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In Somalia, UNICEF Has “Intelligence Contract” With UNSOM to Follow, SEMG Scoop Advanced By New Report

By Matthew Russell Lee, Follow Up to Exclusives

UNITED NATIONS, October 29 -- Two years after Inner City Press exposed a then-member of the UN's Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group for (mis) using SEMG and its letterhead, a new report alleges that former SEMG chief Matt Bryden's Sahan companies are, in essence, spying and evading taxes while holding contracts with UNICEF and, prospectively, UNSOM. 

  The report, by Abdirazak Fartaag, states that “UN officials in New York have claimed Matt Bryden never declared Sahan Research and Sahan Africa as a potential conflict of interest while he was still serving on the UN SEMG in 2012.”

   To put Fartaag's report in context, outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has allowed his former boss and mentor Han Seung-soo to be simultaneously a UN official and on the board of directors of Standard Chartered Bank, which has two UN contracts. Ban also recently named his own son in law, Siddharth Chatterjee, to the top UN job in Kenya without recusing himself. A fish rots from the head.

   The report states, twice, that “Sahan Research staff in Mogadishu claim their work for UNICEF is intelligence collection” and that “Sources claim UNSOM is preparing to award Sahan Research a mapping contract.”  This was Inner City Press' most recent Q&A with UN in Somalia's Michael Keating, here. We'll have more on this.

  Back on October 7, 2014 Inner City Press exclusively reported that a member of the UN's Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group Dinesh Mahtani used UN SEMG time and letterhead for unrelated advocacy regarding Eritrea. Mahtani's letter was exclusively put online here by Inner City Press.

  The UN on October 27 specified that it was Mahtani's use of the UN letterhead that was not approved. Video here. Tellingly, Mahtani's resignation went unmentioned by wire service write-ups of the SEMG report he was involved in, which Reuters in particular is promoting (while censoring its own anti-Press submissions to the UN, click here for that.)

The silence by Reuters, for which Mahtani used to work, and Agence France Presse continued even as the two UN Security Council Permanent Representatives, one on-camera, have spoken about Mahtani, and UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric has done so twice, both times on-camera.

This year in 2016, Dujarric got Inner City Press thrown out of the UN Press Briefing Room as it pursued the Ban Ki-moon corruption story, and Ban's head of Communications Cristina Gallach had Inner City Press ousted and evicted, giving its long time shared office to Egyptian state media Akhbar al Yom and confining Inner City Press to minders, see here.

  Some social media users from the Horn of Africa citing Mahtani's friends in New York and Nairobi and correcting themselves that Mahtani quit but was not fired are focused on how the letter emerged, projecting their own fixations on Inner City Press (which beyond the Horn reports on Argentina debt, Sri Lankan war crimes, Ebola in West Africa) rather than whether the letter was appropriate.

 (The UN Secretariat, even with Ban Ki-moon in the Horn of Africa, is apparently just as distracted: spokesman Dujarric had no comment on the Somali President versus prime minister spat when Inner City Press asked, video here.)

  Former SEMG-er Matt Bryden, asked to comment on Mahtani's letter, has instead continued to ask for explanation of the view that by reporting on the flow of lubricants to Eritrea's air force he was micro-managing, or making a telling showing of this UN sanctions apparatus.

  The UN seems to hire Western-aligned advocates and then given them no training or guidance. Then when they err, at least in this case, they are disciplined and resign. But what is learned? What is changed? We'll have more on this.

  On October 15, the Somalia and Eritrea sanctions committee chairman Ambassador Oh Joon of South Korea, when Inner City Press asked of Mahtani, said no, “we didn’t have a discussion on him. It’s been taken care of, I think.”

 Now on October 24, after the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the SEMG with two abstentions, Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant about Mahtani, and the level of proof at this point of Eritrean support to Al Shabaab. Video here.

