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UNDP Officials are "Collaborating with Federal Investigators," Romanian Gold Mine Charges Unanswered

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 3 --  On Tuesday, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson if Mr. Ban would withdraw immunity from any UN Development Program official who declined "voluntary" invitation to be deposed at the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York on the North Korea scandal(s).

            The spokesperson replied, "From what I know, they are collaborating with the Federal investigation." Video here, from Minute 10:05. Because it has been reported, first by Inner City Press, that 13 UNDP officials have been summoned "voluntarily" to the SDNY, the spokesperson's answer was interpreted to mean that all 13 will agree to be deposed. We'll see. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: If UNDP officials decline to speak on a voluntary basis with prosecutors about the counterfeit matter at UNDP, would Ban Ki-moon consider lifting immunity?

Spokesperson:  I'm sorry.  Your "if" is a big "if."  From what I know, they're collaborating with federal investigators.  So there are no "ifs" here. If you have further questions about UNDP and the situation of the fake money, then you can talk to David Morrison. And further to your recent questions about the work being done in auditing UN activities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, we have been informed by the Audit Operations Committee of the UN Board of Auditors that last week, the Committee completed the preparatory portion of the DPRK assignment, which was being done here at Headquarters as you know.  A scoping report, which would determine the parameters of what is being audited, is currently being drafted for further consideration by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).  That was in answer to your question yesterday.

Question:  Will that be made public?

Spokesperson:  You have to wait for it to be over first.

            That further questions can be directed to UNDP's David Morrison -- he was not in the briefing, and has not responded to Inner City Press's emailed questions from weeks ago. Beyond North Korea, these questions included a request for UNDP's comment on Greenpeace's and others' assertion that UNDP is supporting a gold mine in Rosia Montana in Romania. Three weeks ago Inner City Press supplied Mr. Morrison and then another UNDP spokesman with a copy of Greenpeace's letter to UNDP's Bratislava director, Ben Slay, and asked for a response. None has been forthcoming.

Here is Greenpeace's letter:

UNDP RBEC Bratislava Regional Center, Director

Grosslingova 35, 811 09 Bratislava, Slovak Republic                                                

In June 2006 UNDP Romania and members of BRC came to Rosia Montana/ Romania. Here Canadian Gabriel Resources wishes to develop Europe's largest open cast cyanide leach gold mine. At Rosia Montana the UN mission met with members of Alburnus Maior, a local NGO which was told that the purpose of this visit was to evaluate for Romania's minister of the Environment development possibilities in the event that the proposed open cast gold was not given the go-ahead. The UNDP website indicates several reports about this UNDP mission that are inaccessible to the public and even written prior the mission's actual visit to Rosia Montana.

It has come to our attention from Hungarian mass-media that Gabriel Resources is interested to form a partnership with UNDP Romania and BRC. Whilst we strongly oppose such partnership which would only tarnish UNDP's reputation, we would for the sake of transparency like to receive concrete answers to the following questions:    

1. Is UNDP-UNEP working on a sustainable development project at Rosia Montana? If yes, what is the nature of this project?

2. According to the Hungarian press (Saturday, 24 February, Nepszabadsag), an UNDP-UNEP team is considering a 20 million USD partnership with Gabriel Resources. Is this accurate?

3. What is negotiated/desired partnership/collaboration between UNDP-UNEP and Gabriel Resources? Is there co-financing involved/ considered? If yes, from whom?

            But these are the type of questions that, in Inner City Press' experience, the current UNDP is most resistant to answering. In the three weeks since Inner City Press posed the above and other questions to UNDP, without response, it has been reported that

House Speaker Barbara Prammer presented an award to CEO-President of Gabriel Resources, Alan Hill, on March 27.... the mine plans to use an environmentally hazardous cyanide leaching technology to extract at least 330 tonnes of gold and 1,600 tonnes of silver. The project has triggered strong protest among Hungarians who keenly remember that another Romanian gold mine using a similar technology near Baia Mare in NW Romania caused an environmental disaster, wiping out wildlife along Hungary's eastern waterways in 2000. Speaking over the phone at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Germany, [Hungary's Foreign Affairs Spokesman Viktor] Polgar said that the honor had been proposed by the Romanian Meridian trade union along with the UN's development agency UNDP and forwarded by Austria's GPA-DJP trade union to the country's parliament. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry will request details about the issue from the Austrian ambassador to Hungary early next week, Polgar said, adding that the ministry hoped the award would be retracted.

