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Qatar Reportedly Paid $20M to Nusra For Fiji Troops, Ban's Private Jet Echo

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 13, more here -- After 45 UN Peacekeepers from Fiji were released by the Al Nusra Front, multiple UN sources told Inner City Press that Qatar had paid a ransom. Their cited figures ranged from $10 million to (well) over $20 million. Several said it reminded them of Ban's murky travel on a Qatar-funded private jet, first reported then pursued by Inner City Press.

  Now it is publicly reported that "Qatar paid a ransom of $20 million in exchange for the release of the 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers."

  This recalls UN spokespeople telling Inner City Press that Qatar paying for Ban Ki-moon's private jet travel didn't have to be disclosed as it was an "in kind" contribution. So, is this too, an in-kind contribution?

  On September 12, two UN Peacekeeping sources told Inner City Press that their boss Herve Ladsous knew about it. "He's conveniently touring Africa now," one said, to try to escape the issue. In previous detention of UN peacekeepers in the Golan by armed extremists, Ladsous has done little, with no investigation after their release. And this time?

    On Qatar's payment(s), how can it be that the UN does not disclose when Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accepts free travel on a private jet, and on July 24 would not tell Inner City Press how and on whose plane Ban flew to Iraq? Video here.

   This followed the UN's only belated acknowledgement, after Inner City Press asked several times, that Ban began his Gaza-related tour by flying on a Qatar-funded jet to Qatar, then Cairo.

 Bigger picture, does the UN, while claiming to abide by its own stated ethics rules, simply not have time for them and waive them?  When Inner City Press asked on July 23, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said, if you are here as a lawyer, "You're not entitled to be at the noon briefing." Video here from Minute 4:26.

 Haq has denied that there is any conflict of interest in accepting the Qatar-funded travel, but has still not said when or how an opinion was sought from the UN's Ethics Office. Video here and embedded below. Inner City Press on July 23 asked, in writing:

"This is a request for the the entire audio file of the Secretary General's press availability in Jerusalem at which the US State Department transcribed the question, “Mr. Secretary-General, do you think it’s appropriate for Qatar to be paying for your flight here” and this answer:

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN: No – ladies and gentlemen, this is the 15th day since the crisis began. We do not have much time to weigh the rules.

[since changed on State Department website from this archived version, here]

"This is also a request to be informed if, when and how the UN Ethics Office was asked about the Secretary General accepting the gift of travel on the Qatar-funded, and the UN's estimate of the value of the gift; a statement of all rules applicable to receipt of this gift, and how much has been spent on Secretary General travel in the past two years. On deadline."

  Here was the UN's "response," with neither the audio file, nor the budget or financial information:

To: Matthew.Lee [at]
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply [at]
Date: Wed, Jul 23, 2014 at 4:59 PM

The State Department has acknowledged that its transcription was in error and has corrected the record, please see link below.

The Ethics Office has agreed on the need to use the chartered plane because of the Secretary-General's need to travel to a number of locations in the Middle East at short notice, The Ethics Office notes that the Secretary-General interacts with all 193 Member States, and he is scrupulous at maintaining the independence of the UN when engaged in his political and diplomatic undertakings.

   This did not answer "when and how the UN Ethics Office was asked about the Secretary General accepting the gift of travel on the Qatar-funded, and the UN's estimate of the value of the gift; a statement of all rules applicable to receipt of this gift."

  And so at the July 24 noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Haq to provide information about the last ten free trips provided to Ban or his senior staff by states or others. Haq cut the question off, belatedly providing a UN budget Secretary General travel figure -- $2,190,300 for 2014 / 2015 -- but not explaining why he hadn't simply emailed this to Inner City Press.

  Haq claimed the deadline was unclear. So that's why he held the information back? Here's the July 24, 2014, video:

  On the audio file, Haq referred to UN Radio. Here it is, for download at mp3 - but it cuts off the question asked of Ban about the Qatar-funded plane, that the State Department transcribed.

The UN has previously censored its transcripts to omit the Free UN Coalition for Access and what was said to Ban; when Haq answered Inner City Press that Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir was dead, he "corrected" this in the transcript without ever telling Inner City Press that his answer was wrong, or had been "disappeared" in the transcript.

  On July 24 after Inner City Press asked for basic UN financial information -- last ten free trips -- Haq said, "You are not a prosecutor." Video here.
And here's the July 23, 2014 video:

On July 21, the UN belatedly answered Inner City Press' July 19 inquiry about Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accepting a free Qatar-funded, British registered private jet for his current travel about Gaza. Video here and embedded below.

  On July 23 in Jerusalem, Ban Ki-moon was asked,"do you think it’s appropriate for Qatar to be paying for your flight here?"
  And Ban Ki-moon responded, "No – ladies and gentlemen, this is the 15th day since the crisis began.  We do not have much time to weigh the rules."

   Inner City Press, and now the Free UN Coalition for Access, have been pursuing this question, including with Transparency International which answered "it would seem that the Secretary General would have had to have been previous clearance to undertake such a paid trip by the Qatari government. This question should be posed to the Office of Ethics."

  And so on July 22, Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq if the UN Ethics Office was asked about accepting the free Qatar-funded private jet flights.

