UN's Top Lawyer Declines to
Subsidy, Insurance or Settlements, Liberia Crash Fallout
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
the UN: News Analysis
UNITED NATIONS, March 27 -- As
chief lawyer Nicolas Michel purported to take questions from the press
Wednesday about the UN's Lebanon tribunal, behind the scenes he
answer questions not only about the housing
subsidies he took from the Swiss
government, but also about the UN-affiliated
Cambodian genocide tribunal, his
office's role in reviewing charges of UN Development Program
diamond mining and smuggling in Zimbabwe, and how the UN and his office
legal claims against the UN. While Ban
Ki-moon's spokesperson said publicly that Michel is "very open about
issues," when faced with written questions from Inner City Press, Mr.
Michel has said that henceforth all inquiries should go through the
spokesperson's office. Wednesday at Michel's briefing, during which
it was television Mr. Michel purposed to go off the record, click here to view, the spokesperson declined to call on
Inner City Press to ask a question. Very open, indeed...
the freeze out of the press, the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar repeated and
report that Michel's receipt of housing subsidy from the Swiss
throughout 2006 was omitted from his public financial disclosure form.
Inner City Press, Al Akhbar concluded with a question in the nature of
editorial, asking why Switzerland would be paying, if not to seek some
influence? Reportedly, Al Akhbar's story is viewed as damaging the
of Nicolas Michel, and perhaps by implication the tribunal, in Lebanon.
Michel's response was not to finally disclose how much subsidy he took
Swiss, but rather to refuse to answer any further questions and to
last transmission "off
the record." Inner City Press is respecting
but noting that request, from the UN's top lawyer.
the questions still lacking answers are how much Michel received in
subsidy from the Swiss government, and for how long.
Of even since-discredited Evelyn Herfkens,
formerly of the UN Development Program, it is known that she received
(She is being asked to return the subsidy.) Herfkens found an
from the UN, from $7000 a month, while Michel has said he couldn't find
anything in Manhattan for less than $20,000, due to size of family and,
apparently, taste. But how much did he end up taking from the Swiss
to live in suburban Westchester? At first he said he couldn't find or
have access to the records. Now he says he will answer no more direct
Nicolas Michel on Thursday: off the record?
the UN so often claims immunity, denying the jurisdiction of national
over its actions, a lack of transparency by its chief legal official is
particularly troubling. On a simple
legal issue, Inner City Press asked Nicolas Michel "how are settlements paid out by UN
peacekeeping missions? I asked at the noon briefing a report from
The spokesperson said that
arrangements are made by each peacekeeping mission, on a case by case
But is OLA involved in the payment of settlements (and presumably the
of releases)? How does immunity impact this?"
unhappy with the coverage
of the housing subsidy he took from the Swiss, Mr.
Michel refused to answer this question, even the thematic part, about
Rather, Inner City Press had to await a non-thematic (but nonetheless
appreciated) answer from Monrovia from an UNMIL spokesman, that
this is what I can give you now:
Q:Was there an accident Nov 29 2007 involving
Q: Does UNMIL acknowledge its role and is it
seeking to pay a settlement
A: UNMIL has acknowledged its role and accepted
the outcome of an investigation
by LNP and UNMIL investigators.
Q: How much was determined to be paid and from
which funding would it be paid?
A: UNMIL's insurers in Monrovia (Secure
Risks) are dealing with the
claim, according to the laws of Liberia.
So -- UNMIL has
this will pay the victims of an UNMIL crash. At times, as will shortly
apparent, the UN does not even insure its own workers.
on the UNMIL helicopter crash and any payments made in connection with
A: As has been discussed here in UNMIL press
briefings, the cause of the crash
was determined to be accidental. We have no details of any payment
have been made as the helicopter and the pilots who died were working
Ukrainian company contracted through UN HQ.
is to say, the question cannot be answered from the field, only through
in New York. But here in New York, spokespeople say questions can only
answered from the field, and delay for days providing the most simple
To be fair to Nicolas Michel, we note
two analogous things, that Mr. Michel is not the only UN official
about whom the spokesperson leaves unanswered. Earliest this week,
Press asked if new Sports and Development envoy Lemke is still an
official in Germany. Information was promised, but none was provided.
Inner City Press contacted the Germany mission to the UN, which replied
the moment, Mr. Lemke is a member of the government of the German
of Bremen. He was, however, appointed by the Secretary-General to his
on the understanding that he will resign from his post in Bremen. He
course tender his resignation to the Bremen parliament before he
new post in Geneva, which will both happen after his visit to New York."
also to be fair to Nicolas Michel, two UN officials who has chosen to
disclosure confidentiality are the UN
Mission in Kosovo's Joachim
Rucker -- whether this lack of
disclosure would weigh
against rumored consideration for Department of Management is not known
the Department of Peacekeeping Operation's Dmitri Titov,
now the "Rule of
be the lawyer advocating for a lawless organization...
* * *
These reports are
usually also available through
News and on Lexis-Nexis.
here for a
AlertNet piece by this correspondent
about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army.
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
UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA
Reporter's mobile (and weekends):
earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available
in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.
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