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In Sudan, Exchange Rate Scam Alleged in UN Staff Dollars to Bank of Khartoum

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, January 5 – With the UN having belatedly moved to stand up to pressure from the Sudanese government of Omar al Bashir, who has ordered UN officials Yvonne Helle and Ali Al-Za'tari to leave the country, Inner City Press has reported on a way in which the UN transferred the U.S. dollars of UN national staff in Sudan to the Bank of Khartoum.

   Inner City Press has exclusively published a letter from the UN Federal Credit Union claiming the transfer was related to UN sanctions, and an opinion from the US Office of Financial Assets Control which says that is not the case. Inner City Press questions to the UN and its agencies were by then pending for days.

  On December 30, the day it was belatedly received, Inner City Press published a response from the UN and the UN Development Program, below.

  Since then, Inner City Press has obtained a series of e-mails from UN whistleblowers to UNDP about the transfer to the Bank of Khartoum, as well as UNDP's responses.

  On November 28, Sudan whistleblowers wrote to UNDP's hotline that under an arrangement with Bank of Khartoum (BoK) would become the recipient of all UN local staff salaries in US dollars while it would be paying their salaries in local currency using the UN exchange rate around 5.99 SDG.

 The bank of Khartoum will be benefiting from the difference between the UN exchange rate and The Central Bank of Sudan rate for commercial importers of 8.47 SDG (BoK USD selling rate  for businessmen). The net profit per each US dollar channeled to Bank of Khartoum is approximately 2.47 SDG.

  There were additional charges in the whistleblowers' communications to UNDP, including about how Bank of Khartoum was chosen (this is not addressed in the UN's and UNDP's response to Inner City Press, below.)

  UNDP's response to the whistleblowers was to ask for identifying information about the whistleblowers, and then to blandly state that it is not uncommon in areas such as Sudan, to make similar arrangements with Banks to pay the salary of local staff." 

  But what about the obvious exchange rate loss? It is reminiscent of another UN scam Inner City Press exclusively uncovered, the overpayment of Myanmar by inflated foreign exchange rate in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.

  And what about the losses to UN system staff set forth in their complaint to Al Za'tari, which Inner City Press exclusively published here?

 On December 30, Inner City Press wrote to UN spokespeople again:

"This is a request that Deputy SG Eliasson or someone else from the Secretariat hold a press availability on Sudan's decision to expel Yvonne Helle (which I asked about at the December 24 noon briefing) and Ali Al-Za'tari.. A media availability by the Secretariat, ideally the DSG but another if necessary, later this afternoon is being requested, including on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access. Either way, am awaiting Secretariat response on why UN national staff members' US dollar accounts in UNFCU were transferred to the Bank of Khartoum, and why the UN Secretariat said nothing publicly when the Country Director of UNFPA was expelled from Sudan in April."

  This last question, about the UN's silence on the UNFPA ouster in April, has yet to be answered. But on UNFCU, the UN Office of the Spokesperson sent this, which we publish in full:

"There has been a restriction on the cashing of foreign checks by Sudanese national staff.  At the same time, the Bank of Khartoum has put on hold all foreign check cashing by all staff in  Sudan.
Since this decision was taken in November 2014, UNDP has  been working with UNFCU to find an acceptable solution.

"UNDP would like to further clarify that the issue is unrelated to  the requested departure by the Sudan government of the United  Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, and Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Progamme (UNDP) and the  UNDP  Country Director. UNDP is coordinating with the UN and with the Government of Sudan to address the situation.  UNDP remains strongly committed to the human development, peace and  security of all the citizens of Sudan."

  Again, see UNFCU's letter, here, and OFAC's reply to UN staff, here. We'll have more on this.

    In the first document Inner City Press exclusively published, here, UNFCU's President and CEO William Predmore told national staff in Sudan that

"We understand the concerns of our members after necessary account restrictions were implosed, and we regret there was not an opportunity to deliver communications more swiftly to the individuals impacted... As you may be aware, UNFCU is subject to U.S. Regulations (including those promulgated by the Office of Foreign Assets Controls (OFAC)). In order to ensure compliance with those regulations, checking account services and debit card services were terminated for local staff.”

   (Many were stranded with AMT cards that didn't work, while their dollars were transferred to the Bank of Khartoum.)

  But contrary to what UNFCU's Predmore told staff in writing, the US OFAC in the second document Inner City Press is exclusively publishing today, here, told UN staff that sanctions law and regulation does NOT require what the UN has done, citing 31 CFR 538.531. Click here to view in PDF.

   Last week Inner City Press exclusively reported on the UN Federal Credit Union abruptly telling UN national staff in Sudan that their accounts were being frozen and the dollars in them transferred to the Bank of Khartoum. Inner City Press has asked the UN, including UNDP, OCHA and UNFPA, to explain this.

   On December 27 Inner City Press exclusively published a complaint filed with Ali Al-Za'tari about the change, here. Inner City Press notes that the decision to give the UN national staff's dollars to the Bank of Khartoum flies in the face, in fact, of the sanctions.  The complaint to Al-Za'tari states that

“UNFCU closed checking and savings accounts of national staff without prior notification and consultation and unilaterally transferred all funds of staff members' accounts to local saving accounts to be paid in SDG by Bank of Khartoum... Based on the long years of established provision of the UNFCU service, majority of national staff have made long term financial arrangements taking into account UNFCU deposits facilities which provided solutions to many of their problems such as medical treatments and education to them and their families.”

  Tellingly, Predmore's letter to staff also says that the switch was made pursuant to UNDP's rules. What rules?

  Now the UN Security Council is set to meet on December 30 about Sudan's order to Ali Al-Za'tari and Yvonne Helle to leave; the Council will say they are in support of UN staff. What will they do about UN staff members' dollars having been given to the Sudanese authorities?

  In essence, UNDP and its Resident Coordinator Ali Al-Za'tari gave Khartoum the U.S. dollars of UN national staff, without notice. Even that wasn't enough to keep him in the country. But it is reminiscent of another UN scam Inner City Press exclusively uncovered, the overpayment of Myanmar by inflated foreign exchange rate in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.

  That was covered and credited – will this be? Or does the scam here extend to covering up the complicity of UN officials like not only Herve Ladsous but even, yes, Ali Al-Za'tari, who remained silent when UNFPA's country director was thrown out of Sudan in April, and as Inner City Press asked the UN on December 24, gave in quickly to the ouster of Yvonne Helle? Watch this site.


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