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Ban Asks Press to Refrain From Qs About His Nephew, UN Tells ICP "Ask Colliers"

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 19 -- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is in his native South Korea for five days and Press questions remain unanswered by the UN about his links to the scandal surrounding the suicide of South Korean businessman Sung Wan-jong, and his own nephew Joo-hyun "Dennis" Bahn. Inner City Press asked the UN on May 15, video here.

  On May 19, Ban urged the media not to ask about, or report on, issues surrounding his nephew. Inner City Press has asked, and will continue to ask, what rules and safeguards apply for example to a company the Secretary General's nephew works with, Colliers International, doing business with the UN, as Colliers Vice Chairman brags. Here is the UN's transcription of Ban's May 19 answer in Seoul, and below.

  Inner City Press went to the May 19 UN noon briefing and asked Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq what Ban had meant, video here:

Inner City Press: I want to ask two press freedom questions.  One is on Burundi — there are these reports that the media or particularly foreign correspondents are not being allowed into this neighbourhood and cameras taken by the police.  I want to know whether Mr. Djinnit is aware of what, what the UN thinks of that.  And I wanted to ask, maybe if you can clarify or amplify.  I saw the Q&A the Secretary-General did in South Korea, and he said, "I have seen reports having to do with my nephew.  While I'm fulfilling… whether true or not, while I'm fulfilling my duties now as Secretary-General, while such unnecessary incorrect allegations or rumours cause inconvenience to my work as Secretary-General, so I'd like to ask you to refrain from doing that."  So, because of the… like, what is he saying?  Is he saying refrain from asking questions, refrain from…?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  First of all, that's an abbreviation of the transcript.  I'll refer you to the full transcript.

Inner City Press:  I looked… okay.

Deputy Spokesman:  He makes a denial of any involvement in this issue.  But, his basic point is that he will go about his own work.  These questions really don't apply to him or his activities.

Inner City Press:  But, who… my question is this.  Who is he asking to refrain from doing what?  That's a direct quote from what he said.

Deputy Spokesman:  He's not making an order to anyone in the press.  It's very clear, and it's particularly clear in the context if you look at the transcript that he's talking about an issue that for him, in his head, is resolved.

Inner City Press:  But this is… okay because this is the one part of it.  I guess I understand that if… if… that things are being played out in a court in Seoul and whether the nephew… what he said that the Secretary-General did or not is, I guess, not going to be answered until it's answered there.  But, there's a simpler question, which is, the nephew works for Colliers International, which is a New York real estate firm, and the Vice-Chairman said online that they do business with the UN.  So my question is… and I asked you this before, but I'm going back to this because it seems like a very fair question — what are the rules when a relative of the Secretary-General or any high official does business with the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  Procurement at the UN is done through our procurement office.  It is not done through any sort of issue having to do with family or family connections.  It's a procurement process that all firms have to abide by, and that's how firms get contracts.

Inner City Press:  So how did Colliers… how much business has Colliers done with the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  You would have to ask Colliers.  As for UN procurement, it makes contracts by its normal activities.  This is not connected to anyone related to the Secretary-General.  Yes.  Oh, and… oh, wait.  You had another question on Burundi.  And on your Burundi question, see, you ask so many questions that it gets lost.  On your Burundi question, of course, we'd be concerned at any efforts to crack down on press.  We do have a small human rights team… team of human rights workers who are in Burundi and they're examining human rights issues and they'll follow up on any sort of allegations of any problems in the country.

   Here is what Ban said, by the UN's own transcription:

"I’ve seen reports having to do with my nephew. Regardless of whether it’s true or not, I feel quite ashamed that a scandal like this has surfaced and caused controversy. About my nephew’s business activities, I have never known and never took part in any of this. I’d like to tell you clearly that this has nothing to do with me. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, I am doing a lot of things for the international community and the international community expects a lot from me. While I am fulfilling my duties as Secretary-General, such unnecessary and incorrect allegations or rumours cause inconvenience to my work as Secretary-General. So I’d like to ask you to refrain from doing that."

