In Scandal Q&A,Yan's GSF Had Nambiar, Ban's Spouse & Lang Lang, UNCA Plays
Russell Lee, Exclusive follow-up
NATIONS, October 19 -- Some in the UN still purport to be surprised by the indictment of 2013-14 President of the General Assembly John Ashe on charges of soliciting bribes from Macao businessmen including the Sun Kian Ip Group's Ng Lap Seng and the Global Sustainability Foundation, while using and being used by South South (which, among others, gave money to the UN Correspondents Association, more here).
But there's more, much more. Some of it happened in plain sight, in the UN Visitors' Lobby as on June 30, 2015, with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other senior UN officials at an event sponsored by Sheri Yan's Global Sustainability Foundation called “The Transformative Power of Art.” Sheri Yan has appeared in photo ops with Ban's Deputy, and other USGs on which we'll have more. Here's from the UN's October 19 transcript, here:
Inner City Press: I wanted to ask, first, I was… two related questions on this, but the first one is just whether there's any comment from the Secretariat on the release on bail of David Ng Lap Seng on $50 million bail that the individual alleged to have poured money into the UN. What do you think of it?
Spokesman: No. The justice system in this country is going its course, and there's nothing for me to comment on.
Inner City Press: I wanted to ask about a particular event and you'll see… it was sponsored by the Global Sustainability Foundation (GSF), which is one of the two named to be looked at by OIOS [Office of Internal oversight Services]. My question was, it took place very… relatively recently, 30 June, in the UN lobby. The Secretary-General was there. Mr. Sam Kutesa was there. Sheri Yan, also charged, was there, and I wanted to know not… I assume that the audit will find out how this came about and what the… what was the Secretary-General's understanding in going to that event? What the event was about… [Cross talk]
Spokesman: The Secretary-General was invited by the President of the General Assembly, as he's often invited to do, and he accepted the invitation from the President of the General Assembly.
Inner City Press: Right. And you… and it's since been said at this ITU (International Telecommunications Union) event, if I ended up getting the video, Mr. Kutesa traveled to China with GSF after… between these two events. I guess my question is, can you say even pending the audit, what steps have been taken for the Secretary-General to when invited to events to… to take a look at them and in some way vet them before…
Spokesman: Well, we obviously vet events to the best of our ability, but, you know, I think every… if there is… we vet events to the best of our ability. I don't know what more I can say to that.
Inner City Press: it turns out the GSF was actually only formed in… pretty recently, in 2014, and there's video of the founding of the organization in the fourth floor delegate's dining room, and the Secretary-General's spouse is there. Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar is there. So this seems to be different. This is not a Sam Kutesa event to which these people attended, invited. This was the formation of an organization that's now in wild disrepute, and I wanted to know, what do you say about that?
Spokesman: I don't have all the details of the event that you're looking at, and I'm sure the audit will take a look at it.
The video from the founding event of GSF clearly shows Nambiar, and repeatedly shows Mrs. Ban. There were remarks by Lang Lang, now scheduled for an UNCA-affiliated event later this week. We'll have more on this.
Sheri Yan has been charged with corrupting the UN, along with David Ng Lap Seng, former PGA John Ashe and former Dominican Republic Deputy Permanent Representative Frank Lorenzo; Ban's limited OIOS audit looks at Ng's Sun Kian Ip Foundation and this Global Sustainability Foundation, on which we'll have more.
So why did GSF come to sponsor an art exhibit in the UN Visitors' Lobby and a concert in the UN General Assembly Hall, complete with a surreal, news-less press conference in the UN Press Briefing Room? The UN put out this Note to Correspondents:
"The official opening of 'The Transformative Power of Art,' an exhibition organized by Sam Kahamba Kutesa, President of the sixty-ninth session of the United Nations General Assembly, will take place in the Visitors’ Lobby on Tuesday, 30 June, at 6 p.m. Through paintings, sculptures, papier mâché and scented dried flowers, “The Transformative Power of Art” embodies the necessity to place people at the centre of our concern while protecting the planet. The exhibition is part of the United Nations “2015: Time for Global Action” campaign.During the ceremony, remarks will be made by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, General Assembly President Kutesa, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Cristina Gallach, Curator Fabrizio Ruggiero and noted Chef Babette de Rozières."
There was another formal UN statement promoting the event, along the link to photos has, perhaps understandably, been disabled. A UN Photo snapshot, with Frank Lorenzo with Ban and Kutesa and spouses, does not say GSF sponsored the event.
What were Ban and the senior UN officials in attendance and more thinking? We'll have more on this.
On October 9, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric about the murky ITU and Kutesa award event on which it has already exclusively reported. Dujarric said to ask the ITU.