  Haq replied:

I'm aware that as a standard policy, we inform the Ethics Office of all such offers...I don't know about this particular case. I know it for past cases, every time I have asked the Ethics Office about this, they have talked about being informed about this... They do approve these on the case of exceptional circumstances.”

Inner City Press asked Haq to get an answer from the Ethics Office, if they were asked before Ban began his current trip in the Qatar-funded jet.

Haq said, “I can do this... This is what has happened several times in the past.”

  But apparently not this time. Ban said, "We do not have much time to weigh the rules." We'll stay on this.

   Should the UN Secretary General in a mediation attempt accept free travel from a country with a particular interest in the conflict to be mediated?

   What review should take place? What disclosures should be made, and when? From the UN's July 21 transcript, video here from Minute 31:

Inner City Press: you are saying that the use of private planes, generically if necessary, is signed off by the ethics office, but my question is, private planes provided by anyone? Would the Secretary-General, would he accept such service from any Member State, or would he accept it from corporations? The question becomes, given that particular countries have different views of the conflict, what review is made before accepting a particular country’s contribution?

Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq: Well, we do have, like I said, an ethics office and a legal office that can look into these things and see whether something is appropriate or not.

Inner City Press: Was this particular flight checked or you’re saying there’s a generic ruling in advance that any private plane is okay?

Deputy Spokesman Haq: No, I don’t think there’s a generic ruling about this, but certainly, if you need to justify this for essential needs, and something like this, a trip that the Secretary-General was able to embark on and made the decision on just at the end of last week and then had to travel, starting Saturday evening, something like that would have been extremely hard or basically impossible to do in a different sort of way.

Inner City Press: I’m asking because in the budget Committee, often many, particularly developing world countries, they say that things should be funded out of the UN’s general budget rather than taking voluntary contributions from States that then have influence. So, my question is, isn’t there a travel budget? We’ve asked in this room many times to know what the budget is, so I’d still like to know that. But, if there is a budget, why wasn’t the general UN budget used for this rather than taking a specific gift from a specific country? That’s the question.

Deputy Spokesman Haq: The worry is, of course, if you run out of money early, does that mean you can’t travel, even if there’s a crisis? In this case, there was a crisis that necessitated sudden travel.

  Inner City Press broke the story on July 19 -- credit has been given, for example, by Newsweek, here -- and has been asking Ban's spokespeople for disclosure and what safeguards are in place.

   Lead spokesman Dujarric replied but did not answer on July 19. When he called in to the UN noon briefing from Cairo on July 21, Inner City Press asked him again on whose plane Ban is traveling.

  This time, Dujarric answered that Ban is flying on a Qatar government funded, UK registered plane.  But he did not answer if there are any safeguards against influence or conflicts of interest. Would Ban accept free flights from any UN member state? From anyone at all?

  Inner City Press asked Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq, who said the the UN Ethics Office said taking private planes is okay when necessary.

  But private planes from ANYONE? Any member state? A corporation? There have been no real answers, yet. But there need to be.

 Diplomats told Inner City Press that Ban would fly -- on a Qatari plane -- to Qatar, Ramallah (but not for now Gaza), Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait.

  The diplomats who complained to Inner City Press questioned not only Ban taking free flights from a particular country, but also how the use (and landing) of a Qatari plane will play in, for example, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

 Inner City Press asked Ban's top two spokespeople, and the spokesperson listed as on weekend duty, the following:

"Please state whether the Secretary General is accepting free transportation from any member state or outside party for his current trip to the region concerning the Gaza crisis, and if so please explain the reason and any safeguards in place against influence or conflict of interest.

"Such disclosure should be common practice; if necessary, note that former Spokesperson Nesirky did answer such Press questions, for example concerning the Secretary General flying on a UAE plane (see sample below). On deadline, thank you in advance.

From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply [at]
Subject: Your questions
To: Matthew Russell Lee [at]
Date: Thu, Jan 19, 2012 at 3:00 PM

- The UAE Government provided an aircraft to fly the Secretary-General from Beirut to Abu Dhabi because of time constraints.

     Later on July 19, the following was received, which we publish in full 25 minutes after receipt:

From: Stephane Dujarric [at]
Date: Sat, Jul 19, 2014 at 5:30 PM
Subject: Re: Press question if SG is accepting free travel from any member state or outside party, as was disclosed in 2012, on deadline, thanks
To: Matthew.Lee [at] innercitypress [dot] com
Cc: FUNCA [at]

Dear Matthew, Thanks for your question and thanks for the draft answer. The logistical details of the SG's trip, including the travel arrangements are still being worked out. Once we are in a position to confirm them, i will revert.


Stephane Dujarric (Mr.)
Spokesman for the Secretary-General

But obviously the "logistical details" of getting to Qatar were worked out - Ban had already been to Qatar, then Kuwait before Cairo.

  One asked, what can you solve if you can't even say how you got there?

  Inner City Press thanked Dujarric and his colleagues for the interim response and asked, "both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Poroshenko's office say they have spoken with the Secretary General and give read-outs. Will a UN read-out be put out? If so, when? If not, why not?"

  On July 21, Inner City Press asked Haq, who confirmed the calls took place but nothing about the contents. What is happened with the UN? The Free UN Coalition for Access is pressing for reforms. We'll have more on this.



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