            If the award is retracted, it will not have been with UNDP's help. There are other UNDP mining forays, from Zimbabwe to Haiti. To be continued.

    Again, because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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Senior UNDP Officials Summoned to Southern District of NY in N. Korea Case

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 28 -- Alongside the delayed "urgent audit" by the UN Board of Auditors of the UN Development Program's payment of hard currency in North Korea, there is a criminal investigation of senior UNDP officials.

  Inner City Press has learned that 13 UNDP officials have been invited to appear at the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York for questions about, among other things, their awareness of UNDP's acceptance and concealing of counterfeit bills in North Korea.

  Among the invited are said to be UNDP finance director Darshak Shah, the head of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, Hafiz Pasha, UNDP trust fund controller Bruce Jenks, Julie Anne Mejia, and UNDP finance chief Darshak Shah. Among the topics is who knew what, when. Most of the invited individuals -- and several individuals yet to be invited -- are known to have received warnings of irregularities in UNDP's programs in North Korea and elsewhere, long before the problems were inquired into by letters from the U.S. Mission. These began with a November 17, 2006, letter to UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis from the U.S. Ambassador for UN Management and Reform, Mark D. Wallace. While the current process is described as voluntary, if declined the next step would be a request to the UN to have the officials' immunity lifted.

            The prosecutors have yet to invite the top two in UNDP, Kemal Dervis and Ad Melkert. While decried by knowledgeable sources as spin, some inside UNDP opine that, channeling Machiavelli, Dervis is hoping that the investigation provides him with a pretext to fire or clear out senior staff whom he inherited from previous Administrator Mark Malloch Brown. The danger in Dervis' strategy, these sources say, is that while Dervis directed Ad Melkert and even chief of staff Tengegnwork Gettu to sign most of the letters responding to U.S. Ambassador Wallace's questions, Dervis himself made representations about purported lack of knowledge or responsibility, including at a meeting held on December 22. UNDP sources recount to Inner City Press a more recent, and more heated, meeting between Amb. Wallace and Dervis. We aim to have more on this.

Kemal Dervis: show me the money (but is it counterfeit?)

   In earlier meetings with the U.S. Mission, finance chief Darshak Shah was asked about topics including the counterfeit (how much and when did he know), and Mr. Shah responded with denials which are now being more fully weighed.

            The issues inquired into implicate not only current but also past UNDP officials, and provide a roadmap of the various clans or "families" in UNDP. For example, the current head of UNDP's Regional Bureau for Africa, Gilbert Houngbo, served as financial overseer during much of the time at issue.  Mr. Houngbo is described as a right hand man of Mark Malloch Brown, and close associate of Bruce Jenks. Houngo had been Malloch Brown's chief of staff but could not keep that position as Kemal Dervis came in. So Malloch Brown arranged for Houngbo to be named head of the Regional Bureau for Africa. But Houngbo's counterfeit knowledge travels with him, from one floor to another in UNDP's First Avenue headquarters building.

            Another UNDP power at that time has since left the agency, to head the UN Office of Project Services: Jan Mattsson. As Inner City Press reported earlier today, Mattsson has this month threatened the "severest disciplinary action" against any individuals who share whistle-blowing information with the press. Click here for that story. On Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Ambassador Mark D. Wallace provided this on-the-record comment to Inner City Press: "The U.S. strongly supports real whistleblower protection.  Too often we have seen the UN bureaucracy hunker down to protect itself from criticism rather than taking the real steps to reform itself.  The US stands by any legitimate and truthful whistleblower and calls on all UN entities to take steps to ensure their protection."

            We aim shortly to have more on UNDP's reactions in the face of the audit and the criminal investigation.

            UNDP's Administrator Kemal Dervis, spokesman David Morrison, and North Korea Resident Coordinator Timo Pakkala were each asked, days ago and without answer, questions including about the particularly batch of counterfeit currency, from "an Egyptian" whom has thus far been left unnamed by UNDP, which purportedly "remained in a safe at the UNDP  office until last month when the head of the North Korea office recalled that  the bills were there during a visit to UNDP headquarters in New York." Inner City Press asked the three:

How long did Mr. Pakkala, the head of the North Korea office, have access to the safe? Why was it only in February that it was "recalled" that the bills were in the safe?

