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Prequel to UN Scandal, Lui Bought Photos With Ban Just As UNCA Sold Him

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 10 -- As the scandal unveiled in the corruption charges against former UN General Assembly President John Ashe, Francis Lorenzo of South South News and others continues to expand, UN apologists have tried to portray Ashe's detailed corruption of the UN system on behalf of business interests who paid him as a one-off. But it has been going on for the past several years, without Ashe.

  As detailed below, for example, South South News made payments to the UN Correspondents Association, which then "delivered" Ban Ki-moon for photo ops with its businessmen. (Ironically, UNCA Executive Committee minutes after the delivery complained, disingenuously, that "some of the Asian guests were quite aggressive getting photos with the SG... congratulate Giampaolo for his hard work.")

  Photo ops with Ban Ki-moon and his top officials have been similarly available throughout his tenure. Back in 2009 Inner City Press reported on businessman Frank Liu (here with General, ICP story, photo), who paid over $100,000 for a concert for UN Peacekeeping:

"Ban's pre-concert photo op, it emerged, had initially had three phases: artists, member states then sponsor. The last was officially cut out. But witnesses at the photo op, with the exception of the UN's organizer, tell Inner City Press that sponsor Frank Liu of the World Harmony Foundation and six of his associates still managed to get access. In the green room behind the General Assembly rostrum, Inner City Press spoke with Frank Liu. He complained about being excluded. They come and ask you for money, he said, and then this. Without apparent irony, he said that he perhaps shared Inner City Press' desire to 'reform the UN.'"  See UN letter leaked to Inner City Press, here.

  Likewise, Ban's first Deputy SG Migiro gave awards, like here; UN official Vijay Nambiar was produced for a similarly funded drumming event in the UN General Assembly Lobby, on which Inner City Press reported and dug into, here.

UNGA lobby, sponsors of African "Drums" event, (c) M. Lee

  Throughout all this, the compromised position of the UN Correspondents Association has come to the fore.

   While UNCA does not represent all journalists accredited to cover the UN -- Inner City Press for example quit the group in 2012 with another Executive Committee member and co-founded the new Free UN Coalition for Access -- the UN gives it a privileged position, a large clubhouse on the third floor of the UN and, automatically, the first question at press conferences.

  But is that appropriate, given that UNCA received money from South South News, “NGO 1” in the filing against Ashe? Not only did UNCA receive money from South South News: it gave the group an “UNCA award” at a ceremony at the high-ceilinged Cipriani's restaurant on December 15, 2011.

  Inner City Press, which did not quit UNCA in fully ripened disgust in 2012, was present on December 15, 2011 and witnessed, when Secretary General Ban Ki-moon came into Cipriani's, him being shepherded into a side room for photographs with Asian men in business suits who Inner City Press did not then recognize.

  Shepherding Ban for this (compensated) photo op with dubious businessmen was Giampaolo Pioli, then as now the president of UNCA. South South News interviewed Pioli that night, bragging of the UNCA award it got / paid for, screenshot from video here.

    (For context it must be noted too that Pioli rented one of his Manhattan apartments to Palitha Kohona then granted Kohona's request as Sri Lanka's Ambassador to screen his government's war crimes denial film “Lies Agreed To” in the UN's Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium: this precipitated Inner City Press quitting UNCA, in full disclosure.)

   How can UNCA be given first questions to ask about a scandal involving South South News, from which UNCA took more then to which it gave an award? And what are the other implications?

  (In terms of Mr. Ng's desire for photo ops, Inner City Press is informed that he separately wanted a photo with US President Obama, and paid six figures to a middleman - who disappeared with the money. UNCA on the other hand, one wag noted, delivered Ban Ki-moon for photos at Cipriani's.)

  UNCA, it should be noted, has been and is open to business interested beyond Mr. Ng and South South News. Another UNCA awards ceremony was sponsored by a company called “Acoona;” the Italian oil company ENI pays the group money.

But UNCA's South South News connection, given what has been disclosed and charged this week, should at a minimum and as a first step disqualify UNCA from first questions from the UN, and from the continuation of its role.

Wider, and going forward in this series, limiting UN investigation to OIOS - whose director of investigations Stefanovic has resigned, Inner City Press hereby exclusively reported on October 9 - looking at only two NGOs is laughable. The scandal is expanding: there is a pattern here, pattern and practice. Watch this site.


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