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On W. Sahara, ICP Asked Ban's Goal for Trip, Spox Says Humanitarian

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 26 -- When will UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon go to Western Sahara? He was supposed to go in November 2015 but he canceled it, thinking he could get more political - read, RoK electoral -- play by going to North Korea. But then North Korea turned him down.

  On February 25, after three days reporting on the UN from outside after Ban's head of Communications Cristina Gallach threw Inner City Press out without due process (petition here; weird pro Morocco spin on the ouster, here), Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here:

Inner City Press: It seems that Mr. [Christopher] Ross is in the region around Western Sahara.  Can you say what he's going… is it in preparation of a Ban Ki-moon trip?  And if there's any comment on Morocco breaking relations with the… various EU [European Union] institutions due to a court ruling that a trade deal that included Western Sahara was, in fact, illegal?

Spokesman Dujarric:  No on your second part.  I do understand Mr. Ross is traveling in the region.  We may have an announcement on travel, maybe something tomorrow.

 And on February 26, Dujarric announced a Ban Ki-moon trip to Algeria, Tindouf and Western Sahara. Inner City Press then asked Dujarric to describe Ban's goals for the trip: the long promised referendum?

  Humanitarian, Dujarric said. What? We'll have more on this.
  We'll see. When UN President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft announced a trip this week to Europe and Morocco, on the issue of who is paying, which Inner City Press has asked both him and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Lykketoft's press release said:

“Mr. Lykketoft’s visit to Morocco is at the invitation of the Government of Morocco and travel and accommodation in Brussels and Stockholm are paid for by the Office of the President of the General Assembly's Trust Fund.”

  This seemed an indirect way of saying that the Government of Morocco is paying for travel to and accommodation in the country. (Lykketoft's office, after an Inner City Press, has yet to confirm or explain this.)

   Lykketoft's press release, sent out at midnight on Sunday, says the trip relates among other things to human rights. So Inner City Press has also asked the four spokespeople for the Office of the PGA, to “state if the human rights issues of Western Sahara, for example, will be raised by the PGA.”

   It would seem that it should -- this issue was taken up only last week in the UN Security Council, and the status of Western Sahara is a major issue in the General Assembly's Fourth (Decolonization) Committee.

 But why then take the funding for the trip from the Government of Morocco, which opposes the referendum on independence which the UN is supposed to have held for decades?

   In this context, citing COP 22 can be viewed as a cop-out. Lykketoft's midnight press release also said, “Mr. Lykketoft will be accompanied on the trip to Brussels by Chef de Cabinet H.E. Tomas Anker Christensen, and Senior Adviser Pierre-Christophe Chatzisavas. He will be also joined by Political Director Kamal Amakrane in Morocco.”

  We wish to state that while the still genial Kamal Amakrane is, proudly, Moroccan, he has come up through the UN system and never worked for the Moroccan mission. Lykketoft's press office never answered Inner City Press' questions.

  With all due respect, the genial  Kamal Amakrane is, himself, from Morocco - he did not, however, work at Morocco's mission. Lykketoft's spokespeople have yet to provide the Press requested list of who in his Office is "seconded" and who is paid by the UN.

   Particularly as the bribery case against former PGA John Ashe proceeds, with two guilty pleas and also indicted former Dominican Republic Deputy Permanent Representative (and South South News executive) Francis Lorenzo found to NOT have immunity, taking Moroccon government funding for a trip to Morocco with a Morocco-provided staffer, particularly (but not only) if not addressing the obvious issue of Western Sahara, seems ill-advised. We'll have more on this.

  Why is this not covered more? Well, Lorenzo's (and also indicted Ng Lap Seng's) South South News gave tens of thousands of dollars to the UN Correspondents Association - where Lykketoft at least early in his term held his “press” events, and which more recently got the Office of the UN Spokesperson to throw the Press out of the UN Press Briefing Room, amid these corruption questions. We'll have more on this, too.

  There are other UNanswered questions.

Since Mogens Lykketoft took over as UN President of the General Assembly, Inner City Press has asked him about Denmark: Danish former PM Helle Thorning Schmidt using his office if not him to campaign to head UNHCR, and funds from Denmark and others. Now, Inner City Press has asked Lykketoft's office about his comments about Denmark, so far without answer.

  On the morning of January 29, Inner City Press asked Lykketoft's two spokespeople:

“This is a request for quick comment on what PGA Lykketoft has been quoted as saying about Denmark (see below). Among other things, can you explain the use of (UN) background, and how the PGA intends to use his platform at the UN with regard to Denmark's reputation.”

  But there has been no answer. Inner City Press' sources have provided this loose summary:

“A tired and sad Lykketoft explains that his choice of words in his private birthday party speech were not for public consumption. He did not plan the leak. He understands that people in Denmark have attacked his choice of words. He spoke with humor and did *not* make any implied allegations of wrongdoing. He did not imagine that some of his guests would forward his speech to the press.