What is the name of the referenced "Egyptian"?

Confirm or deny (and if confirm, explain) any recent suspension by UNDP --  which Mr. Morrison was directly asked about last week outside room 226, when he answered that he was unaware of any such suspension and has yet to seek to amend or supplement his answer.

            We will have more on UNDP's reactions and actions, including against staff, in the face of the delayed "urgent audit" and the widening criminal investigation. One of the way it may widen is based on the recognition that the half-dozen UN operations managers in North Korean during the time at issue came not only from UNDP, but also from UNFPA, UNICEF, OCHA and the World Health Organization, which has acknowledged to Inner City Press being the pass-through for separate funds from South Korean to North Korea. Developing.

On UNDP Audit's 7th Day, Questions of Two Sets of Books and Prejudged Outcome

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 26 -- One week now into the delayed "urgent audit" ordered by Ban Ki-moon on January 19, sources point out recent changes in the financial books of the UN Development Program concerning spending in North Korea in 2006. In one set of books, the figure is $4,569,000. In another, more recent or "beta" set of books, the figure is $3,279,000. This second set of book is called "Executive Snap 4.0 Beta."

            The modifications are attributed by sources to the Director of UNDP's Office of Finance, Darshak Shah, and UNDP's trust fund meister Bruce Jenks. While what explains the $1,291,000 difference is not yet clear, this switch may explain the extraordinary gun-jumping comments to Sunday's Chicago Tribune by UNDP's spokesman David Morrison.

  Morrison wrote, "The audit began last week at UNDP headquarters in New York. UNDP welcomed this audit, it is doing everything it can to facilitate it, and it looks forward to the findings -- which we are confident will flatly contradict the assertions in" the Chicago Tribune and by implication elsewhere. Monday's AP picked up on the UNDP counterfeit story, quoting Morrison that the counterfeit bills "remained in a safe at the UNDP office until last month when the head of the North Korea office recalled that the bills were there during a visit to UNDP headquarters in New York." But what of the 22 months that this head of office, Timo Pakkala, had the keys to the safe? Did he never open it? UNDP's spokesman was seen earlier Monday trying to spin invited media, while ignoring questions about improper hiring, click here for that story.

   The audit began on March 19, a full two months after Ban Ki-moon called for it. Why did the UN Board of Auditors wait so long to begin the audit, and now a week in still not even have specific terms of reference?

   How can the audit proceed without access to those with first-hand knowledge?  

 These questions will be explored in coming days.

  In addition to the $4.6 million in reported 2006 spending in North Korea, in UNDP's first set of books there are additional expenditures characterized as "Thematic Trust Funds Expenditure" and plain "Trust Fund Expenditure," raising the 2006 total to $7 million, quite different from the number UNDP presented to its Executive Board in January 2007.

UNDP's Atlas: danger ahead

    At Monday's UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked to question UNDP Associate Administrator (and self-described managing director) Ad Melkert in person before or after he met with Deputy Secretary General Migiro at 3:15 p.m.. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: And the other thing is: I noticed on the Deputy Secretary-General's meeting with Ad Melkert of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) this afternoon... I guess I want to know the purpose of that, and whether we could speak to either or both of them before or after, given the North Korea-UNDP situation, and we also have a question for the UNDP about some hiring by Mr. Melkert.  So, it would be very timely if you could at least put in a request for a brief stakeout.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure.

            As usual with UNDP, the silence was and is deafening.  It was never explained why UNDP's Bureau of Management's Akiko Yuge was sent out of town for the two weeks that auditors would be working in New York; now sources say Ms. Yuge and others have been summoned back. We will have yet more on UNDP immanently.

On 4th Day of N. Korea Audit, UNDP Spins From Leaked Minutes

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 22 -- As the delayed "urgent audit" of the UN Development Program's operations in North Korea went into its fourth day, UNDP spokesman David Morrison dismissed the leaked minutes of a meeting of UN Operation Management Team in North Korea, which specifically asked that cash payments in hard currency stop. "We are clear on the record that we don't deal in cash," Mr. Morrison said.

