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UN Envoy Robert Serry Moving Now to Reimburse Free Housing from Dutch Government, in Herfkens Scandal Fall-Out

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 6, updated March 7 -- The UN's new envoy to the Middle East, Robert H. Serry, has run afoul of UN rules barring the receipt of housing subsidies from government. The Dutch government's continued provision of housing to Serry only came to light after UN Development Program official Eveline Herfkens was exposed as accepting $7000 a month from the Netherlands while drawing a salary to head the UN's Millennium Campaign. In the aftermath, it was revealed that at least one other Dutch staffer of an international organization had their housing subsidy suspended, while another was being reviewed as to the legality of the benefit received.

            On February 26, Inner City Press asked the office of the UN spokesperson if this official being reviewed was Robert Serry, and if so what was being done about it.  After Inner City Press made several follow-up inquiries, about Serry and another Dutch UN official, late on March 5 the Deputy Spokesperson of the UN Marie Okabe replied that

"Since Mr. Serry joined UNSCO on 1 January 2008 as Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process, at the invitation of the Dutch government, Mr. Serry's family members have been residing in the Dutch Ambassador's residence in Ireland at no cost, since the building is being sold and is no longer earmarked for the incoming successor. However, an arrangement is being made to enable Mr. Serry to reimburse the Dutch government of the fair and reasonable monthly rent value for the period between 1 January through 30 June 2008."

            It's notable that the arrangements for reimbursement are still being made more than two months into the situation, and only after scrutiny of Eveline Herfkens' improper receipt of free housing and the Dutch government's statement that it offered the benefit to Ms. Herfkens without her asking for it.

Robert Serry welcomed into UN by Ban Ki-moon, Dec. 7, 2007, housing subsidy not shown

While this may be a case of better late than never, it raises questions whether other governments are improperly providing similar benefits, and are either hoping not to be found out, or are now scrabbling to "make arrangements" for reimbursement. On that, despite the fact that a low-income woman in Brooklyn was prosecuted and jailed for erroneous receipt and spending of UN money, Ms. Herfkens is not reimbursing any of the housing subsidy that she received. Click here for that story.

Footnote: on February 26, Inner City Press asked Mr. Serry if as UN Middle East envoy he thought it might be a conflict of interest for Quartet envoy Tony Blair to be receiving $1 million a year from JPMorgan Chase. "I will not comment on that," Serry said. If there is a comment on this, going forward, we will report it Watch this site.

Update of March 7: beyond Tony Blair taking on yet another gig, we have received a follow-up on Mr. Serry, from the UN's Spokesperson's Office, which we'll run in full:

Subj: serry 
From: Deputy Spokesperson [at]
To: Inner City Press
CC: Spokesperson [at]
 Date: 3/7/2008 12:20:05 PM Eastern Standard Time

With the respect to the previous response provided to Inner City Press regarding a question about the UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process, we would like to provide the following additional information that puts the situation in its proper perspective and clarifies that it was Mr. Serry himself who took the initiative to request guidance from the United Nations and to move to address the situation in a way that is consistent with UN regulations:

   1) At the request of the Secretary-General, Mr. Serry agreed to take up his duties as the Special Coordinator shortly after his selection. Given the rapidity of his deployment, Mr. Serry agreed with his family that it was best for them to remain in Dublin while his son finished the school year and to transfer their household in an orderly fashion which they are now in the process of doing.

   ii) Mr. Serry informed UNHQ of the decision to allow his son to finish the school year in Dublin and sought guidance vis a vis any requirements regarding his family's living arrangements in Dublin.

   iii) Upon receiving guidance to pay rent for the Dublin accommodation, Mr. Serry informed the Dutch Government and has agreed to pay a reasonable and fair rent.

We'll have more on all this.

* * *

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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