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As UN Spins Reports of Peacekeepers' Congolese Gold Deals, Who Audits the Auditor, OIOS?

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 28 -- Faced with detailed reporting that it covered up charges of peacekeepers helping with gold trading and even rebel-rearming in the Eastern Congo, the UN on Monday released a three-and-a-half page letter from its peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno. The letter among other things acknowledges that Pakistani peacekeepers provided meals, transport and security to a group of Indian businessmen "engaged in illegal trading of unwrought gold," and that this was conveyed in a "10 July 2007 Note Verbale" to Pakistan.

            This calls into question an on-camera response two months later by MONUC's force commander Major-General Babacar Gaye. On September 6, Gen. Gaye criticized the press for reporting mere allegations of involvement by some MONUC personnel in smuggling, specifically gold smuggling. Inner City Press interjected that there is a report by the Office of Internal Oversight Services, reported on by BBC, that verified the gold smuggling connection. Video here, from Minute 47:08, and see this August 11, 2007 BBC article.

            Gen. Gaye's response was telling: he turned to Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Michele Montas and asked if the OIOS report has been officially released. No, Ms Montas said. Thus assured, Gen. Gaye said for the cameras that the report was given to "the concerned member state" and that if it was not publicly released, "I am not in charge of that." Thus, as long as OIOS does not officially release its reports, the UN can and will deny what is in them. Why then have an Office of Internal Oversight Services? Could it, like the UN Ethics Office is turning out to be, be mostly for show? With OIOS, a previous detailed investigative report calling for action to be taken against UN Pension Fund officials was never acted on, nor has the non-action been explained.

Also on Monday, the UN produced for the press two senior officials, but insisted they not be named. "What's the point, then?" one reporter asked. But the attitude of the two officials is symbolic of the UN's approach. One official, having often said "zero tolerance," admitted that all that happened to a Pakistani peacekeeper who drove gold traders around was to be sent back to Pakistan. Inner City Press asked for confirmation that while the UN has asked Pakistan to disclose if any punishment was imposed, Pakistan has not responded. The official agreed, and said that all the UN could do is to try to publicize the non-response. "So can we quote you on that?" Inner City Press asked. "I'll think about it," the official said. Eight hours later, the demand for anonymity remained in place.

UN's Messenger of Peace with Peacekeepers in Congo: OIOS audit and accountability not shown

            The other official claimed that there is no basis to conclude that an Indian gold trader, flown in to the Congo and driving around in a UN vehicle, is a smuggler. He said that the peacekeeper who drove the gold trader around did so only on his own behalf -- although there was no evidence, the official quickly pointed out, that there was any profit. "If I buy a joint [of marijuana] and smoke it there," he said, gesturing to one side of the UN briefing room, "that does not mean that the UN did it." Inner City Press asked for an update on OIOS' action on the UN General Assembly's call, in the December budget resolution, for a review of the "extraordinary measures" for the Darfur peacekeeping mission, including Lockheed Martin's $250 million no-bid contract with the UN. "The Procurement Task Force is doing that," the official said. We'll see.

            Inner City Press asked if the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services' own audit of its operations, conducted by a consultant paid with UN money, will be released to the public. No, was the answer, just as OIOS chief Inga-Britt Ahlenius told Inner City Press "it is my document." (Ms. Ahlenius did not respond by deadline to an e-mailed request for clarification send after Monday's noon briefing.) But now it's confirmed that it was paid for by UN money. So whose report is it? Ahlenius, meanwhile, told the Washington Post that only those with something to hide try to withhold such information. So what does OIOS have to hide?

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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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