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UN Investigation of UNDP and Diamond Smuggling, Sri Lanka was UNOPS not the World Food Program

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 11 -- As in the UN's basement, moves were afoot to elect Zimbabwe as the chair of the Commission on Sustainable Development, in the briefing room at noon, Inner City Press asked about the Zimbabwe operations of the UN Development Program:

Inner City Press: Thereís a report from Zimbabwe that the Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Larry Johnson, has written a letter confirming that thereís an investigation into UNDP being involved in the smuggling of diamonds from Zimbabwe.  Itís a Secretariat question -- because Larry Johnson -- he was written to, or the Office of Legal Affairs was, and he wrote back and said thereís an investigation and told people to calm down.  This is what the Zimbabwean press reports.  So Iíd like to know:  one, if it's true; and, two, what the Secretariatís role will be in determining the facts of the case.

 Spokesperson:  If there is an investigation, the Secretariat wonít be directly involved.  But, I can verify the facts that you mentioned.

            The UN's day ended on Friday still with no answer; the week came to a close with UNDP not having responded in five days to questions posed to their Communications Office at the beginning of the week. By contrast, the World Food Program answered questions posed Thursday by Inner  City Press on Friday. Just two examples, India and Sri Lanka, from WFP's Asia spokesperson Paul Risley:

#1.   Regarding your first question, I am still awaiting a response from the WFP Representative in New Delhi regarding the Indian newspaper article and its allegations that you forwarded. 

This newspaper article seems to allege that several private companies supplying wheat at government-set prices to WFP India's food production factories (where WFP produces biscuits for Indian schoolchildren) have engaged in unauthorized selling of wheat that had been set aside for WFP purchase;  I will ask my colleagues in New Delhi if they are aware of these allegations, and what impact these alleged actions would or have had on WFP's ability to provide food to our Indian beneficiaries. 

Schoolchild per WFP

#2.   Regarding the Sri Lanka article, WFP Country Director Jeff Taft-Dick was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in his capacity as the acting United Nations Country Team Resident Coordinator at the time, a summons unrelated to WFP operations in Sri Lanka.  The two "UN staff arrested by the LTTE" were national employees of UNOPS working in LTTE-controlled areas.

            And yet UNOPS, the UN Office of Project Services, has said nothing about these detentions. Then again, UNOPS while spending a billion dollars a year does not even have a press spokesman...

            Back at the noon briefing, the Zimbabwe UNDP question was followed-up, video here --

Question:  Just to follow-up on what Matthew was just raising about this diamond scandal, or whatever, investigation I should say.  Whoís heading the investigation?  Is it OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] or is it an internal UNDP thing?

Spokesperson:  I have to check on who is doing that.

Question:  And who called for it in the first place?  Is the Secretary-General getting involved?

Spokesperson:  If itís concerning -- I can check for you -- but if itís concerning diamonds itís most probably come from -- as you know, the Security Council has taken measures about diamonds, so we have to find out where it came from.  Iíll find out for you.

Question:  And a little more of the nature and the terms of reference...

Spokesperson:  I donít know at this point.  As I said to Matthew, I will be looking into this for you and find out.

            Maybe that will be next week. There is much to report and follow-up on, including from the above the question of wheat sales and WFP in India. Click here for Inner City Press' story about Zimbabwe's election as chair of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.

Feedback: Editorial [at] innercitypress.com

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            Copyright 2006 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] innercitypress.com - phone: (718) 716-3540