  Lyall Grant said that Mahtani was disciplined and resigned, that he "exceeded his authority in issuing that particularly letter." But as set forth below, major Western wire services in reporting on the SEMG have yet to mention the "regime change" letter.
  Lyall Grant said this time there is "much less evidence" of Eritrean support for Al Shabaab, but that Eritrea should allow the SEMG to visit Asmara. Again, how is this different from "guilty until proven innocent"? The UK Mission transcribed the Q&A on this:

Inner City Press: I wanted to about the Eritrea Sanctions and also about the Monitoring Group.  On the sanctions, is there from your point of view evidence of Eritrea still supporting Al Shabaab because what they seem to say is if there is no evidence, why should they let them in? It’s kind of like guilty until proven innocent.  And the other thing I wanted to ask you about was the Monitoring Group.  There was a letter that emerged from one of the experts Dinesh Mahtani in which he basically sort of tried to pick a new leader for the country.  He basically said he’d be a good leader for the country.  He’s now resigned and I wonder what are the implications of that given that he worked on the report.  What have you learned in terms of training for experts in the future.  Is there any follow-up I guess on this resignation from what some people call a regime-change letter?
Ambasssador Lyall Grant: I don’t have any comment to make on this particular expert. As you say he has been disciplined by the UN system and he’s resigned his position.  He clearly exceeded his authority in issuing that particular letter.
On the wider point, there has been very clear evidence in successive Monitoring Group reports on support for Al Shabaab from Eritrea.  In the latest report there is much less evidence and that is encouraging but because the Monitoring Group has not been allowed to visit Asmara, they have said very clearly that they have not been able to investigate various strands of evidence that comes their way.  So if Eritrea is no longer supporting Al Shabaab then why do they not allow the Monitoring Group to visit and talk to whoever they want to talk to and then no doubt the Monitoring Group will report that there is no further evidence of Eritrea supporting Al Shabaab.  In that case, the United Kingdom would be one of the first countries to suggest that sanctions be lifted.  So I think the solution to this problem lies in the hands of the government of Eritrea.

  Since October 8 not only Reuters but also Agence France Presse have retyped copies of the SEMG report given to them -- with no mention of the SEMG scandal and resignation acknowledged right in the UN Press Briefing Room on October 8.

   Isn't this like "reporting" on a panel of judges' ruling without mentioning that one of the judges just resigned after being confronted with a letter he wrote about the subject matter of the case?

 On October 15, when the UN Security Council met behind closed doors about SEMG and the report, the bylined scribe of Reuters Mahtani-less story about the report stood briefly in front of the Council, then left.

  After an hour and a half when the meeting ended, Inner City Press asked the sanctions committee chairman Oh Joon if Mahtani and his resignation has been raised in the meeting. No, Oh Joon replied, “we didn’t have a discussion on him. It’s been taken care of, I think.”

  But some question what the chairman of the SEMG knew, and how the involvement of the now-resigned Mahtani in the report under review impacted it. We’ll have more on this.

On October 8, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric about Mahtani's letter and if it was appropriate behavior for a sanctions monitor.  No, Dujarric said, adding that the letter was “shown” to Dinesh Mahtani, who has resigned. Video here.

 On October 10, Reuters two UN correspondents dutifully regurgitated the SEMG's most recent report, even called it "exclusive" -- a basis on which Reuters pays -- with no mention that one of the SEMG's members had resigned after being exposed for pushing regime change.

  Key fact: Dinesh Mahtani used to work for Reuters, see c.v. here.

   This puts Reuters' non-mention of SEMG member Mahtani's resignation is a different light.

  On October 13, AFP in English retyped its copy of the SEMG report, no mention of regime-change scandal. This too is how the UN works, or doesn't.

 Sources had told Inner City Press that Mahtani, the finance expert on SEMG and previously on the DR Congo Sanctions group, was found requesting favors from a member state, to which the SEMG reports. Here is a document:

a letter from Dinesh Mahtani, ostensibly in his SEMG role, saying that former Eritrean official Ali Abdu "has great potential to play a stabilizing role in Eritrea with the country possibly headed to an uncertain period in its history."

This is hardly the first controversy in the SEMG -- but usually the members wait until they are off or on their way off the Monitor Group to “let it all hang out,” as one source put it of previous SEMG chair Matt Bryden.

  The current chair, Jarat Chopra, has faced complaints from Somalia, also exclusively reported by Inner City Press.

  Bryden's departure was telegraphed in remarks to, and a report by, Inner City Press on July 24, 2012 when Security Council members from three countries gave Inner City Press exclusive and negative reviews of Bryden's performance.

  "He's leaving," one of them said dismissively and definitely of Bryden. There was snarky speculation Bryden may have been angling for a book deal, or a post with a group like HRW.

  With Bryden the questions were largely of leaking, and for example of micro-managing the Eritrean air force. Apparently that's disputed: but consider Paragraphs 60 to 75 of the 2012 report S/2012/545, down to the "flow of spare parts and lubricants." Those about Mahtani, the sources tell Inner City Press, are "bigger... regime change on UN letterhead." Now Mahtani has resigned. We'll have more on this.

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