Now Inner City Press has obtained the video of the September 26, 2015 event, ITU with the Global Sustainability Foundation, one of only two NGOs Ban Ki-moon has asked OIOS to audit. In the video, Sheri Yan, charged with corruption, blathers at the microphone, followed by leaders such as Bongo of Gabon, Fiji's leader, UNESCO's Bokova, until “the Honorable Kutesa” hands awards to Asian businessmen, followed by “eager children.” Inner City Press is presenting the video here:
We'll have more on this.
Tellingly, the two UNCA-world questions about the expanding scandal consisted of “any update” and a defense of the NGOs which are being accused. Well, South South gave money to UNCA. This is part of the story - and of the non-telling of the story.
What is surprising is that it took this long for the laxness not only of Ashe but of the President of the General Assembly office's structure and UN's easy penetration by business interests to lead to this. This includes dozens of Ambassadors flown to Macau in August 2015, and senior UN officials' interactions with NGOs beyond the two belatedly named by Ban Ki-moon on October 8. Inner City Press has asked, why not South South News, which gave money to the UN Correspondents Association and got a prize from it.
Just last month Inner City Press witnessed this event inside the UN where Kutesa gave awards to Chinese businessmen, after ITU gave some to African strongmen. Who paid for this?
Even just looking at the Global Sustainability Foundation, it paid Ashe's successor Sam Kutesa's wife and took Kutesa to China. Ashe's chief of staff now works for Kutesa's successor as PGA, Mogens Lykketoft, who has already let his PGA Office be used as part of the campaign for fellow Dane Helle Thorning Schmidt to take over the UN's refugee agency UNHCR.
On October 9 among five documents provided by the UN Spokesman to purportedly show that there ARE UN audits of PGA office functions or trust funds is one (A/68/628) acknowledging what must be acknowledged: that while Dujarric says the UN Secretariat has no connection to (or power to audit) over PGAs' trips, the UN Secretariat pays for “close protection detail” for the PGA on those trips.
Another, A/69/5 (Vol. 1), has a single line:
"Trust Fund in Support of the Office of the President of the General Assembly 53 483 365 171"
That's it, for “president.” Compared to the details in the US affidavit against Ashe, it is laughable. As are the connections, South South and otherwise, with the UN Correspondents Association with which the UN partners. Simply as two examples, South South News gave money to UNCA; an UNCA president worked for South South Awards - this is the same UNCA whose president rented one of his apartments to Palitha Kohona then unilaterally granted his request, as Sri Lanka's Ambassador, to screen his government's war crimes denial film in the Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium, here.
Now we can add: after South South gave money to UNCA, suddenly it was given an UNCA journalism award, such as UNCA will be doling out again in December, depending on the progress of investigation of the corruption scandal. Watch this site.
Inner City Press on October 8 asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, about who changed A/66/748 (no answer), why no answers from UNDP South South, and what the UN's and Ban's links with the South South Awards are and have been. On the last, Dujarric blurred it with South South News. On UNDP, he said he would “share” what he read out - but two hours later neither that, nor what he called audits of PGA accounts were provided.
As on October 7, Inner City Press asked about Ashe's chief of staff now working in current PGA Lykketoft's office. Dujarric said to Ask Lykketoft. We'll see.
Inner City Press asked point-blank for Dujarric to confirm or deny what it reported on October 6, that the UN had slated the Assistant Secretary General for Partnerships position for Ashe. He would neither confirm nor deny, saying like SG trips, it only happens when it happens. But how much is NOT happening?
OIOS, looking into only two NGOs, does not have jurisdiction over UNDP. Ban's report on the cover up of peacekeepers' rapes in Central African Republic was due in September, then postponed to November. Such inquiries can serve as cover ups. But the questions will continue: watch this site.
As Ban head to Peru, here was the UN's October 8 statement:
"In light of the recent accusations announced by US federal authorities, the Secretary-General is requesting that the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) launch an audit of the interaction between the United Nations and the Global Sustainability Foundation and the Sun Kian Ip Group, and the use of any funds received from these entities.
"The Secretary-General is concerned about the serious nature of the allegations, which go to the heart of the work of the United Nations and its Member States. The Secretary-General reaffirms that there will be no tolerance for any corruption at the United Nations or in the name of the United Nations. He is committed to ensuring that funds received from such private entities were handled properly according to relevant UN rules and regulations."
Inner City Press on October 6 asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric about Sun Kian Ip and why the UN had sent out a press released by South-South ("NGO 1" in the indictment) as it were a UN entity. Transcript here, video here.
On October 7, Inner City Press asked Dujarric about "UN Official 1" in the indictment, and millions that Sun Kian Ip gave the UN. Video here. Then Inner City Press asked about hold-over staff with PGA Lykketoft:
Inner City Press: Yesterday the current PGA [President of the General Assembly] did a press conference that you referred to, I don't know if it's the UN system's response or you just heard he was going to respond. What I wanted to ask is that there are a number of people that are actually named in the indictment as having traveled with John Ashe to Macau that work in the current PGA's office. If you actually look at the teams, they overlap quite a lot, which is not to cast aspersion on all of them, but to say, if people are referred to in the indictment, what is… he presented it as there's a total lack of continuity. He's brand new here. He knew nothing about it. What steps are being taken at the UN to actually read the document and see who still works in the UN?
