A new report has found that the United Nations (UN) has stopped investigating cases involving the possible theft or misuse of millions of dollars and scaled back on self-policing over the past year. The world body shut down the task force that had been responsible for investigating corruption since after the discovery of the oil-for-food corruption scandal last decade. Since the UN shuttered the task force, not a single noteworthy fraud or corruption case has been fully investigated and completed, compared with an average of 150 cases a year in the past.
Investigations that have not been completed include:
- $1 million a day flowing out of a safe in a UN project office in Kabul - part of $850 million intended for Afghanistan's rebuilding and elections between 2002 and 2006.
- Evidence that a U.S. firm padded its charges by $1 million in Afghanistan
- Evidence that UN staff stole millions of dollars from Afghan elections, roads, schools and hospitals,
- No action has been taken on a task force finding that about half of $350,000 in U.N. funds aimed to start a radio station for women in Baghdad was used to pay off "personal loans, a mortgage, credit card bills and taxes."
- Evidence of major corruption involving more than $200 million in transportation contracts for UN peacekeeping throughout Africa. The case has since been dropped.
The UN refused to fund the task force for another year at the end of 2008, following complaints from Russia and Singapore about investigations of their citizens or companies, although the UN Board of Auditors concluded the task force acted impartially and helped to discourage fraud and corruption. Since the inception of the task force in 2006, its work has led to "at least four convictions, millions of dollars in restitution orders, misconduct findings against 17 U.N. officials and the banning of 47 U.N. contractors due to fraud, other illegality or rules violations." From the article (A.P.)
The Government Accountability Project, a Washington-based nonprofit law firm that defends whistleblowers, says the U.N. quashed the task force, buried its cases and retaliated against an investigator trying to protect some probes' computer files. "We did talk to investigators. They were concerned that investigations which were substantial and which had accumulated credible evidence of wrongdoing had not been zealously pursued since the task force was disbanded," said Bea Edwards, the firm's international program director. "It appears there was political pressure brought to bear that may have been instrumental in delaying or stopping (task force) investigations."
In another move to undercut oversight of billions of UN dollars, Michael Dudley, the acting head of the permanent investigation division, wrote in a memo that "employees of a third party" (including 6,600 contractors as well as other employees) are beyond his division's responsibility and cases involving former staff "should be reassessed to determine whether the matter should be closed without further investigation." Thus, UN staff could avoid investigation for any fraud, embezzlement or theft that they actually committed by simply quitting.
Edwards, who interviewed top U.N. officials for her whistleblower probe for the Government Accountability Project, said Dudley spoke about changing the mandate, keeping the number of investigators to a minimum and closing cases when the officials involved leave the U.N.
"He told us that he felt that if someone who was charged with misconduct had retired or left the organization, there was no point in investigating since the person was beyond sanction by the U.N.," she recalled. "He told me and my assistant that. There were two of us there. We were absolutely astonished."