            Minutes of a December 8, 2005 meeting in Pyongyang involving local officials of UNDP and five other UN agencies clearly stated that "CASH payments should be eliminated." Click here to view. While in the online version of the minutes, the names of meeting participants were whited-out, Inner City Press today in this article, below, publishes the names of operations managers. All of these individuals, each of whom, unlike spokesman David Morrison, has direct knowledge of UN practices in North Korea, has yet to be interviewed by the UN Board of Auditors.

   Meanwhile, for two weeks after UNDP ostensibly ordered the suspension of its operations in North Korea, staff members seconded by the Kim Jong Il government were still allowed access to the computer files and ATLAS financial records needed for the audit. As acknowledged Thursday by UNDP's Morrison, four such seconded staff still have access to UNDP's computer system. These include ostensible drivers, who according to published reporters cash checks into hard currency, so such access may be hard to defend. Concerns about destruction of and tampering with evidence have been raised to the agencies and to the auditors. The response has been retaliation.

Dervis: 1st of 2 press conferences in 19 months

            Since UNDP sent its spokesman David Morrison to the UN's televised noon briefing on Thursday, Inner City Press asked that he take questions on camera. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: I noticed the Spokesman for UNDP is here and I'm assuming this is about these memos that have surfaced showing that requests were made earlier than previously recorded about cash payments and seconded staff.  Is he going to come to the podium?

Spokesperson:  I understand that we do have Dave Morrison here and he is willing to take questions.  I actually don't know whether he is coming to the podium but we do have a guest first.  So, maybe you can talk to him immediately after the briefing....

...Inner City Press: I guess I just want to say on the UNDP thing, it will work much better that Morrison come to the podium, whatever we're calling it, just because on procurement, I know that you did... by Friday, they came, but they did it in the hall and today they’re coming back.  So it just seems it’s just more efficient to just do it on the record or whatever.

Spokesperson:  Okay, well let's ask him after we finish.

            Despite a second request, David Morrison declined to speak on camera, but rather waited in the hall. At 1 p.m., Inner City Press asked him if UNDP fires or suspends staff for providing documents to the press. Mr. Morrison responded, "I don't know, I don't know enough about the intricacies of UNDP's human resources policy.... I can look into it." Ten hours later, no information had been provided.

   During those ten hours, UNDP management continued on what staff describe as a "witch hunt," demanding to know who has spoken to the media, to Inner City Press, by name. Ban Ki-moon has spoken of transparency and of rooting out corruption. Suspending and threatening to retaliate against those who blow the whistle on irregularities is inconsistent with this -- it is "criminal," in the words of one UNDP staff member.

            The local UN staff in North Korea raised their concerns about cash payments and seconded staff to the UN's Resident Coordinator Timo Pakkala in January 2006.  Thursday Inner City Press asked David Morrison how and when this information was conveyed further up inside UNDP. "I don't know what is our standard procedure with minutes of country team meetings," he said. "Can we find out?" There was no answer. Meanwhile, the practice is that minutes of country team meetings go to Regional Directors of each UN Country Team member -- in the case of UNDP, to Hafiz Pasha.

            Inner City Press is told that the warning was conveyed to officials including UNDP Director of Finance Darshak Shah, to Treasurer Julie Anne Mejia and to Jan Mattsson, the head then of UNDP's Bureau of Management and now the Executive Director of UNOPS. Thursday, Inner City Press asked again that UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis take questions. Morrison said that he is the spokesman, and that "Kemal Dervis, as I think is established, meets with the press on a very regular basis."

  At UN headquarters, Dervis last took questions in December 2006, before this North Korea scandal broke, and before that not for sixteen months. Even to the UNDP Executive Board session about the North Korea issues, Dervis did not appear. Sources say that Dervis will not last long on the job. But the scandal will not go away.

The attendees of the December 8, 2005 meeting in Pyongyang, calling for reform: Wannee Piyabongkarm (WFP); Lorraine Lamtey (WFP); Tony Shkurtaj (UNDP), Charles Lolika (UNICEF); Toe oung (WFP); Umesh Gupta (WHO); Withers U (UNFPA).


Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service.

            Copyright 2006 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] -

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540