“But he is very sad about the state of Denmark, and he is sad that the former government could not prevent the liberals and Løkke getting into power. He stresses that is not happy at all of what is said abroad about Denmark for the moment. This is much more serious. This has damaged Denmark's reputation.We have a common obligation to minimize the damages. He will do it from his platform in the UN.”

  Inner City Press' questions, in part, about about this use of the UN platform. We'll have more on this.

Two weeks after UN President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft said that in the wake of the indictment of his predecessor John Ashe he would be more transparent, on November 17 Inner City Press asked Lykketoft's spokesperson for basic disclosures: of Lykketoft's daily schedule, and of what gratuities he receives, including free tickets to events others are paying for, sometimes substantially paying for. Video here, and embedded below.

  Lykketoft's spokesperson said he was not disclosing his daily schedule due to concerns raised by his security detail. But these are from the UN Department of Safety and Security, the same DSS which provides security to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his Deputy Jan Eliasson, for both of whom a daily scheduled is published, in advance.

  On gratuities including free tickets, Lykketoft's spokesperson said it was the type of disclosure that Lykketoft had said he would make -- then he added that in some even most of these cases Lykketoft would be attending in his official capacity and therefore not expected to pay.

 That's what makes it a gratuity that should be disclosed.

  Let's take an example. As Inner City Press has raised, the UN Correspondents Association is soliciting $6,000 or more for tickets to its “ball” on Wall Street, including sitting at the “VIP” table. This seems like selling access to Ban Ki-moon -- a sample Permanent Representative approached Inner City Press and called UNCA's solicitation “disgusting” -- and one wonders what Lykketoft things about it. More pertinently, is he participating in it? Either taking a comped ticket, or worse, sitting at the very VIP table access to which is being sold?

Here is UNCA's recent pitch:

"Dear Ambassador,
The United Nations Correspondents Association is honored to invite you to participate and contribute to the 20th annual UNCA Awards event with guest of honor U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, recipient of the 2015 Global Advocate of the Year Award for climate change.  Exclusive raffle prizes include business class airline tickets around the world with hotel accommodations and a grand prize FIAT 500X car. As your esteemed presence will ensure the success of this event, we are pleased to send you the below opportunities to attend the gala dinner:
Mission Table Special Price / $6000 (half-table) 5 seats at VIP table at the gala event
Special Ambassador Contribution / $2,000 -1 VIP ticket for Ambassador with premium seating to dinner + 1 complimentary VIP ticket for spouse or guest -Special acknowledgement of the Ambassador and the Mission in the UNCA Awards Journal of the evening -Additional tickets for UN Diplomats of the Mission can be purchased at the special price of $750 each

Giampaolo Pioli, UNCA President
Please make all checks payable to 'UNCA Awards Committee'
Contributions to the UNCA Awards Committee are tax deductible.
The UNCA Awards Committee is a 501-c(3)"

  What - to sell photo ops with Ban Ki-moon to businessness / brothel owners indicted for corruption and out on $50 million bail, the same money used to make contributions and then get UNCA "journalism" awards?

  These UNCA prices, though elevated, are less than what UNCA took from Ng Lap Seng's vehicles.

  Having been told by the UN Office of the Spokesperson to ask the PGA's office where Ashe's and Sam Kutesa's documents are, Inner City Press asked the PGA Office's spokesperson - who said they don't have them. Round and round, UNreformed.

  Inner City Press will, of course, be covering the UN General Assembly session on November 20 about migration and refugees, and the Third Committee, etc. But these are very basic disclosures that are being requested - the information should be disclosed.

  Back on November 4, without one mentioning the name of John Ashe, much less his fellow indictees Ng Lap Seng, Frank Lorenzo and Sheri Yan, on November 3 both UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft gave speeches about post-indictment reform.

  After the two speeches, Inner City Press asked Lykketoft about his proposal still allow financial flows from "host organization[s]" like Ng Lap Seng's Sun Kian Ip Group and if Lykketoft would establish a Freedom of Information procedure so that the Press and public could requested documents. Lykketoft replied, on this, "we have no access whatsoever to documents from earlier PGA offices." Video here.

  Then when Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, "Does the Secretariat have any of Mr. Kutesa or Ashe’s documents?" Dujarric replied, "I’m not aware that we do, because those are the documents held by the presidents themselves."

  This is a major problem - how can this be? On November 4, Inner City Press asked again, video here, UN transcript here:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask about these documents as well, because it seems, it was pretty extraordinary yesterday that Mr. Lykketoft said he has no records of Ashe or Kutesa and what you said here.  So I wanted to ask you a very specific question, for example, in the charge document by the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] there is extensive emailing between Ng Lap Seng and his affiliates and the PGA.  There's also reference to the Chief of Staff and people that are actually UN staff members.  And I'm… I've looked at this thing called, which instructs staff to, like, retain records, record-retention policy.  So I wanted you to know or to say maybe later today, would emails from these outside parties to people working in Mr. Ashe's office, such as the Chief of Staff, have been retained?