Spokesman: Well, I think, as far as the PGA's office goes, I would encourage you to ask his Spokesman, which… who's down the line.
Inner City Press: Okay. My point, I guess the overall question I wanted to ask is, it seems clear that at least some Secretariat money goes to that office. Some salary lines are funded by the Secretariat, and some salary lines are funded by countries, seconded staff. I mean, I've asked him to name which but, given that Secretariat funds go there, has the PGA's office… is it subject to OIOS or board of auditors auditing, and if not, why not?
Spokesman: I think… I can't answer you that question in detail, but I think that is a question for the PGA. The PGA's elected by the Member States. He is responsible to the General Assembly. As far as authority of investigation, I will check.
Correspondent: But if you pay the staff…
Spokesman: I understand.
While nine hours later and counties there was no answer on that - nor written answers from the referenced “South South” UN office - here are a few of the holdover staff, including Ashe's chief of staff, named in the indictment as traveling to Macao, now still in Lykketoft's office:
Ashe's Chef de Cabinet Ambassador Paulette Bethel
Lykketoft's Special Adviser, Coordination and Engagement H.E. Paulette A. Bethel
There are others but this one should be answered first, since she is named in the indictment as traveling to Macau. We'll have more on this.
Inner City Press' continued digging finds that Sun Kian Ip Group and Ng Lap Seng in March 2015 promised $5 million a year for three years to the UN: “Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations and President of the High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen, UN Secretary General’s Envoy and Director of the UN Office for South-South Cooperation Mr. Yiping Zhou and Chairman of the Sun Kian Ip Group Mr. Ng Lap Seng signed the agreement.” See here.
"Macau, SAR, China: 25 August – A High-level Multi-stakeholders Strategy Forum on South-South cooperation for sustainable development got off to a strong start Tuesday, with more than 200 delegates, from 50+ countries. The two-day Forum began with a opening ceremony featuring distinguished and powerful champions of South-South cooperation... This Strategy Forum is a timely opportunity to 'review, consolidate, and enhance existing instruments and institutional arrangements,' said Ambassador Denis Antoine of Grenada, on behalf of Sam Kutesa of Uganda, President of the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly."
Inner City Press is informed that dozens of ambassadors also went to this Macau junket, where the casino owner lobbied that all future meetings of South-South Cooperation be held there. We'll have more on this.
Sources exclusively tell Inner City Press that John Ashe, whom Inner City Press saw about the UN during General Debate week, was offered an Assistant Secretary General post, for Partnerships, and that a previously scheduled Ban trip to Shanghai will now not happen. “They're hoping it blows over,” one well placed source told Inner City Press. But will it?
At the October 6 noon briefing, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric expressed faux surprise at the number of journalists in the room. He gave the first question to Reuters, which asked a generic softball question; he said new President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft would answer at 3 pm (Ban is going out of town, to Peru).
Inner City Press asked Dujarric to confirm or deny that Ashe gave Ban Ki-moon a document about a proposed UN Macau Conference Center. Dujarric said the UN couldn't find it. Long Periscope video here with these questions near the end.
So Inner City Press asked about another document - a press release by the “South South Awards,” which UN DPI next to Dujarric office sent to UN journalists last week. Isn't that a “non-UN” group? What is its relation with the UN?
After Dujarric emphasized the PGA's office does not report to Ban, Inner City Press asked if Ban after seven years sees a need to more transparency, as one example, who pays the people in the PGA's office? We'll have more on this.
During Ashe's tenure, Inner City Press covered his various failures; the example of an indigenous conference is below. But it's been similar with other PGAs, who travel around the world with little press coverage or accountability, often cutting deals.
There are a number of business groups which use the UN -- one of them was even allowed to sponsor the annual event of Herve Ladsous' UN Peacekeeping -- and get awards, like just last week in an ITU event inside the UN. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is aware, or should be aware, of all of this, but won't even disclose who pays for his trips (Inner City Press and the new Free UN Coalition for Accesshave asked).
Apparently Ashe excused his wheeling and dealing by referring to “South South Cooperation.” While a laudable concept, Inner City Press was struck last week when Ban Ki-moon's UN Spokesperson's office sent out to journalists the news of a non-UN “South South” group at which Ashe had previously appeared. It's a murky world.
Update: an African diplomat, by the UN Security Council after publication of the above, told Inner City Press Ashe taking bribes to pitch a UN Conference Center was "not suprrising." Another said, "They're ruining the UN's name." Ruining?
So is UN corruption a surprise? Hardly. Ashe's indictment, however, and where it leads, bear watching.
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