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In Ban's UN, Whistleblower Attacked by UNDP, Placed Among the Crazies

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 6 -- In an effort to cut short or divert from the slow but ongoing investigation of the UN Development Program, UNDP's spokesman David Morrison on Friday appeared at Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson's noon press briefing in order to dismiss its former chief of operation and security in North Korea, who has charged UNDP with wrongdoing, as a mere short-time consultant, and to deny it has retaliated against him.

            But in response to questions from Inner City Press, Mr. Morrison acknowledged that it was UNDP who told security guards in not only its headquarters building but also in the UN's landmark glass-faced building not to allow in the whistleblower, who was named for the first time last Friday, in the New York Times: Tony Shkurtaj.

            Morrison said that because Shkurtaj's "short term" contract expired in March, but his pass to enter the UN extended to July 1, UNDP informed UN Security to add Shkurtaj's photo to the array of individuals, including alleged terrorists and "crazies," not to be let into the UN. Video here, from Minute 23:44 to 27:15.

    UNDP's authority to block access to the Secretariat building is unclear, as is the veracity or repercussions of the alleged contract - grounds pass discrepancy. Asked by Inner City Press if UNDP has ever before made such a notification, Morrison said he didn't know. Eight hours later, no other examples had been provided.

            In an attempt to claim that Shkurtaj's warnings, about the use of hard currency, counterfeit and domination by Kim Jong-il's government, were listened to, Morrison stated that earlier this year, Shkurtaj met with UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis. But the retaliation followed, and even intensified after that meeting.

Mr. Ban and Mr. Dervis, July 5, 2007, whistleblower not shown

            While Morrison tried to say that Shkurtaj refused to cooperate with UNDP's own investigation, Inner City Press has seen a June 5 e-mail in which UNDP's auditor Antoine Khoury informed Shkurtaj, "we cannot accept to have a representative from the Staff Council present at this meeting" with you. It should be noted that the Board of Auditors allowed UNDP Staff Council to be present during their interview with Shkurtaj.

    As it turns out, Khoury was responsible for the audits of UNDP in North Korea in 2001 and 2004, which failed to disclose among other things the counterfeit currency in UNDP's safe, and payments in hard currency in UNDP's program.

            The Staff Council wrote, in a June 15, 2007, letter, that "we do not believe it is appropriate to characterize you as a short term consultant, while your responsibilities included managing the operations of the DPRK office including the authorization of disbursement of funds on behalf of UNDP and other agencies -- being core functions performed by core staff."

    [The wider Staff Union's talk with Mr. Ban on whistleblower's' topics will be covered by Inner City Press immanently.]

            Also contrary to Morrison's characterization of Shkurtaj as a "short term consultant" is a message that Shkurtaj sent on Friday morning to Morrison and other UNDP representatives, including Associate Administrator Ad Melkert and Asia and Pacific operations official David Lockwood, that

"My index number is [   ]. Run it thru ATLAS HR and IMIS, and you will find that I was not a 'Short-Term Consultant.' UNDP still owns me the Pension Contributions for 2006. Check your internal documents in Comptrollers/Treasurer office and you will see that the following statement still standing in UNDPís website is a slander attempt and yet another retaliation. Be professional and don't become ridiculous on these statements otherwise if I was a 'short term consultant' awarded all the authorities that I had and all checks I signed and the diplomas paid by UNDP during the assignment, some of you have to resign immediately for allowing that to happen."

            At Friday's press conference, Inner City Press asked Morrison about several other recent demotions within UNDP, including of the head of budgets, Jocelline Bazile-Finley. When Inner City Press asked Kemal Dervis about this demotion, Dervis replied, "I am not going to answer any of your questions."  Morrison on Friday said that people change jobs all the time, and said he had no awareness of the UNDP's hiring of any new information technology contractor. 

            Rather than answer Inner City Press' direct question of whether he denies that UNDP legal officers James Provenzano and Peri Johnson told Shkurtaj that he would have to leave the country, Morrison said he had already answered this question. But what was the answer? UNDP has refused to answer Inner City Press written questions for months, including for example a June 18 question, referred by Ban Ki-moon's Spokesperson's Office of whether UNDP has funded the police or security forces of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia.

            Asked for an update on the previously discussed controversy surround UNDP's support for a diamond mine in Zimbabwe --  the allegation is that UNDP was involved in diamond smuggling -- Morrison Friday provided no update. He said he could not provide any update on Ad Melkert's (and Kemal Dervis') previously claims that UNDP would begin making copies of audits available to member states, at least those on UNDP's Executive Board. We've been busy with DPR Korea, Morrison said.       

            But on this, when Inner City Press asked Morrison about reports that UNDPs' David Lockwood told Shkurtaj that if he kept quiet, another UNDP job could be arranged, Morrison replied that he had just "run into David Lockwood," who said that he had never spoken with or laid eyes on Shkurtaj until December 2006. But in Shkurtaj's job, as verified by the UNDP Staff Council, Lockwood was Shkurtaj's direct supervisor, and, according to Shkurtaj, signed his appointment.

    While Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Michele Montas, when asked by Inner City Press for Mr. Ban's views on UNDP's actions, said that Mr. Ban has discussed this with senior advisors and is taking care of it, what this means remains unclear. Meanwhile, UNDP's actions send the message to others in the agency, do not speak, or face the photo array and more.

            Inner City Press asked Morrison if he denies Shkurtaj's statement, made to the UN Ethics Office, that "on 19 January 2007 -- the same day as the Secretary-General ordered an inquiry into allegations of wrongdoing by UNDP in North Korea, UNDP Associate Administrator Ad Melkert informed a colleague that he suspected that I may have shared information [and] ordered that my access to ATLAS be terminated, and that my contract be allowed to expire as of the end of March 2007."

            After some equivocation, Morrison denied this. Video here, from Minute 35:08, for the record, on camera. We'll continue on this.

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

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