Spokesman:  I think, the office the President of the General Assembly is run by the President of the General Assembly.  So I would encourage you to aim your questions in that direction.

Inner City Press:  We asked yesterday and he said he has nothing…

Spokesman:  I can't… I can't speak to the details of how either Mr. Ashe or others have run their offices.

Inner City Press:  But do you see the problem on this?

Spokesman:  I'm not arguing with you about the line of questioning.  I just… that's as far as I can go.

  Lykketoft on November 3 published some "transparency" material on his Office's website which, upon Inner City Press review, appears largely derived from a previous PGA Handbook by Switzerland and "its" PGA Deiss. That docuemnt states:

... "the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM) Executive Office is responsible for all financial, personnel, and general administrative matters concerning DGACM, including the Office of the PGA.. In executing his/her duties, the PGA is supported by the Office of the President of the General Assembly (Office of the PGA, or OPGA). The team supporting the PGA is also called “the Cabinet of the PGA.” Although the Office of the PGA is independent in the execution of its mandate, for administrative purposes it is attached to the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM)."

  So doesn't DGACM have these documents? Here's a UN "Frequently Asked Questions" Inner City Press has found: "records, like all assets, are the property of the Organisation...You need to list the most important groups of records and documents required to fulfill your function. You should be familiar with how these key records are protected, who has access to them and how long they need to be kept. What are you and your team members specific responsibilities?"

 What, indeed. We will have more on this. Watch this site.

From the PGA's Office's transcript:

Inner City Press: thanks for doing the stakeout.  I see in your information note under official travel, it says that other funding sources can be used including host organisation.  And since some of the allegations are that, for example, as recently as August 2015, Mr. Ng Lap Seng and his Sun Kian Ip foundation... he's since been indicted... travel for UN staff, ambassadors and others to Macau, how is this going to close that loophole in which a business... in... in... a business executive can offer luxury hotels, first-class tickets to faraway places?  

And I also wanted to ask you... I'm going to say this, I guess, diplomatically.  The Presidents of the 68th and 69th sessions, both of their spouses took compensated positions with NGOs that have since been... the heads have since been indicted, Global Sustainability Foundation and South-South News, I mean the heads of each.  How would you address that?  

And, finally, would you consider implementing some sort of a freedom of information policy in your office i.e., rather than just putting things on your website, if the press or public make a request for a document, unless there's some reason to withhold it, to make it available in a certain period of time?  Thanks a lot.  Sorry for the long question.

President Lykketoft:  "I think I'm not able to go much further into the accusations raised.  That's not for me to... to comment on.  And I can say that we have no access and thus maybe also a procedure that should be changed in the future, but we have no access whatsoever to documents from earlier PGA offices.  So I can't give you any details about what was present there and... and... in that connection, I think, it's... it's of interest what the Secretary-General just said about the investigation he has put into force about what is of information in connection with the case in other parts of the UN organisation.  But we have no access to any of this now if you look backwards.  

If you look forwards, of course, I would be willing to provide any kind of access to information about travelling I do during my tenure as President.  

Much of what we have committed ourselves to do has to be generalized during the considerations in the General Assembly over the revitalisation, probably in... in the shape... in the form of resolution.  But what I can tell you here is what we will do, how we will proceed with the openness of information during this coming year."

  Inner City Press went to the UN's noon briefing and asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric both about seating at Ban's VIP table being sold by the UN Correspondents Association for $6,000 ("as long as it's transparent," Dujarric replied) and how it could be that the UN does not have Ashe's and Kutesa's documents.

  Dujarric tried to say that having records about the Trust Fund account that Ashe barely used was enough. But where are the documents? Is there no UN document retention policy applicable here? Dujarric did not answer. We'll have (much) more on this.

   Every workday since the criminal complaint, Inner City Press has asked Ban's spokespeople for basic information, and has been rebuffed. Most recently, both the UN Development Program and Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric (previously of UNDP) have refused to provide even a copy of the agreement signed by Ng, UNDP's Teresa Liu and Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.

  Inner City Press only yesterday reported that UNDP was asking corporations for $100,000 to be seated next to heads of state by UNDP. Closer to Ban, literally, the UN Correspondents Association (which previously took money from Ng's media vehicle, then gave it an UNCA Award and Ng a photo op with Ban) now offers seats at the VIP table, next to Ban, for $6,000 (half table) or $12,000 (full table). By most definitions, this is corruption.

  Mogen Lykketoft, meanwhile, couldn't bring himself to say Ashe's name, only referring to the President of the 68th General Assembly session. Lykketoft, who allowed his Office to be used for fellow Dane Helle Thorning-Schmidt to campaign for the top spot in the UN's refugee agency UNHCR, said he will be making reform proposals. We will be there - with questions for Lykketoft.

  Ban again mentioned what he told Inner City Press at his last stakeout, a task force under his chef of staff Susana Malcorra. But as Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Dujarric, with all due respect, Malcorra accepted one of Ng's South South Awards, for Ban. We'll have more on this.


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