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UNICEF, Still Without Gucci's Money, Dodges German Scandal, Answers on Heroin in Sri Lanka, Does Good

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 4 -- Two months after it lent the UN's name and North Lawn to Gucci, which claimed the event celebrated its store opening on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, and to Madonna, for a charity affiliated with the Kabbalah Center of Los Angeles, UNICEF has still not received any of the money raised by the event, according to an agency spokesman.

 UNICEF still refuses to provide any answers about the prospective use by Madonna's group of funds raised using UNICEF's name and the UN's lawn, stating that it "has no relationship" with the organization. UNICEF insiders still doggedly defend the irregularities in the fundraiser as being attributable to the ostensibly independence U.S. Fund for UNICEF. But is clear that this doppelganger is closely enough linked to UNICEF to trigger reputational harm to the UN, if not legal responsibility -- since the UN system is, literally, lawless, cloaked in immunity from legal action including to elicited presumptively public information about the agency's spending in action.

            In a parallel universe across the Atlantic, UNICEF Germany has now scheduled a re-election of its entire board of directors, after a scandal which found that the organization falsely claimed it did not pay commission fees to individuals who helped organize large donations. "By paying a commission of $45,000 without getting any demonstrable service in return, UNICEF Germany has violated the principle of the economical and careful use of funds," the watchdog organization Central German Institute for Social Questions, or DZI, has said.

            Inner City Press had asked UNICEF's headquarters for an update on the UNICEF Germany scandal, including a copy of an audit a previous agency response said largely disproved the mounting scandal. UNICEF Headquarters then declined to provide a copy of the audit, stating that "it was the German National Committee for UNICEF that hired KPMG and that has the legal relationship with KPMG, so you will have to contact the NatCom regarding any requests for KPMG documentation." But it's UNICEF's and the UN's name that is in question.

    Inner City Press also reiterated its request, pending since the run-up to the Gucci - UNICEF event more than two months ago, for an opportunity to put questions to UNICEF executive director Ann Veneman, who told the UN's Management chief Alicia Barcena to give the North Lawn to Gucci and Madonna. On this last, UNICEF replied that "within the last two months, the Executive Director has found time to give three press conferences, in Haiti, in Sierra Leone and in Liberia" -- that is, in places other than the New York headquarters where the Gucci fiasco occurred, or in Germany where the UNICEF scandal continues to grow. UNICEF's response continues, "Should we decide to hold a press conference at UNHQ we will inform you through the usual channels." We'll be waiting.

Madonna and child, Gucci money still not shown after two month, one half unreported

  In the interim, Inner City Press has been given this UNICEF response to questions raised about a UNICEF worker who arrived recently in Sri Lanka and nearly immediately overdosed on heroin. UNICEF declines to provide the individual's name but states that

UNICEF confirms that on 17 March 2008 a consultant, newly contracted by UNICEF Sri Lanka, was placed under arrest by the police. The consultant arrived in Colombo on 5 March 2008 to commence a 4-month contract with UNICEF, based in Colombo. On 12 March she was hospitalized, and on 17 March was placed under arrest while still in hospital... On 25 March she was brought before a magistrate, and pled guilty. Subsequently the contract between the consultant and UNICEF was terminated by mutual agreement, and she has now left the country. Beyond that, UNICEF considers the resolved by the relevant national authorities and the individual concerned. For this reason, UNICEF will not release or confirm the former consultant's name.

For your information, in the case of short-term individual contractors UNICEF does not require a full medical examination prior to entering into a contract. However prospective contractors are required to provide a medical certificate from his or her doctor certifying that the person is medically fit for service. In this instance, I am advised that the certification was provided.

            We will soon have more on the topic of the use of contractors by UN funds and programs such as UNICEF, UNHCR and the UN Development Program.  While UNICEF's answers are appreciated, questions about the reported beating of a Somali member of parliament by UNICEF guards in Baidoa, and about the failure to return at least six of the 103 children kidnapped by French NGO Zoe's Ark, remain pending, as does a request for UNICEF's comment on the pardon by Chad and release by France of those who kidnapped the children. A late generic denunciation of impunity is perhaps to be expected.

About the veracity of the child soldier memoir which Ann Veneman has promoted seemingly at every opportunity, Inner City Press has been told that "UNICEF has not fact-checked Mr. Beah's book, 'Long Way Gone.'  However it is our view that the book is a credible account of the tragedy of recruitment of children into armed groups, told by one who undoubtedly experienced this abuse first hand. It is an abuse that is still suffered by tens of thousands of children around the world."

For the record, about half of the money raised on the UN's North Lawn, it "will go to Schools for Africa, a joint campaign founded by UNICEF  and the Nelson Mandela Foundation in 2004 to promote education for all children  in Africa." Good. So, half the money raised in the UN's name is accounted for. UNICEF has also told Inner City Press

The US Fund [for UNICEF] advises that its arrangement with Gucci states that the donation will be paid within 60 days of the event. This means that the US Fund should receive the donation on 6 April (or 7 April, since the 6th is a Sunday).  I am advised that this timeframe is standard for events and corporate partner donations, as it takes time for payments from attendees, live auction winners, and pledge donors to be collected. As previously advised, UNICEF has no relationship with Raising Malawi.

            No relationship except giving Madonna's Raising Malawi and Gucci access to the UN's North Lawn, and use of UNICEF's name and logo, to raise money... We will continue to follow these issues.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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