  Who is Ban request to "refrain," from what? The questions about his nephew are entirely legitimate, and continue because they have not been answered. They don't just go away. 

  Tellingly, the current head of UN Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous has been allowed to openly refuse to answer Press questions, as if the issues of cover up of rapes in DR Congo, Darfur and now Central African Republic will go away.

  While the Free UN Coalition for Access openly opposes such non-answering by Ladsous (and Ban's spokespeople), Ban praises and partners with the old UN Correspondents Association, whose leaders praise Ban back, do not ask about conflicts of interest, and have even tried to get the investigative Press thrown out for such reporting. This is the context.

 On May 18, Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq an event more specific question: did Ban raise any of its relatives' real estate projects, for example Landmark 72 in Vietnam, to the Emir of Qatar in a meeting on September 24, 2013? May 18 video here and embedded below.

  Haq repeated that Ban is not involved, that he and Ban's lead spokesman Stephane Dujarric have "nothing to add." On May 15, Haq told Inner City Press that the UN does not have to respond about any relative of Ban who is not a UN staff member, even if they do business with, or with the name of, the UN and Ban. Inner City Press has raised that higher within the UN.

  The JoongAng Daily reports that its affiliate JBTC has obtained an email in which Ban's nephew Bahn Joo-hyun wrote:

“QIA said the emir of Qatar had an official meeting with the UN Secretary General at the United Nations [Headquarters] at 11:30 a.m., and [Secretary General Ban] mentioned the Landmark 72 upon request of [Ban Ki-sang]" - Ban's brother.

  Using the time 11:30 a.m., Inner City Press searched past versions of Ban Ki-moon's schedule and found such a meeting:

"September 24, 2013, 11:30 am    NLB SG Conf Rm 3rd flr The Secretary-General with H.H. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Emir of Qatar"

 But the UN's read-out for that meeting did not mention real estate:

"The Secretary-General met today with His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Amir of the State of Qatar.  The Secretary-General reiterated his call for a political solution to the crisis in Syria, and expressed gratitude to Qatar for its support to the Central Emergency Response Fund and other generous humanitarian assistance.  They discussed the Palestine-Israel issue and also the importance of United Nations political efforts in Yemen.  The Secretary-General thanked the Amir for Qatari support on the Alliance of Civilizations, sustainable development and climate change.  

New York, 24 September 2013."

  The Alliance of Civilizations is headed by Qatar's former Permanent Representative to the UN.

(On May 18, 2015, Inner City Press also asked Haq for Ban Ki-moon's response to Qatar detaining BBC journalist Mark Lobel while he was reporting on the treatment of migrant workers in the run up to the World Cup there; Haq's and the UN's response seems muted.)

   It is reported that Ban's nephew Ban got business trying to sell off a Sung-linked skyscraper in Vietnam by saying that Ban had discussed the project with Emir of Qatar (on whose private jet Ban has flown), and by reportedly forging a letter of commitment from Qatar's sovereign wealth fund.

  On May 14, Ban's lead spokesman Stephane Dujarric replied to Inner City Press that Ban has "no connection" with this nephew - strange, just as a matter of genetics.

 On May 15, Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq a closer question: to confirm that Ban's nephew Bahn has worked for the real estate firm Colliers, and the Colliers has done business with UN.

  (Bahn's LinkedIn page lists him at Colliers, whose Vice Chairman Andrew Roos says "Some of his major clients include various divisions of the United Nations, including its Joint Pension Fund... For the United Nations, he has been responsible for more than 500,000 square feet of leasing transactions.")

 Despite this set-up, Haq insisted that the UN does not have to, or does not, respond about family members if they are not UN staff.

 But what if the Secretary General's family member does BUSINESS with the UN?  Haq insisted the UN will not comment, that added that he faced similar questions "ten years ago," apparently an allusion to Kojo Annan and the Mercedes in what's called the Oil for Food scandal. To this has the UN sunk. Video here and embedded below.

