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In UN Scheme for US Visas, UN Development Program's Role Raises Questions

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

UNITED NATIONS, August 6 -- The UN on Monday confirmed it had lifted the diplomatic immunity of Vyacheslav Manokhin, who used UN Development Program (UNDP) letterhead to ask UNDP's Uzbekistan office to secure visas from the U.S. embassy in that country.

    Mr. Manokhin and two co-defendents were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud with regard to immigration documents; Manukhin's bail was set at $300,000. Click here.

            But what does the case mean? At the UN's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: on this immigration thing.  He was a P-3 and he was a translator, so I wonder, what safeguards does the UN have in place to make sure that anyone that works at any level of the UN isn't perceived by Immigration as a legitimate conveyor of visas?  Can you confirm that the individual arrested is in fact a translator and...?

Associate Spokesperson:  I can confirm that Mr. Manokhin works for the Translation Unit, yes.

Inner City Press: At what levels in the UN system is an individual authorized or known by Immigration officials to be authorized to say, 'Give this person a visa'?  What is the process for the UN to inform Immigration to grant a visa?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don't think I have any specific comments on the details of the ongoing case.  I don’t want to say anything prejudicial to the US Attorney’s case.  At the same level, the US Mission is aware of who is entitled and who is not to deal with matters of immigration.

            This last might imply that the U.S. State Department should have recognized the unauthorized and fraudulent status of the letters stating that the visa-applicants would attend UNDP conferences, including one on legal reform and rehabilitation that is strikingly similar to conferences that UNDP does, in fact, hold.

            But as the criminal complaint makes clear, Manokhin's fake letters on UNDP letterhead, signed as "Leonardo Brackett," did not to the U.S. State Department, but rather to UNDP's Office in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

            A simply search conducted by Inner City Press shows that in UNDP's Uzbekistan office, already under fire for providing computer and tax-collecting help to the torturous Karimov regime, there are fully 21 Uzbek employees, who many say are nominated and provided by the government, and only four international staff. UNDP's head of office, Fikret Akcura, has previously written to Inner City Press that human rights are not part of the UN's Millennium Development Goals. Nor is basic compliance with law, apparently.

UNDP-procured US visas from Uzbekistan not shown

            It is amazing and unexplained that UNDP's personnel in Tashkent could not notice that the letters were fraudulent, that there is no Leonardo Brackett in any UNDP database, and that the  telephone number listed is the UN Secretariat building, not in UNDP's headquarters in the DC-1 building across First Avenue.

            The complaint describes UNDP officials' few attempts to belatedly verify the validity of the letters, by visiting Manokhin's office -- on the 14th floor of the UN Secretariat. From this it is obvious that Mr. Manokhin is not a UNDP employee. Still, months and months went by before the U.S. Department of Justice finally arrested Manokhin.

            The criminal complaint describes the process, and raises questions that UNDP must be made to answer:

Para. 18 --  "Soon after receiving relevant Letters of Request, the UNDP Uzbekistan Office formally requested that the United States Embassy, Tashkent issue Entry Visas..."

Para 35: "I-2 explained to U-3 that U-3 would need to complete a United States visa application form as if U-3 were employed by Uzbeki NGO #1 -- to which, in truth and in fact, U-3 had no connection."

Para 38 "With the letter, [Kamiljan] Tursunov entered the UNDP building. Inside the UNDP building, Tursanov provided the letter, along with his passport, to an official. In return, Tursanov received a document... the passport now contained a United States entry visa."

Para 40: "According to the January 25 [2007] letter, U-14 would be participating in a conference that was to take place at a Manhattan law firm from February 4, 2007 through February 22, 2007 [to] develop programs for rehabilitation of former inmates."

            UNDP does hold conference like this, including at non-UN locations. For example, UNDP recently declined to allow the Press to attending a conference on the "Legal Empowerment of the Poor" which it held, rather than at the UN, at the Harvard Club.

   Or was the meeting held? The criminal complaint should lead to questioning of many of UNDP's conference, and procedures. But on Monday at the UN, only the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General was available for questions (see above), an Office which routinely declines to answer questions about UNDP.

            Who, then, will answer questions about UNDP? Eight days ago, Inner City Press sent to UNDP and its Administrator a set of factual questions, not one of which has since been answered. On this basis, and as further shown by the U.S. v. Manokhin criminal complaint, UNDP is an agency that must be brought under scrutiny and under control. Developing.

* * *

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund, while UNDP won't answer.

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