, if at all. Back on May 22, in the federal trial of Sanjaya Bahel, witness Nishan Kohli testified that he bribed not only Bahel but two other UN procurement officials, including by providing them with "$3000 prostitutes."

            Perhaps the half-upheld (so far) scenario of UN Peacekeepers trading guns for gold in the Congo overshadowed UN telecommunications contracts being given out in exchange for sex. Because press reports about the suspension of the two officials, eight weeks after the call girl testimony, barely reported what they were being disciplined for -- the wire story has no mention of prostitution. Nor were the individuals named.

            Hours after her cursory July 17 announcement, Inner City Press asked the Deputy Spokesperson, "Would it be incorrect to publish that the two individuals being suspended are Walter Cabrera and Brian Streb?"

            "I don't know," was the answer. "We are not given that information."

            Well, we are. Informed UN sources tell Inner City Press that Mr. Cabrera, in particular, had long been under investigation by OIOS and the UN Department of Management. Supporters of Messrs. Cabrera and Bahel have told Inner City Press that on at least one of the UN procurement deals he was alleged to have fixed, Mr. Cabrera was out of the country. But they say the evidence was firm, especially in the prostitution tale recounted in Bahel's trial.

Andrew Toh and Louise Frechette -- 'nuf said

            At a June 7 press conference at the UN, the head of the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services Inga-Brit Ahlenius spoke about Bahel's conviction but deflected some other questions about investigations to her staff.  Current Under Secretary General for Management Alicia Barcena did not attend the press conference, and has had little to say on the issue. (Similarly, there has been no follow-through on previous projections of the UN enacting a freedom of information procedure, something Ms. Barcena had said would be taken seriously.)

            The whispers are growing louder that Ms. Barcena is considering renouncing her Management post; one well-placed source said that if and when she does, "Ban Ki-moon will not try to talk her out of it, as Kofi Annan talked Louise Frechette out of resigning." The relative merits we'll leave for another time. Ms. Barcena, it is said, left Monday for Bangkok. Mr. Ban will be in Europe again on Thursday. Meanwhile contracts are being awarded, for example prospectively the outsourcing of over $9 billion from the UN Pension Fund.  One wonders who is now leading the charge, if there is one, to prevent corruption in the UN.

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

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