 Inner City Press will be asking again, if it is legitimate for the UN to say it will not answer any questions about high official's family members using the UN connections to get business and going business with the UN.  Here is what UN deputy spokesperson Haq said, and then the transcript

Inner City Press: Yesterday, I asked Stéphane about these developing stories about the nephew of the Secretary-General and the claims made about the Qatar Sovereign Wealth Fund.  And the reason I… he said yesterday, that the Secretary-General has nothing to do with his nephew.  But I wanted to ask because there's been more reporting since even yesterday and basically what's emerged in these articles is that the nephew, Mr.… I don't want to get the name wrong.  We'll call him Mr. Ban… Ban Joo-Hyun… had made two claims.  He had made a claim to the construction company that was run by the now deceased business man, that the Secretary-General had raised this very project to the Emir of Qatar in a meeting.  And he also made a claim that the Qatar Sovereign Wealth Fund was behind the deal.  So this is… the question that I have for you is, is even if the Secretary-General is saying that these statements didn't occur, that's what I was trying to get a yes or no on, or if they did occur, he has nothing to do with them, has he informed the members of his family, including his nephew, including his brother who is part of this story, and including, for example, his son-in-law, not to invoke his name when they seek to do business deals that obviously involve Sovereign Wealth Fund of countries that have business with the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary-General keeps his work life and his personal life separate.  He is not involved in this matter and this is not a matter that involves any UN personnel.  Therefore, I would have no comment on it.

Inner City Press::  But there are obviously people reporting quite to the contrary, so I'm asking you is there…

Deputy Spokesman:  No, they're not.  Actually, Matthew, they're not reporting to the contrary, they're reporting about other people.  Nothing of what you said suggests any connection to the United Nations.

Inner City Press:  Have you read today's Viet Nam news that says…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, I have.

Inner City Press:  The nephew said that Ban Ki-moon raised this with the Emir of Qatar, so my question is can you deny that?  Do you deny that the Secretary General has raised that?  Okay.

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary-General is not involved in this in anyway.

Inner City Press:  Okay, and also my fourth and further question.  The nephew is reported to work at a New York real estate firm known as Colliers, which partners of whom say they have done business for the United Nations system.  So I wanted to know… this seems… this is a just a factual question, is it true that the nephew of the Secretary-General works for a firm called Colliers?  And is it true, will you confirm or deny that this firm has done business with the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  I do not have to comment on questions of family members of the Secretary-General who are not employed by the United Nations.

Inner City Press:  Doing business with the UN, you don't have to comment?

Deputy Spokesman:  He is not UN staff.  He has not been UN staff and his business does not concern the United Nations.

Inner City Press:  If somebody does business with the UN… I mean that's what I'm asking…

Deputy Spokesman:  Matthew, a decade ago, people asked me different questions about other different relatives, but the point is what we concern ourselves with is the work of the UN and its personnel.  Yes.

   Inner City Press a month ago on April 17, then again yesterday on May 14, asked Ban's UN spokespeople about scandal, the first time drawing laughter and yesterday on a closer link to Ban, a flat but vague denial. The closer link involves Ban's nephew Bahn Joo-hyun and an allegedly forged letter from Qatar's sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority.

   Implausibly, Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric on May 14 told Inner City Press that Ban has “no connection” with his nephew.

   In the same briefing he refused to explain why the UN, in responding to Press questions about another UN scandal involving the cover up of child rape in the Central African Republic by French soldiers and Ban's (French) UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, provided answers only to correspondents who hadn't even asked or in some cases reported about the rapes.

   Dujarric told Inner City Press, "Matthew, I can't be responsible for what parties you're invited to or not invited to." Ban later that day feted the so-called UN Correspondents Association, whose leadership not only never asked about  Sung Wan-jong but actively tried to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN. It's the UN's (or Ban's) Censorship Alliance. The new Free UN Coalition for Access, FUNCA, takes a different approach.

  Back on April 17, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesperson at that day's noon briefing:   (video here)

Inner City Press: about the individual, Mr. Sung Wan-jong, who committed suicide, but apparently before he did, said that he had very close ties with Ban Ki-moon.  That's why he was being prosecuted and said that they developed the Chungcheong Forum together.  So I just wanted to, what was his relationship to the individual who committed suicide?  Why does he think his name has come up in connection with this scandal?  And does he have some kind of statement of --

Associate Spokesperson:  I mean, all we have to say about this is we've seen the reports, and as we've said from this podium and the Secretary-General has himself said many times, his focus is on his job currently and not on Korean domestic politics.

Inner City Press: Sure.  It’s less a question about running for office there, then so much as if somebody, right before they commit suicide, says, it's kind of like “Rosebud”, he said Ban Ki-moon, does he…

Associate Spokesperson:  We have no comment.  [laughter]  We have no comment.

  In the month that followed, even as the scandal developed, no questions  were asked or allowed at the UN about it. Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq, when Inner City Press pursued follow up questions, said “you must have been such an obnoxious child.”  UNCA said nothing; the Free UN Coalition for Access, FUNCA, challenged this and Ladsous' approach including in a flier it posted in the UN's fourth floor press area.

  Also on press freedom in Ban's UN and his links with South Korea, a week ago on May 8 Inner City Press asked Dujarric:

Inner City Press / FUNCA: There are a number of reporters complaining publicly in a their publications that they sought to attend a “Journalists at Risk” event yesterday inside the UN in which the ambassadors of France and Belgium spoke and that they were not able to attend it and was told the press was being “banned” from the event.

Spokesman Dujarric:  Banning the press is not something I like to do.  No press was banned.  I think there was miscommunication on the part of the organizers, who probably didn't coordinate the way they should have with our colleagues here.  A guest list was provided to our security services, which included journalists.  And those people on the guest list were able to attend.  I think there may have been misunderstanding where journalists wanted to come in with cameras who didn't have accreditation.  We tried to facilitate things as much as possible.  As always here, we're happy to host any event, obviously, the Member States are holding.  It just needs a minimum of coordination with the various services.  But, to say that press was banned, I think is a mischaracterization of what happened.

Inner City Press / FUNCA:  Some are contrasting it to the speed with which journalists were processed to attend the Hillary Clinton stakeout.  They were saying that this was actually… there was more time to do them, but they were told it's impossible, it can't be done.

Spokesman Dujarric:  I would dispute that account, as well.  You had country-specific questions?

Inner City Press: The country is South Korea.  I just want to know, since it's out there and it has been reported in The Korea Times, can you confirm that the Secretary-General is going to South Korea for four days in and around 22 May?

Spokesman Duarric:  I cannot confirm at this point, but I encourage you to attend the briefings next week.

   A week later on May 14, as the scandal grew closer to Ban at least through family ties, Inner City Press asked Ban's lead spokesman Stephane Dujarric about it: (video here)

Inner City Press: about this case in South Korea that's been bouncing around for some time, the businessman Mr. Sung, who committed suicide, but mentioned the Secretary-General's name soon before he did it.  And there's a new article in the Korea JoongAng Daily, which says that Mr. Ban's nephew Ban Joo-hyun, the manager of a New York-based real estate firm, is somehow involved in this case.  And it cites him providing a forged letter for the Qatar Investment Authority, saying a building in Viet Nam was going to be built when it wasn't.  I would assume that your office is aware of this.  What is the… is any of this true?  For example, is his nephew involved in this real estate deal?  Does his nephew deny providing a fraudulent Qatari investment fund letter?

Spokesman Dujarric:  I think the… This does not… this does not involve the Secretary-General.  He has nothing to do with this issue, and he has nothing to do with his nephew.  And I think you… I really have nothing else to add.

Inner City Press: I'm only asking because it only has connection to possible politics, countries, the commonwealth fund — do you deny it?

Spokesman Dujarric:  I understand… I think… Clearly, the Secretary-General is not involved in any of this.  I would like to… oh.  Yes.  I would like to say have a good weekend.  But, go ahead.  (Video from Minute 3:53)

  Inner City Press has previously and repeatedly asked the UN about Ban family connections and the still UNdisclosed acceptance of gifted travel, from Qatar, here.

  Watch this site.


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